Pokemon Go has taken over every mainstream media outlet – and middle-school classroom – in less time than it takes to say “Fletchinder “ or “Bulbasaur:” The app-based game, released just in time for the twentieth anniversary of the Pokemon franchise, employs augmented-reality mechanics to blur the divide between the digital and the real – making “catching them all” even more irresistible than before.
The basic premise of the original Pokemon games involved the capture and training of animated fantasy creatures, each possessing a unique magical power. The new Pokemon Go app has retained the imaginative, creative side of this game strategy while keeping pace with the latest technological capabilities. Unlike other older “traditional” video games, the player is not tied to one location. The virtual characters are found seemingly everywhere, and players have to travel to them in order to capture them. But there’s indication that, despite it’s already-extraordinary success, Pokemon gamers ain’t seen nothing yet. John Hanke, the CEO of the hit game’s developer, spoke at a comics convention over the weekend and said that only “a tenth” of the features they’ve imagined have made their way into the game so far.
So what’s made Pokemon Go so irrepressibly popular? Why is it shaking up everything from the entertainment industry to the international economy? Read on, Yung Poke-san.
First, let’s examine some of the differences between the new game and the original. Pokemon Go has gotten folks up off their couches and out into the parks and public spaces of America in record numbers. Why? Because in order to level up, you need to scour the city streets on foot for monsters in REAL locations outdoors (“PokeStops”)- as confirmed by the GPS in your smartphone. Although the average player is probably in his or her teens, people of all ages have been spotted in city streets, suburban neighborhoods and even rural areas in search of the elusive cyber-characters. The boost in activity level has already revealed numerous unexpected benefits for a generation of youth with a reputation for being consummate couch potatoes and bean-bag-chair surfers. One popular Internet meme even suggests that Pokemon Go has done more to improve America’s childhood obesity problem in just a few days than the newly revamped school nutrition guidelines have in several years.
The benefits don’t seem to end with physical health. Pokemon hunters are finding that their expeditions provide great opportunities to reconnect with their neighbors and communities. Stories about running into old friends and meeting new ones while on the hunt for Pokemons abound on social media. The uptick in general outdoor activity has even led to the location of a missing body and the apprehension of at least one suspected murderer who might otherwise have escaped justice.
As is to be expected, however, the story is not all good when it comes to Pokemon Go. According to multiple online safety resources, it’s been reported that the game can be used by criminals to lure unsuspecting players from their homes for the purpose of breaking in. The app itself may also collect users’ personal and location data although this practice was supposedly stopped due to public concern. Local police departments have recently reported record numbers of people trespassing onto private property and breaking local curfews and ordinances by remaining in public parks or buildings past closing time.
Aside from obvious risks to personal security and property, the game can be engaging to the point of dangerous distraction. Pokemon-obsessed individuals have been involved in automobile accidents as the result of driving while distracted, and some have inadvertently traveled into unsafe, high-crime areas or stayed out hunting into the wee hours of the morning. In addition, even cemeteries and other solemn public areas are not immune to the effects of this new phenomenon. Families visiting the graves of loved ones have encountered enthusiastic Pokemon players in cemeteries, and in a glaring example of blatant insensitivity, the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, has reported a Pokemon that disperses poison gas appears on their property.
As is the case with many web-driven curiosities, Pokemon Go will likely enjoy a period in the spotlight that is all too brief. Eventually, someone will invent a new app or game that turns the public’s attention in a different direction. But for now, we can continue screenshotting in wonder every time we apprehend a real, live Pocket Monster in the wild.