Pokémon Go has taken the mobile world by storm, employing your smartphone’s camera and GPS capabilities to create an augmented reality game that layers Pokémon on top of your real environment. Pokémon could be sitting on top of your desk, across the restaurant, or down the street, and that’s what makes this sizzling hot app so different from other games.
Created by Niantic Inc, a former division of the Google parent company Alphabet Inc., Pokémon Go is the first of its kind to utilize the camera and GPS on a large scale, essentially creating a game map of the real world. The map shows streets, buildings, and cities in impressive detail. Where an old favorite like The Legend of Zelda was limited by the game map, Pokémon Go instead breaks down the barriers by making the actual Earth its game map with all of its cities, streets, buildings, and landmarks part of the game’s playing field.
This game has become a mobile sensation for players of all ages. From a fun daytime activity for parents and their kids to a 62-year-old man’s 2 a.m. mud-stuck hunt, just about everybody is trying to catch Pokémon everywhere. I’ve personally seen restaurant staff playing it on their shifts and just heard about a reporter getting called out for playing during a press conference. So what is it about Pokémon Go that makes the game so incredibly irresistible?
The Good: A Touch of Nostalgia and a Focus on Fitness
Pokémon Go’s creators seem to have caught lightning in a bottle with the release of the game, which ostensibly has millions of active users on a daily basis. The release of Pokémon Go cleverly marks and celebrates the 20th anniversary of the popular role-playing game. The 2016 release capitalizes on the nostalgia aspect that appeals to players young and old, but especially to Millennials who may have grown up watching the show and playing the game on Game Boy or Nintendo back in the day.
Beyond nostalgia, today’s technology also continues to push people to be more active, from fitness apps to wearables and everything in between. The latest craze takes a throwback monster-catching game and morphs it into a totally addictive source of entertainment, exercise, and social enjoyment. You can’t just sit on your couch to catch Pokémon—you’ve got to get up, walk around, and explore. An animal shelter even got into the action, inviting Pokémon Go players to walk its dogs while they play. Besides all of that, Pokémon Go seems to have some really awesome impacts on people suffering from anxiety and depression. So far it’s a win-win.
The Bad: Distraction and Nuisance
Where people get into trouble is when they are playing the game and looking down at their phones but not paying attention to their surroundings. Surely you’ve seen the national news by now, where players have been so distracted by the game that they’ve injured themselves, gotten into car accidents, wandered into water, or unintentionally yet illegally crossed into another country.
And there’s always the nuisance aspect. Some of the maps tend to be a little outdated at times—in one example showing a fountain that’s since been removed or in the case of Boon Sheridan, whose unique home has been assigned as a Pokémon “gym.” These “gyms” are preset locations where Pokémon can battle each other for supremacy. It’s not completely known how the gyms are selected, but Sheridan says people come all throughout the day and night, getting up close and personal with his property. He and his wife don’t know the folks dropping by and they can’t stop them. (Actually, they can request their home be removed as a Pokémon gym should they wish to do so.)
Similarly, PokéStops (locations allowing you to gather more PokéBalls and supplies) also tend to be set at businesses, churches, and other locations. This can be good for added foot traffic to restaurants and coffee shops, but maybe not so good for police stations or military bases.
The Ugly: Dangers and Casualties of the Craze
Give criminals a Pokémon lure and they’ll try to take your wallet or your phone. These lures can draw more Pokémon to locations, which, in turn draws more Pokémon Go players as well, giving armed robbers an easy, distracted target. Robberies tied to the game have been reported in Missouri, Nevada (Las Vegas), and at the University of Maryland, among others.
Truly odd and rattling discoveries have occurred as well, such as in the case of a teen finding a dead body in a river—but don’t worry too much. The reports did not link the death to the game, and the discovery seems to be a total one-off. And for as many real accidents, injuries, and dangers we hear about tied to Pokémon Go in the news, there are probably just as many Pokémon Go hoaxes out there. So don’t go thinking someone really did stop his car in the middle of a highway to catch Pikachu, causing a major pileup—because, of Snopes article.
It remains to be seen how the game will get on as players spend more time playing and as the game landscape continues to evolve. Developers have brilliantly blended the game’s environment into our real environment, upping the ante on an interactive adventure. If you’ve gotta catch ‘em all, go for it! Please just keep your eyes open and your wits about you, and don’t crash into a school or quit your day job.