What’s the Deal with Pokémon GO?

By Tracey Dowdy

“I think the yellow one is called Pikachu.” That sums up my full knowledge of the Pokémon phenomenon. The game has been around since 1996, but my kids weren’t interested when they were younger so I never paid much attention.

Now however, my adult daughter, like a lot of the adults I know, are on a mission to “catch ‘em all.” Pokémon GO seems to have tapped into the nostalgia of the game for many adults, and introduced it to a new generation of fans. Remember, it’s been around for over 20 years so it never really went away, but with the mobile game, it’s surged back to the forefront.

So what is Pokémon GO anyway? It’s a “free ‘augmented reality’ game for iOS and Android smart devices in which players must physically move around the real world in order to capture Pokémon (short for pocket monsters), which are fantastical creatures from the ever-popular video game/collectible card game/anime franchise of the same name.” (The Wrap) In other words, it’s an online/offline scavenger hunt version of the original game.

Download the game, create an account, then open the game and you’ll see an avatar the game has generated for you pinpointed to your exact GPS location. Every time you’re in the vicinity of a Pokémon, your phone will vibrate and a Pokémon will appear on a map. Touch it and your phone will then switch to Camera Mode and you’ll see the Pokémon on your screen, superimposed over the image.

Of course to catch the creature, you’ll need to have Pokeballs, which you collect at Pokestops, generally attached to landmarks like parks, statues and churches. Oddly, many churches are listed as “gyms”, where you can have Pokémon fight one another. That’s fine unless you’re Boon Sheridan, and your house in actually an old church. Sheridan’s home has been tagged as a Pokéstop, so from early morning until late night, there are strangers in front of his house, in his yard, sometimes sitting in their cars blocking the driveway, all training and learning how to fight Pokémon.

That’s not the only time the game has made the news. Last week a woman in Wyoming found a body in a river near her house while hunting a Pokémon, and according to police in Missouri, armed teens used the game to rob players. Using the geolocation element of the game, the teens were able to determine the location and how isolated potential victims would be.

Nintendo and the other creators of Pokémon partnered with Niantic Labs to create the game that seems to have moved augmented reality from a gaming industry niche to the mainstream. Until last fall, Niantic Labs was a subsidiary of Google and its founder John Hanke was instrumental in developing Google Maps and Google Earth. Google stayed tied to the project when Niantic and Hanke moved on and reportedly invested $30 million in the development of Pokémon GO.

There’s a million reasons to get outside and enjoy the long days of summer before we jump back into school routines, and Pokémon GO is one of the more fun options for our tech loving kids. It’s cheaper than a Fitbit and backs up what First Lady Michelle Obama has been telling our kids all along: Getting up and moving doesn’t have to be boring. Catching monsters in your neighborhood has never been this much fun. So what are you waiting for? You know you “Gotta catch ‘em all!”

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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