Let’s Talk: Pokemon Go

If you hear someone say “Pickachu” and your immediate instinct is to say “bless you,” then you have come to right place. This week, we are discussing the new mobile gaming phenomenon, Pokemon Go. Pokemon Go is a new Augmented Reality (AR) game in which players can use their phone to bleed their battery dry as they try to connect to the Pokemon Go servers for countless hours on end, only to eventually become frustrated and ultimately give up. I kid, of course, but Niantic, the company behind Pokemon Go seems to have severely underestimated the demand for this game, so if you want to try it out, you may have to start up a few times to actually get connected to the game servers. Also, you may want to buy a back-up battery pack as this game really does kill your battery.
But, anyways, the demand for this game has been incredible. It has been out for about a week and already the daily active users numbers are about to surpass the numbers for Twitter. It is used more on a daily basis than Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, and it is being google searched more than porn. Why? Possibly because it hits that sweet spot between nostalgia and coolness as it is probably the most notable AR app on the market. For that reason, you are just as likely to see adults who grew up playing pokemon playing this game as you are to see kids or teenagers playing.
Pokemon was a game that first hit the market in the 1990s and was based on the apparently actual real life hobby of bug collecting. Who knew? In the game, the user’s character searched all over the game world for creatures called pokemon, in the hopes of eventually collecting all of them. The original game shipped with 151 pokemon and later expansion packs pushed the number of collectible pokemon into the 700s. Later, a collectible pokemon card game was also released, again with the ultimate goal being to collect them all.
So it should be no surprise that the goal of Pokemon Go is for the player to collect all the pokemon. Pokemon Go has shipped with the original 151 pokemon, although one assumes that the company is ready to release more pokemon as soon as interest begins to wane, so expect to do a lot of collecting. But it is how you go about capturing these pokemon that sets this game apart. Pokemon Go essentially uses your phone functions to turn the entire world into the game world. It uses your phone’s GPS to know where you are, and then the game alerts you if there are any pokemon nearby in your area. If there are some, you may need to physically travel in real life to the locations where the pokemon are. Once there, you can use your phone’s camera to see the pokemon superimposed over the camera video, so that you can pretend that the pokemon is actually in the real world. You then attempt to capture the pokemon by flinging some balls in the game at the pokemon until you have successfully captured the pokemon. The pokemon show up in areas that make sense for their type as well, thereby encouraging people to go walk around in areas they maybe don’t normally frequent in an attempt to find pokemon they don’t have. For example, some pokemon may be more likely to appear near water, so people will need to go to the beach or a lake or river to try to find them. Others may appear in fields, perhaps prompting people to go to the local park instead. Looking for a nocturnal pokemon? Go out at night. Transgender pokemon? Try the local Target. 😉
But that’s not all Pokemon Go has done to make use of the real world. Some local businesses have been marked as in game PokeShops, where players can get items and power-ups used in the game, so players go to these businesses in real life in order to get their free game items. Other places, like churches, have been marked as gyms in the game. In gyms, players can join a team and use their pokemon to battle other teams for ownership of the gym. Belonging to a team that owns a gym nets players more free items in game, so look for church attendance to spike in upcoming weeks.
In addition to all the traveling to find pokemon, players can also find eggs, which will then hatch into pokemon. In order to hatch these eggs, the player must travel a certain number of kilometers (like shorter miles, but for non-americans). The game is somehow smart enough to not count car travel in this, so people actually have to walk or jog (like walking, but faster) in order to hatch their eggs.
And that is probably the coolest part of the game. This game has actually gotten children and adults alike to get up and move around. Outside. In the not air conditioning. Where nature is. Michelle Obama is overjoyed. Fitbits everywhere are recording record numbers of steps, unsure about what is happening. Can Fitbits even count that high? Sure, the people playing the game are all walking around staring intently at their phones, completely oblivious to the rest of the world, but that’s not really so different from normal these days anyways.
So if someone in your life has a sudden, inexplicable desire to start doing stuff outside, chances are they are into this game. Give it a download (it’s free) and the two of you can walk around the neighborhood together, throwing balls at cartoonish creatures that only the two of you can see.

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