The virtual reality app launched for smartphone users in July and quickly became the most-downloaded app in history….that’s more than 500 million downloads. Everyone wanted in on this game. But…Pokemon—and pokemon enthusiasts for that matter—aren’t a new thing. Not by a long shot.
“Pokemon is a game about catching monsters and making them fight. It started back in the 90’s.”
That’s Josh Simms, a big fan of Pokemon from way back in its early days.
“When the card game came out, there was a TV show, and there was the game boy games that came out all pretty much at the same time.”
Josh is a senior at Central Michigan University AND the co-president of the Mt. Pleasant Trainers club, a registered student organization on campus.
“The Mount Pleasant Trainer’s Club took a long time to get off the ground because no one took us seriously; basically just a group of people playing Pokemon all the way from the old video games to the newer video games”
“I like Pokemon. I like playing. It was the first game I really got into and now it’s on my phone”
Tylor Goodreau is another CMU senior and the Mt. Pleasant Trainers Club’s other president. She explains that their unique name ties in with the game itself.
“people who play Pokemon are Pokemon trainers so we did the Trainers club”
Tyler and Josh tell me that aside from people often mistaking them for a fitness training organization (laughy/smiley voice), the group had about 15 regulars BEFORE all of the Pokemon hype this summer….
“I like we’ve been successful thus far. We have our regular members that come in, we have that people that stop in for a little bit, drop out, come back, kind of thing and being able to bring Pokemon Go into this? That’s just another thing for us to work with and I think it’s great.”
Josh and Tyler also think Pokemon Go has gone a long way to breaking that stigma that has haunted gamers…and college organizations like theirs.
“oh you’re a gamer, you’re antisocial, you want to sit on the couch all weekend and that kind of thing and this is going hey, who says that this is how this works? but you’re meeting all these people and that completely breaks that stigma of being antisocial”
“I think people think that’s it’s a waste of time.”
That’s Tony Morelli, the group’s campus advisor and a CMU professor of Computer Science. He says that for Josh and Tyler, running a group like this can go beyond just having fun.
“What they’re doing here in the Pokemon club that’s leadership, that shows a lot of skills that you can put down on a resume, regardless if you’re going into the gaming industry or anything else. It shows you can be organized, can organize people, you lead you do all sorts of stuff, and that shows a lot of character.”
But more than that, Morelli says that computer science is quickly becoming a viable career path for students who grew up playing video games.
“Gaming is simulations, it’s artificial intelligence, it’s data analysis, it’s all these things that yeah, you can come in and make all these cool games but then you can go to Ford and simulate self-driving cars, or go to google and help them do their search cuz you’re really good at processing all this data. You look at Pokemon Go—that’s huge computing power”
“The game engine that we use in our class which is the software used to development games; it’s the same one they used to create Pokemon Go so when students come through our program they’re using the real products that create these games that they play like Pokemon and heartstone and things like that.”
Meanwhile, Tyler says that the Mt. Pleasant Trainers Club isn’t just for computer science students at CMU.
“Anyone who’s in the area can join”
And Morelli says that the Mt. Pleasant Trainers Club works hard to take things a step beyond chasing cartoon monsters.
“Twice a year we get together and hold big tournaments for all the clubs, raise money for charities. Last year total was close to 1200 bucks for local charities so it’s not just about playing these games, and getting together and having fun but we try to give back to the community as much as we can”
We’ve had people come in there that are just very quiet, they just want to sit there and play their Pokemon, and spend a couple weeks with them and they just open right up. Everyone wants to belong to something . even if you’re the biggest nerd who has no friends and hates everybody you don’t want to be alone, it sucks. And we’re creating an environment that says we don’t care who you are, what you’re doing, you like the same thing we like , come open up about it, come talk to us about it, let’s dig into this and let’s be rivals, let’s play some Pokemon, and that kind of thing it’s been a really great experience “
So the national Pokemon fad seems to be coming and going–a recent article on Bloomberg-dot-com reports that daily active use worldwide is on a downward spiral…despite all of this, these fans here in mid-Michigan continue to be enthusiastic about Pokemon and how it can bring people together.