Pokémon Go: The Global Phenomenon that is Getting Gamers Active
Launched in Japan in 1996, Pokémon became one of the world’s most popular children’s entertainment properties, with trading cards, stuffed animals, cartoons, videogames, action figures, and related merchandise all contributing to its brand. It is has seen multiple waves of popularity; first becoming immensely popular when it was first introduced, then seeing another resurgence in popularity in the 2010s. Most of the so-called millennials are familiar with Pokémon as are members of younger generations, and many of them have a special place for Pikachu, Ash Ketchum and the other iconic Pokémon figures. Parents have been drawn to Pokémon for their children because of how the game encourages strategy and also encourages children to use their math skills. However, aside from a small group of diehard Pokémon fanatics, Pokémon has long been considered a children’s entertainment property with a relatively small adult following. That changed in July 2016, with the release of the wildly popular game A2 Pokémon Go!
While Pokémon is a Nintendo property, Pokémon Go! was actually launched by Niantic Labs, a company partially owned by Google. It rapidly became the most popular smartphone game in history; “Apple said the game had more downloads in its first week than any other app in history. 2 In fact, the game is so popular that one in ten Americans plays it on a daily basis. 3 A3 The game was developed by John Hanke, owner of Niantic and an employee of Google who had previously been responsible for launching the wildly popular GPS driven site, Google Earth. When Google was considering shutting down Niantic, Hanke asked if he could seek outside investors. Google assented, retaining a little less than 30% ownership of the company. Hanke then approached Nintendo and the Pokémon Company, seeking permission to use Pokémon in a mobile gaming application. The game combines familiar Pokémon characters and concepts, such as the fighting of Pokémon characters, training those characters, and trading them between players, with the augmented reality concept that Hanke and Niantic first experimented with in their game Ingress.
In order to understand how Pokémon Go! works, it is critical to understand the concept of augmented reality. Augmented reality allows video game players in virtual worlds to interact with the real world by mapping that game to the real world. Pokémon Go! is not the first augmented reality game. Geo-caching may be the world’s first augmented reality game, though it does not require the use of smart-phones or other electronic devices. Other popular augmented reality games include: Ingress; Zombies, Run!; and Clandestine, Anomaly. All of these games use your actual surroundings as part of the game, and, depending on the technology of the application allow you to interact with the game in those surroundings.
Playing Pokémon Go
Playing Pokémon Go! is extremely simple. After downloading the Pokémon Go! app, players hunt for Pokémons. Pokémons can be located anywhere, and, as a person goes to more locations, they are likely to find more Pokémons. To catch a Pokémon, a player throws a Poké Ball at the virtual reality figure that appears as part of the augmented reality of the game. If a player runs out of supplies in their virtual backpack, they can replenish at PokéStops. In addition, Pokémon are more likely to congregate around PokéStops, making them good places to congregate in order to play the game. PokéStops are likely to be located in places with lots of foot traffic, such as malls, parks, churches, museums, and other busy places.
The Benefits of Pokémon Go
While many critics were quick to deride the game as a silly fad, it has some undeniable pros that its fans are quick to point out to naysayers. The most obvious benefit is that the game encourages physical activity. Most video games are static, requiring users to sit still for relatively long periods of time in order to complete the game. In contrast, Pokémon Go! is, by design, a game that encourages movement and exploration. Players must get out and interact with the larger world in order to catch the elusive Pokémon. Parents marvel at the game’s ability to motivate otherwise sedentary children and teens to get out and get active, even in the oppressive summer heat.
Movement, the benefits are not limited to encouraging movement. Unlike most other video games, Pokémon Go! encourages real-life socialization. “Augmented reality is slightly different than virtual reality because it doesn’t transport you into a new space but keeps you in the real world…Pokémon Go! harnesses the power of augmented reality in a different way by giving people incentives for people to Go! out and explore.” When players find other players, they have real world interactions, increasing socialization. There even is speculation that the game, or games like it, could be used to encourage people with anxiety, depression, or other disorders to leave their homes and interact with people.
Furthermore, many popular video games focus on themes or characters that are frightening or violent. The Pokémon characters are non-realistic appearing, non-threatening characters that pose no threat to players or other characters in the game. While the Pokémon fight, their battles are essentially non-violent, and the Pokémons can defeat, but do not cause physical damage to, one another.
The Negatives of Pokémon Go
While the game may be mostly positive, it is impossible to ignore some of the negatives that have occurred as a result of the game. While the use of public space is great for game players, it has become a nuisance for some of the people who work in those public spaces. For example, the game was released close to the same time that police officers were killed in a series of ambushes in the United States. However, police stations were frequently designated as PokéStops, which increased the risk of unidentified people lurking in or around police stations. Pokémon Go! has been sighted as the cause of distracted driving that has led to several major car accidents. Thieves have used Pokémon Go! as a way to target potential victims and then rob them of their smartphones and other valuables when they arrive at PokéStops. There have been several shootings associated with Pokémon Go; most of these have been by other people shooting at players, usually because those players are trespassing; though armed players have defended themselves against potential assailants. Distracted players have received injuries; most notably, two young men fell off of a cliff while playing the game.
While these serious problems have occurred, the more prevalent problem with Pokémon Go! appears to be the level of obsession it provides. If internet memes are any indication, educators and employers are noticing that students and workers are failing to do their work because they are busy playing the game. In addition, one imagines that obsessions with the game is the source of conflict in many homes and relationships. However, it would be very short-sighted to assume that the game is negative because of a few instances of violence, associated accidents, and incidents of bad behavior. Given the extreme popularity of the game, it would be far more surprising if it was not associated with some negatives, despite its overall positive impact in the lives of most of the people playing the game.
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