WTF is Pokemon Go?

Friday 22nd July 2016

In the three weeks since release, Pokémon Go has acquired more users than Twitter, and it's made owner Nintendo's stock price jump through the roof. But WTF is it and why should you care? I've been playing it for hours so you don't have to.


What's it all about?

The point of the game is to collect little cartoon creatures, grow them and battle them against other people's creatures. If like me you've never been exposed to the Pokémon (short for 'Pocket Monsters') universe before then there's quite a lot to take in, but let's concentrate on the basics. 

The game is only for smartphones and needs to have an internet connection and GPS active at all times. You wander around the real world and the game shows your actual location in a simplified map with your character in the middle, like this:


Where do they appear?

The game drops Pokémon randomly at locations around the planet and your first task is to collect them. There are more of them dropped into busier parts of the world. In Lostwithiel you can expect to find one every 4-5 minutes wandering around the town, but out on a friend's farm in the middle of nowhere we didn't find any in twenty minutes. 

Once you've found a Pokémon it's drawn on top of your camera's view - this is augmented reality. You have to throw balls at the Pokémon to catch it, and when you do it becomes part of your little zoo. As you can see in the image below right, dogs are able to see Pokémon in real life.


Why are there loads of kids outside my house all night?

There are two locations dotted around the real world: Pokéstops and Gyms. Pokéstops are refuelling stations that give you more items like balls to catch Pokémon with, and Gyms allow you to battle with other people's Pokémon and take control of areas.

Pokéstops are usually local areas of interest, for example in Lostwithiel the Duchy Palace is a Pokéstop as as well as the Earl of Chatham pub.

Gyms are also local areas of interest, but for some reason these seem to be mostly churches. This is so widespread that the Church of England has issued official guidance on how to deal with the influx of young people.

A number of people who live near these locations are justifiably upset. A friend who lives near one of the Pokéstops in Lostwithiel said:

 "My sleep is being blighted by a relentless horde of gamers into the night. They are arriving by foot, car and motorbike.

I am interested (*murderous) at how a huge corporation can implement a game with seemingly little consideration of its social impact."


I really don't care

You should, for three reasons. Firstly, this is the future of gaming. Pokémon Go is rather repetitive, extremely buggy and pretty basic, but it's the beginning of a completely new kind of game, and there are going to be hundreds more like this very soon. Hopefully some of them will be better. 

The second reason is much more important: if you don't understand at least the basics then you're taking the first step to becoming your grandparents. 


We didn't have games like this in my day


Watch someone twenty years older than you trying to use the internet, can be really frustrating. They will likely have significantly worse hand/eye co-ordination than you, because they have been gradually slipping away from current technology. 

This is the same thing.

Augmented reality has arrived, and its first real use is a silly game played by kids. But in ten years time it's going to be everywhere, and if you don't understand it then people are going to tut you at the supermarket while you desperately try to scan a coupon that's hovering above the Coco Pops shelf.

You really need to learn how to walk around concentrating on your phone without being run over because you're either going to get squashed or become increasingly frustrated and angry at technology. 


I'm already frustrated with technology!

Then you really need to start learning how it works, because it's getting exponentially more complex. Futurist Ray Kurzweil stated in 2001 that we made as much technological progress between 2000 and 2010 as the whole of the 20th century, and we'll make the equivalent of 20,000 years' worth of progress in the 21st century. 

If you don't keep up now you're going to look like a caveman by the time you're sixty. 


You said there were three reasons

Well spotted. The third is my favourite: it's a secret conspiracy by Nintendo to make young people do more exercise. Apart from having to physically walk around your town/city to collect items and visit Gyms, players also receive Pokémon eggs that eventually hatch into new Pokémon.

Each egg has a kilometre value attached to it, e.g. a 2km egg or a 10km egg. Longer distances give you more powerful Pokémon, and you have to walk that distance before the egg hatches.

In my first five days I walked 38 miles to get my eggs to hatch. This is taking the gamification of exercise to a whole new level.


So should I play it?

If you like, to be honest I'm pretty bored of it after a week. It's really frustrating to play because the game crashes at least once every ten minutes. It's very repetitive: walk around, catch some Pokémon, level up, battle, repeat. 

I think the hype is going to die down soon and hopefully a better AR game will be along shortly.



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