Prior to this week, I had invested very little interest in the Pokémon franchise. It was a brand whose craze I just barely missed the boat on, having skyrocketed in the mid-’90s among children my nephew’s age. Children who are now adults only a handful of years younger than myself. I didn’t want any part of it for a long time, due to its strong association with an audience younger than myself. I had already gone through growing pains with my love of the Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers a few years beforehand. I just wasn’t ready for that kind of humiliation and heartbreak again! But now, The Pokémon Company in collaboration with Google sibling Niantic Labs, has released its most ambitious title yet: Pokémon GO!
The new game is a mobile app that utilizes the very scientific-sounding “augmented reality” which uses your phone’s camera and GPS to populate the fictional Pokémon in the world around you. Afterwards, they can be caught and tamed by the player. Augmented reality is a technology Niantic knows well. Niantic is also responsible for the popular science fiction-themed game Ingress as well as the world-exploration app Field Trip. Teaming with Pokémon has given them the unique opportunity however to cater to a massive built-in audience that will literally go out and try to “catch ’em all.” And that massive audience already loves it: It’s been trending on social media the past few days since its release and the free app has been downloaded over 5 million times in the Google Play Store alone! The hype surrounding it has even managed to appeal to people like me, who had never had any interest before.
As a former Ingress player, Pokémon GO is admittedly fantastic. The game mechanics are very similar in that you’re encouraged to explore the world around you in order to advance in the game. Ingress mostly just relied heavily on traveling to local art installations and landmarks so that you can capture it and surrounding territory for your faction. Pokémon GO takes that concept a step further though by interspersing the territory around important places with the franchise’s popular characters like Pikachu, Jigglypuff, Squirtle, and more. Don’t think that they have completely taken actual destinations out of the equation though: Those local landmarks still serve as gyms and stops where players can either engage each other in virtual battle or stock up on much-needed items. And of course, like Ingress, the real joy and charm of the game is that it encourages gamers and Pokémon lovers alike to get out of the house more! Gamers who would normally be sitting on the couch or at a computer are getting fresh air and exercise with Pokémon GO! People are forming incredibly huge communities through the game and they’re planning even more! Perhaps most importantly: People are having fun in a time in which all other ongoing news items seem to be getting grisly and sinister. Who can argue the merits of that?
As with anything that gets a lot of overnight exposure, there are a lot of skeptical people that feel the game can be dangerous and addictive. It’s understandable to be worried after some teens were robbed while playing and local businesses seem concerned. It really strikes me however that we’re just used to turning everything into a scary or sad story these days. Just make sure that you (and/or your children, as the case may very well be!) are staying aware of your surroundings. Don’t walk into telephone poles or traffic or other people. Don’t stray too far off the beaten path, no matter what kind of “rare” creature just popped up in that shady alley. To put it less eloquently, don’t be stupid!
But if you’re planning a trip with your kids to the park or to the mall, this is the perfect activity to keep them occupied and even interested in going! Want them to accompany you on your evening walk through the neighborhood? Now they’ll be more than happy to! The game itself is perfectly safe, despite the new warnings that it’ll steal your Google information! (Newsflash: Google owns one of the game developers!) If you and/or your kids are using common sense, you’re going to be just fine.
You might even have some fun.