What the heckings is Pokémon Go?
It's the new craze that's taking the world by storm. Find out all you need to know about Pokémon Go and why people are mad for this smartphone app.
What is Pokémon?
Pokémon Trainer Ash and popular Pokémon Pikachu from the animated series
To understand Pokémon Go you first have to understand the history of the Pokémon franchise. It was set up in 1995 as a role-playing video game (RPG) for the Nintendo Gameboy. In the game, humans know as Pokémon trainers collect some rather curious creatures known as Pokémon and enter into battles with other trainers.
The more battles the Pokémon win the more powerful they get, evolving from a cute wee critter to a rather ferocious adult.
Pokémon trainers either acquire Pokémon during battles or out in the wilderness. The creatures are then zapped into a peculiar looking ball and pocketed until they are training for, or engaging in, battles.
The franchise grew to include a TV series in 1997 with trading cards, movies, comics, toys and even more games.
The concept of Pokémon is actually rather interesting as it takes inspiration from the ancient tradition of collecting insects. The word Pokémon itself translates to 'pocket monsters' which is rather apt for its latest incarnation for smartphones—which, let's face it, live in your pocket most of the day.
What is Pokémon Go?
Pokémon Go is known as an augmented reality RPG. This means that it takes elements of real life environments and places the game into reality. Within the game itself, your area is mapped out accurately—all the roads, parks, even landmarks, pubs, schools, churches. Fictional elements are placed onto this map: your avatar (the Pokémon trainer), the gyms where you train Pokémon so they can evolve, and of course, the Pokémon themselves.
The only catch is that you have to be connected to the internet to play the game, so if you download it make sure you have enough data to handle it—especially if you're abroad where data roaming charges can quickly accrue.
Once you spot a Pokémon on the map, tap on it to activate your camera and place the monster into your real environment—whether that's your living room, sat on top of your dog while on a walk, or on the bus. The challenge is then to throw your Poké ball at it and capture it—just like in the Pokémon Trainers in the animated series and in the original games.
The goal of the game is to fill your Pokédex (a sort of rolodex of little monsters) by collecting as many Pokémon as possible (there are 151 in total) and then evolving them to their full potential.
Sounds straightforward, but things get a little more interesting and complicated thanks to the augmented reality element. Pokémon aren't just hiding in your house and local proximity, they're all over the place.
Players get rewarded with rare Pokémon, items and potions for visiting monuments and places of cultural interest (Pokéstops), and you can evolve them by finding Pokégyms and training them in battles there. There are different Pokémon, gyms and stops across the country and even the world.
The sight of a crowd of people trying to catch a rare Pokémon in Central Park, New York was indeed something one can't forget in a hurry and encapsulates how mad people are for Pokémon.
Why do people love it?
Watch as people crowd and gather to catch rare Pokémon in public spaces
Interestingly this isn't necessarily one that appeals to the kids. It's largely millennials actively playing Pokémon Go; people aged between 18–34. Remember, as the franchise was launched in 1995, millennials were the original target audience for Pokémon and the launch of the app appeals to either certain nostalgia or diehard fans.
It's also the first already-huge franchise to make interesting use of augmented reality, and the success of the game has even caused Apple to invest in the potentials of this technology.
But could the popularity of the game also be down to the nature of collecting itself? This activity is an age old pastime and Pokémon is the first incarnation for the digital generation.
How much of it is fad? Only time will tell.
Is it safe?
Everyone's favourite baddie, Meowth gets hit by a Pokéball
We've heard a lot of horror stories. Headlines have included:
"I crashed my car playing Pokémon Go"
"London players robbed of phones at gunpoint"
"Player crashes car into school while playing game"
"Two men fall more than 50ft off cliff while playing Pokémon Go"
"Players urges not to venture into Fukushima disaster zone"
"Pokémon Go players in Bosnia warned to steer clear of landmines"
It doesn't seem very safe, but all these headlines have one thing in common, the players had completely zoned out while playing.
As the game warns, always be aware of your surroundings while playing. Although an immersive game, it isn't so immersive that you need to be looking at your phone constantly.
Is it good for your health?
Sandshrew and Pikachu exercise in the gym
When this game was created, the developers wanted the game to encourage people to get out and about, adding incentives for visiting places of culture and interest. But something far more unexpected happened, it started to help people.
One mother told of how it helped her autistic son break through his social boundaries:
“After he caught his first Pokémon at the bakery, he ran outside to catch more. A little boy saw him and recognised what he was doing. They immediately had something in common.
He asked Ralphie how many he had caught. Ralph didn’t really answer him, other than to shriek ‘POKEMON’ and jump up and down with excitement while flapping his arms.
Then the little boy showed him how many he had caught (over 100) and Ralph said ‘WOWWWW!’ and they high-fived."
And it's not just autism. Long-time sufferers of anxiety and depression are finding reasons to venture outdoors and feeling improvements in their mental health.
The evidence is anecdotal (and all over Twitter), but it has long been known that physical exercise is linked to good mental well-being.
There are even hopes that it might help with obesity issues. The gamification within the app gives people plenty of incentives to get active. Unless you have an endless supply of Pokécoins (which you have to buy with real coins) the only way to catch 'em all is to use your legs—it might be the polar opposite of another popular smartphone game, Candy Crush.
Research shows that just a brisk ten-minute walk three times a day is fantastic for lowering blood pressure. Not to mention that walking is incredible for the brain, improving memory, concentration and it's even thought to lower the risk of dementia. Couple the app with a Fitbit to really see the benefit.
2016 has been an unusually dark year and if nothing else, the launch of Pokémon Go in July has actually given people something to feel positive about.
It's encouraged more social interactions and has helped people explore big cities despite the media's fearmongering regarding terrorism.