“Pokémon Go” is a massive success, but experienced gamers might note that it isn’t totally a breath of fresh air.
The new smartphone game revolves around the discovery of monsters like Pikachu and Zubat in the real world. Users travel to actual outside locations, then use their smartphone cameras to locate and capture the critters.
While it may seem novel for a smartphone game to encourage users to actually walk around, Pokémon first did that nearly two decades ago.
In 1998, Nintendo introduced a small device called the Pokémon Pikachu. It strapped onto your waistband and counted how many steps you took. The purpose was to generate “watts” for Pikachu, which you could then gift to the little electric mouse or use in games.
A second version, Pokémon Pikachu 2, had a color screen and could connect to certain Game Boy games to generate helpful in-game items, such as berries that healed your Pokémon. You could also send watts to other Pokémon Pikachu 2 devices, as explained in this Japanese commercial depicting a loving relationship between a little boy who loves walking and his father:
Of course, if you were a lazy pudge factory like me, you probably just shook Pokémon Pikachu to generate watts ― the pedometer couldn’t tell when you were actually walking, obviously.
It’s harder to cheat with “Pokémon Go,” but not impossible. A man has already used a drone to fly to the game’s locations rather than walking to them.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.