Pokémon Go has officially taken over the globe. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this whole time, you would’ve heard about this new augmented reality mobile app game, developed by Niantic, a Californian independent software development start-up.
It all began in 1996 when the would-be colossal Pokémon franchise launched a video game, igniting a passion in generations of children who “gotta catch ‘em all”. Today, fans of the game (also known as Pokémon trainers) can capture their favourite Pokémon characters within the real world.
Confused or feeling left out of the hype? Worried that your kids will walk headlong into traffic chasing after that elusive Pikachu? Fret not, we have prepared a simple primer not only to orientate you to the world of Pokémon Go, but also dig deeper into why it’s taken the world by storm. Parents of young trainers will also learn how to safeguard their children from the real-life perils of monster hunting.
How it Works
Available on iOS and Android devices, the free-to-play app encourages users to go outdoors, follow its digital map, and roam around in search of Pokémon. It uses Google Maps to track your location, and alerts you every time a character is nearby. Once you’ve found a Pokémon, all you have to do is aim your phone at the character (superimposed in actual environments), and swipe towards it to catch it with a PokéBall. Take too long, and the critter may escape.
Besides catching Pokémon, you can also hatch them from eggs. But you’ll have to do physical work for it by walking a certain distance (2km, 5km or 10km), depending on how rare they are, before they hatch. Another fan-favourite feature in the game is the ability to evolve existing Pokémon into stronger versions of themselves.
Blue landmarks appear at times on the game’s map as well. These are Poké Stops, where you can collect special equipment, or stock up on PokéBalls. Every time you visit a Poké Stop or evolve a Pokémon, you gain points, and get closer to levelling up. Once you reach the fifth level, you can battle other characters at Pokémon Gyms, which you conquer upon winning. And the rewards from investing the necessary effort? Bragging rights on social media and envy within your circle of friends.
Passing Fad or Here to Stay?
Originally launched in 1996 on the Nintendo Gameboy as Pokémon Red and Green, the Pokémon juggernaut has single-handedly helped Nintendo conquer the portable gaming market with new releases still being put out today. With the in-built Pokémon fan base, cultivated over two decades, it is no surprise this app saw such immediate, widespread success. Outperforming its portable and console counterparts, the mobile game has a leg up on its ability to bring the realm of Pokémon to life. For most, it fulfils the once unattainable dream of being a genuine Pokémon trainer. The number of players has, in fact, surpassed Twitter’s daily users in the US.
Even so, the viral phenomenon might just be a passing fad (much like long-forgotten games including Flappy Bird and Angry Bird). The technology, however, is likely to stick around for a while more. Changing the way companies use augmented reality in mobile apps, Pokémon Go has provided a gateway to incorporate the technology more into our daily lives. Every other game after Pokémon Go will try to emulate the features of the game in an attempt to replicate its success.
To date, Pokémon Go has been released in over 40 countries including Singapore. While the benefits are numerous, be warned a word of caution is necessary, especially in light of all the appalling Pokémon Go-related news stories that have surfaced over the past month.
The Merits of Pokémon Go
Let’s start with the positives. The game provides automatic incentives for users to traverse long distances in the physical world, making exercise a necessary but enjoyable affair. With the hunt for Pokémon preoccupying the player’s mind, a 5km walk might end up feeling like a five-minute stroll. And what’s more, players are actually required to get under the sun, break a sweat, and absorb all the nourishing vitamin D.
Along with exercise comes the opportunity to satisfy the inner wanderlust without having to cross international borders. Players get to explore their surroundings, discover new places, as well as new things about a familiar neighbourhood that they hadn’t noticed before.
Furthermore, walking is a simple task. It’s low-impact, easy to begin, and, if done regularly, does wonders for your heart, weight, and mood. According to the American Heart Association, brisk walking reduces the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease, just as effectively as running. The endorphins it produces also drive the blues away, and help combat depression.
Speaking of mental health benefits, thanks to Pokémon Go, those suffering from anxiety and agoraphobia are overcoming their fear of going out and talking to strangers as well. Many players attest to its efficacy, posting testimonies on social media platforms like Twitter and Tumblr. One such user, Ahfairehnuff wrote, “It really is helping. My boyfriend and I have gone outside twice today. Up until yesterday, we hadn’t left the house for a week besides going to the bank.”
Being outside, visiting Poké Stops and Pokémon Gyms, players are bound to meet like-minded devotees of the game doing the same. The app turns into a conversation starter, and before you know it, you’ve made a new friend (or more). For those more introverted folk who have traditionally not been too good at socialising, this is certainly a game-changer as the game provides an easy platform to talk to others, make friends or even find romantic partners!
The Drawbacks of Pokémon Go
On the flip side, reckless and absentminded players risk exposing themselves to considerable harm. A 15-year-old girl in America, for instance, was hit by a car when she decided to cross a four-lane highway to catch a Pokémon. Another player accidentally collided his SUV into a police car, while playing the game. Other extreme cases that have garnered widespread media attention include two men falling off an ocean bluff, and a teenage boy getting bitten by a venomous snake.
While physical injuries and accidents are not to be taken lightly, even more horrific are the potential encounters with the criminal sort. I’m talking about pickpockets, kidnappers, murderers, and the like. Imagine spotting a beacon, which attracts more Pokémon and players, at a Poké Stop nearby, thinking you’ve struck gold. Naively, you caper to the location, smartphone at the ready for your biggest loot of the day, only to be greeted by a gang of four armed robbers at an isolated car park. This was what happened to a number of unwitting players in Missouri on July 10.
Perhaps the most bizarre incident was when a young girl in Wyoming chanced upon a corpse in a river in the middle of a Pokémon quest – an event that will undeniably leave emotional scars. And in case you feel such morbid stuff only happens in other countries, Singapore was not spared either. It is only a matter of time before an incident happens and concerned parents start writing to news columns demanding the authorities start enforcing piecemeal restrictions on the mobile game to safeguard the children.
As for cultural implications, this app may have brought more youths out of the house, but it does nothing for the rising threat of smartphone addiction, the need to remain behind a screen, while missing out on real-life interactions and experiences.
While most adults are generally safety conscious while out monster hunting, parents need to be extra mindful of younger players getting overly caught up in the game at the expense of paying attention to their surroundings.
A few rules you might want to enforce for younger players include:
- Don’t play during peak hours of the day when traffic is heavy
- Don’t play after dark
- Don’t register your real name for privacy purposes
- Keep away from hazardous sites and secluded areas
- Don’t venture to unfamiliar areas
- Don’t trespass on private property in an attempt to catch a Pokémon
- Don’t walk and play at the same time
- Don’t meet another player alone if you don’t know them
It is important to set distance boundaries, so your child doesn’t roam too far away. And while they have their fun with Pokémon Go, keep them educated on the importance of disconnecting once in a while, and experiencing life without filters.
Otherwise, it is always advisable to accompany younger trainers whenever they hunt for Pokémon. You can even turn it into a family activity to encourage bonding. This way, you’ll be able to keep tabs on your kids, and protect them from precarious situations, while their eyes are glued to the device. Some have taken it a step further, bringing their dogs out for a walk at the same time. Don’t forget to install a weather app, and carry a power bank in case the battery runs out in an emergency situation.