Pokemon Go, fake Articunos, and why I'm enjoying Niantic's silence

Updated with comment from Niantic

Update: In response to the Articuno fiasco, Niantic sent me the following statement:

"We recently noticed that a few Legendary Pokémon got into a few accounts when they shouldn't have. To preserve the game's integrity and as a measure of fairness, we have rectified the situation and revoked the legendary Pokémon from the Trainers' accounts."

While that confirms that any Articunos that have been doing the rounds are now back in their cages at Niantic, it still leaves questions over how they were obtained.

If the Articuno ended up in Covey's account by mistake, that doesn't necessarily explain the email, but I suppose there remains a chance that Covey's Articuno could have been handed out by a Niantic bod who was unauthorized to do so.

Original piece below...

In the instant-verification, instant-gratification era of the internet, it feels like nothing can go unchecked. And yet we find ourselves here, in 2016, discussing whether or not a Pokémon Go player in Ohio was in fact gifted a Legendary Pokemon by Niantic.

It all started this week when Kaitlyn Covey uploaded a video to the Dayton Area Pokémon Go Facebook group showing an Articuno in one of the gyms. The Pokémon, she claimed, was given to her after she complained to Niantic about one of her monsters being erased by mistake.

People immediately called bulls**t. It was the modern day "My dad works at Nintendo and promised to get me a MewThree".

But then things got weirder. Kaitlyn did a livestream on Twitch, where her friend held up the phone and showed that the Legendary was indeed in her list of Pokémon, complete with an appropriate moveset. The aforementioned Niantic email was also shown:

"Hi Trainer,

We are sorry about your Pigeot!

We thought by now you might have another so we gave you an Articundo.

Go Team Mystic,

Rep the squad,

Niantic"

Eh?

Firstly, yes the email did misspell Articuno as Articundo, just another hint that the whole thing was a hoax.

Second, not long after the stream ended a spokesperson from Niantic told Geek that the Articuno didn't come from the company, and that it was looking into the situation.

So what the hell happened? There are several theories floating about, most of them involving hacks that swap the Pokémon's "skins".

Pokemon

One member of the Pokémon Go Reddit community pointed me towards this piece of software that can be used to manipulate the game to change the skins - which was apparently used to make this fake MewTwo.

Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, but it's Kaitlyn's ardent dedication to the story that makes the whole thing so baffling. "you don't have to believe it! with all the craziness that has come from this," she wrote on the Facebook group,."that i didn't even start (i just put him in a gym and someone else freaked out seeing him there)..I just can't wait for Niantic to confirm!"

I've asked Kaitlyn for a response to Niantic's statement, but am yet to hear anything. Despite the comments of the Niantic spokesperson to Geek, I don't want to say the thing is categorically a lie just yet: Niantic hasn't made any public announcement, nor responded to our own request for comment. Even if it's a hoax, it's possible that someone else tricked Kaitlyn. We know very little.

And that's what makes this all so bafflingly brilliant. The original Pokémon games - Blue, Red and Green - were surrounded by whispers, rumors and legends that were difficult to verify in those early days of the internet, long before social media.

Creator Satoshi Tajiri even attributed some of the success of those games to the myths that floated around unchecked at the time.

I didn't think a similar thing could be repeated 20 years later, but Niantic's silence is creating an chamber in which these sorts of stories can grow - and I find myself enjoying the ridiculousness of it all.

Enjoy the silence

Other rumors have surfaced over the last few months: Niantic will supposedly release more Pokémon into the game at the end of the year; one person told me that Legendaries will be distributed through a massive team-based battle, where every member of the winning team will get a copy of the Pokémon.

Again, maybe all nonsense, but the fact Niantic is remaining elusive means these types of claims are more likely to stick.

The lack of communication since the game's launch has infuriated players, but I wonder how much of it is deliberate and not just the result of a company desperately playing catch-up with its own creation.

Even the game's tutorial is sorely lacking, which has encouraged more discussion between players and arguably fostered a greater sense of community. That community has made Pokémon explode, but it's not too different to how it was in the Red and Blue days; Pokémon has always been enjoyed by an enthusiastic fanbase, it's just bigger this time.

Niantic is in an unenviable position right now, and is probably far more interested in fixing bugs and hiring staff than addressing rumors.

But I quite like the fact it's not, because it's the rumors, urban legends and occasional nonsense that, to me, made the first Pokémon games what they were. So as for Articuno, I wonder if Niantic should have said anything at all.