The new Pokémon Snap game on Nintendo Switch hits stores on April 30.
The remake of the beloved Nintendo 64 game is getting released at an opportune time too. As it would happen in the U.S., Snap is set to be released just a couple weeks after President Biden’s target date for all adults to be vaccine-eligible. Though we aren’t out of the woods yet, the new Snap could be the perfect “post-pandemic” game. I surmise that it will provide folks with escape during our rough times, similar to the way Animal Crossing did at the onset of the pandemic.
Many people have written about how Animal Farm was the quintessential game for the pandemic. It provided a much needed outlet as our lives moved into the virtual sphere of emails and Zoom calls. The boost in Nintendo Switch sales was largely due to the word-of-mouth success of the game.
For both Animal Crossing and Pokémon Snap, there are a few deeper reasons in us gravitating towards games like these — the nostalgia for the natural environment as we were stuck inside our homes, how we use games to assert our identities, forging social connections through game, being a part of a cultural phenomenon, etc.
Ironically though, Animal Crossing’s success highlights the ways in which video games can become both spaces of pleasure yet centered around work; how “play” gets affected by, conflated with, and absorbed into “productivity.” Animal Crossing was an infinite game in a period of our lives where we felt the acute finiteness of our resources, whether it was our initial immediate struggles at finding hand sanitizer to more dire things like finding employment. There is something interesting about the huge popularity of a game centered around manual labor in a time of economic precarity.
But as society opens up, Snap could be the perfect game for the liminal space we are in — still living our lives in a mostly virtual capacity, but starting to return to normal. As the scourge of COVID-19 subsides, taking photos of our favorite pocket monsters is a great transition back into having fun in and with the outside world. The mechanics of a photography game combined with our nostalgic attachment to Pokémon could provide the type of fun that is playfully and experiential, and not as linked to being productivity as Animal Crossing is.
But I also wondered how playing Snap will be different than it was in the late 90s. Social media was a lot more crude and not even close to ubiquitous back then. With photo-sharing become common, I wonder if players may feel stronger pulls to frequently step “out of the moment” (break the flow and enjoyment felt in the present playing the game) in order to post their pictures. The layers of mediation (a photography video game in a Instagrammed world of within the zeitgeist of a global pandemic) intrigue me.
That being said, research suggests that the idea that experiences become less fun when you take out your camera is likely untrue. Taking a photo and enjoying the moment aren’t dichotomous things. In my concern over how social photo-sharing might affect player experience of the new Snap, I might have overlooked how immersive video games are broadly, but how immersive a photography game is specifically.
When you get in a great flow, it isn’t easily broken. As someone who has shared screengrabs of different games, I wouldn’t say the sharing took me out of the moment any more or less than hitting the pause button. Relating to Snap, the mechanics of correctly framing and taking photo also require a sense of deliberation, preparation, patience and quick reflexes that fit well within flow. I anticipate Pokémon Snap being a great mix of skill, creativity, and luck.
Ultimately, players across all ages will be able to share in the participatory culture and social connections that the Pokémon franchise (from its shows to trading cards to video games) has been awesome at facilitating. Whether it will be the go-to post-pandemic game or not is obviously speculative, but I know it will be a ton of fun. Either way, my pre-order is ready.
I’m coming for you, Lapras.