GOTY 2016: Best Game for People Who Don't Play Games

This year we've brought back our category awards to recognize achievements in specific areas of game development. There are ten awards in all, with two new ones being awarded every day this week. Keep checking back for more winners!

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Best Game for People Who Don’t Play Games: Pokémon Go

Niantic | July 6, 2016 | iOS, Android

Runners-up: Clash Royale, Really Bad Chess

Fish out of water

Fish out of water

One warm Saturday afternoon in mid-July, a friend and I decided to meet up and go for a walk around Portland. We both live near Southeast Hawthorne, one of the cultural and commercial arteries of the city, and it was a beautiful day, so hey, why not?

It sounds like a reasonably positive, even quaint way to spend a Saturday. And yet, here’s why this is weird: 

I never make plans with friends to go for a walk. 

Who does? I mean, I’d like to do that — fresh air is good, and I live in a beautiful city — but I’m still not sure what the hell friends in their thirties are supposed to do except make tentative plans and then cancel them. 

And yet, there we were, meandering up through the staid neighborhoods and into Laurelhurst Park for several hours of circling its walking paths. The park was always our destination; that’s where the good Pokémon live.

And lo, the park did deliver. Each Pokéstop was lit up with lures and drawing monsters in droves — and, unsurprisingly, hundreds of Pokémon Go players were lumped around each virtual Pokémon waypoint, swapping tips on where the rarest monsters pop up and how to catch them. And that’s the real miracle of Pokémon Go: the people it inspired.

When it comes to utterly capturing the zeitgeist through confounding and compelling social hooks, Pokémon Go is a true phenomenon.

I live near Laurelhurst Park; it’s my go-to running spot, and I’m there at least a few times a week. On the sunniest of weekend afternoons, I’ll maybe spot a few dozen people walking, enjoying a picnic, or tossing a frisbee around.

The week after Pokémon Go arrived, I counted more than 200 people crammed into Laurelhurst Park, each one on the prowl for more monsters. And it wasn’t just people my age: parents guided toddlers and tweens toward Pokéstops (or sometimes the other way around). Teenagers wandered in droves, laughing and guiding each other toward the next hot spot. I chatted with kids, elders, and everyone in-between, sharing stories and expressing a mix of joy and disbelief that this goofy little phone app had brought us all out to enjoy this park together. My game-designer senses lit up; something new was happening all around me.

*keyboard solo*

*keyboard solo*

From a pure game-mechanics perspective, Pokémon Go isn’t gonna win any awards. But when it comes to utterly capturing the zeitgeist through confounding and compelling social hooks, Pokémon Go is a true phenomenon. 

Before closing out, I wanted to acknowledge that the name of this category is a little tongue-in-cheek, and that’s if I’m being polite. But I think the spirit of this award is meant to honor those games that transcend the boundaries that keep so many people out of this medium and bring new players into the fold by creating an essential experience that appeals to a broad audience — and that can include so-called enthusiast game-players like me.

Pokémon Go gets a bad rap from some of the gaming blogs and pundits out there, but I derived more genuine joy and happiness from wandering my neighborhood, catching up with friends and meeting my neighbors, than anything else I did this year. It’s a true gem of an experience, and with any luck, it’s only the beginning of what these devices and types of games can deliver.  — Nick Cummings