Niantic and The Pokemon Company have finally released their eagerly awaited mixed reality mobile game Pokemon GO in several countries (including Australia, New Zealand, and the United States) and the hype couldn’t be more real. Kids young and old alike are once again caught up in the phenomenon that started over 20 years ago with this exciting new iteration of the classic role-playing adventure game.
As with the traditional game series, you play as a new pokemon trainer, setting off into the world on a journey to try to collect as many pokemon as possible and battle them against others in an attempt to become the very best. (Like no one ever was, ideally.) Pokemon GO uses your phone’s GPS locator to track where you are, and provides you with an onscreen map featuring most roads and large structures, and your character representing you, facing and moving in the same direction as you do. As you walk around, you have a chance to randomly encounter different types of pokemon based on your location and level. Using the phone’s camera, the pokemon appears on your screen with your camera’s feed of what’s actually in front of you as the backdrop. You can photograph them if you choose, and use items and throw pokeballs to attempt to catch them. As with RPGs, the more you catch and play, the more experience you receive towards increasing your overall level and strength.
Pokemon GO adds two types of fictional places to visit on the map: pokemon gyms, and “pokestops.” At gyms, players can battle other trainers and attempt to win the title of “gym leader.” Every player chooses one of three factions (Valor, Instinct, or Mystic), adding a team mentality on top of the individual competitiveness of the game. Pokestops are areas where you can “check-in” and receive free items, such as more pokeballs. The game is free to download, but (of course) includes the option to purchase the in-game currency you can earn, “pokecoins,” with real money, which can then be used to buy a number of various items. Gyms and pokestops are generally found around popular areas such as parks and schools, or other notable places, like landmarks — sadly an instant disadvantage for anyone living in more rural areas.
While the game is currently in something of a beta stage, it has already become massively popular since its initial release on July 6, often seeing even more traffic than the networks can handle. As these bugs and issues are addressed and ironed out, more locations and new features will be added. Following the initial release, various positive and negative effects / features of the game are being discussed.
Some of the game’s beneficial aspects include the incentive to actually go out, travel, and interact with other people. Handheld systems already allow people the freedom to game outside of the house, but Pokemon GO takes things even further. Some people are even calling it a “fitness revolution,” as the game rewards and even requires you to clock distance in order to obtain certain rewards. And players frequenting gyms and pokestops are likely to encounter other players, and potentially make new friends.
Some people are worried that the wrong people may try to take advantage of these locations, as they become gathering centres for players — notably children. However, the most evident danger inherent to the game is obvious: it can be very distracting. While it opens with a large warning, and has been designed to help ensure player safety (for example, the game allows you to travel some distance / time before a Pokemon will disappear, or during an attempt to catch one), there is still the ever-present concern that accidents will occur as a result of some people paying more attention to their phones than their surroundings, or stupidly attempting to play in inappropriate situations, such as while driving.
The game also encourages exploring, which while usually a good thing, also comes with the potential of finding more than just a rare pokemon — one player searching a secluded area near a river in Wyoming stumbled across a dead body floating in the water. I mean, helpful to law enforcement, but potentially not the greatest time for the player.
While the game is currently available for both iOS and Android users in some countries, it remains unavailable for download from online stores in Canada and Europe, with the promise that it will be released in both locations sometime in the near future.