So, I’m running at the track with my wife at our local municipal park when I noticed something. Besides ourselves and about a half a dozen other regulars to the park, there were about nine to ten dozen more people then normal all wondering around with their phones. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it until we passed one of them wondering on the track in everyone’s way and I saw on his screen Pokémon Go. It all made perfect sense then; all these people weren’t there for the fresh air, the warm sun, or the use of the exercise station all around the property, but to try and catch as many of these imaginary creatures! After a little over an hour later, my wife and I went to leave as the sun had set and we had got our workouts in and yet there were still dozens and dozens of these random people still on their phones, teenagers and adults alike, wondering in circles. I had to learn more about this.
Pokémon Go (stylized as Pokémon GO) is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game, developed by Niantic and published by The Pokémon Company as part of the Pokémon franchise. It was released worldwide in July 2016 for iOS and Android devices.
The game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual Pokémon who appear throughout the real world. It makes use of GPS and the camera of compatible devices. Although the game is free-to-play, it supports in-app purchases of additional gameplay items. An optional companion Bluetooth wearable device, the Pokémon Go Plus, is planned for future release and will alert users when Pokémon are nearby. It can be viewed as an emerging massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) although the social elements are not directly internal in the game. As far as I could see, most of these “Trainers” weren’t being social at all; sticking to themselves. But I was still very curious so, I downloaded the app to see it in action for myself.
After logging into the app for the first time, the player creates their avatar. The player can choose the avatar’s style, hair, skin, and eye color, and can choose from a limited number of outfits. After the avatar is created, it is displayed at the player’s current location along with a map of the player’s immediate surroundings. Features on the map may include a number of PokéStops and Pokémon gyms. These are typically located at identifiable landmarks, such as public art installations, historical markers, monuments or other points of interest.
As players travel the real world, the avatar moves along the game’s map. Different Pokémon species reside in different areas of the world; for example, water-type Pokémon are generally found near water. When a player encounters a Pokémon, they may view it either in augmented reality mode or with a pre-rendered background. AR mode uses the camera and gyroscope on the player’s mobile device to display an image of a Pokémon as though it were in the real world. Players can also take pictures, using an in-game camera, of the Pokémon that they encounter both with and without the AR mode activated.
Unlike other installments in the Pokémon series, players in Pokémon Go do not battle wild Pokémon to capture them. Rather, the game relies on a unique capture system where the player must throw a Poké Ball with the right force and at the right time to make a successful catch. After capturing a wild Pokémon, the player is awarded two types of in-game currencies: candies and stardust. The candies awarded by a successful catch depends on what evolutionary chain a Pokémon belongs to. A player can use stardust and candies to raise a Pokémon’s “combat power” (CP). However, only candies are needed to evolve a Pokémon. Each Pokémon evolution tree has its own type of candy which can only be used to evolve or level up. The player can also transfer the Pokémon back to the Pokémon professor to earn one more candy and create room for more Pokémon.
All Pokémon are displayed with a combat power. A Pokémon’s combat power is a rough measure of how powerful that Pokémon is in battle. Not all Pokémon of the same species will have the same CP. Generally as a player levels up they will catch Pokémon with higher CP.
Players earn experience points for various in-game activities. Players rise in level as they earn experience points. At level five, the player is able to battle at a Pokémon gym and join one of three teams (red for Team Valor, which uses Moltres as their mascot; blue for Team Mystic, which uses Articuno as their mascot; or yellow for Team Instinct, which uses Zapdos as their mascot) which act as larger factions within the Pokémon Go world. If a player enters a Pokémon gym that is controlled by a player that is not part of their team, they can challenge the leader to lower the gym’s “prestige”. Once the prestige of a gym is lowered to zero then the player will take control of the gym and is able to deposit one Pokémon to defend it. Similarly, a team can upgrade the prestige of a gym under their control by battling the gym leader. I know, my head started to hurt too!
So after wondering around my house, then down my street and a bit through my neighborhood, it quickly became very apparent to me that all of those people at the track were glued to their phone’s screen because these Pokémon could pop up anywhere at anytime and you need to tap on the screen to activate a battle in order to try and capture the Pokémon. This in itself isn’t a problem, except for the fact that you are literally in the real world walking around. Most of the people I observed, and even me slightly, weren’t paying attention to things going on around that it can easily become a major problem and even a danger to the player. I had to know if this concern was warranted so back to researching I went and boy what I found…
The app has led players to congregate near strangers’ homes, as in the case when a Pokémon Gym was placed near a church converted to a house. Other incidents include minor fall injuries and armed robberies. Residents of the Sydney suburb of Rhodes became fed up with large numbers of players gathering in their area, and threw waterbombs at visiting players. Players outside of populated, urban areas criticized the lack of PokéStops and gyms in their local area. The app was also criticized for using locations such as graveyards and memorials as sites to catch Pokemon, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The game sparked complaints from Dutch company ProRail, who said that players had entered their railway tracks, and fire stations told players to not impede their staff by congregating outside.
Some early iOS installs of Pokémon Go required users to provide the app with full access to their Google accounts, thereby allowing the app to “access players’ Gmail-based email, Google Drive based files, photos and videos stored in Google Photos, and any other content within their Google accounts”. The Pokémon Company and Niantic responded to the concerns, recognizing that the iOS app, at the time, “…erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account…” A subsequent iOS app update reduced the scope of access.
To top it off, there have been multiple reports from from multiple states of “trainers” getting robbed because they were playing alone and wondered or being loured into unknown areas. Another report states a teenager was hit by a passing car because he wondered into the street without looking. There was even a report of a man who wondered onto a highway and caused a major multi-vehicle accident but this was later found to be not true. But it makes you think…
At the end of the day, Pokémon Go is an interesting way to continue the franchise from the more traditional aspects of video games. And it does take the player out of the house and outside to be more mobile which in a way does address the growing obesity problems that many face. But this still gives an a means for immature teenagers to possible get into trouble when they aren’t paying attention to their surroundings. The game does warn all players at the very beginning as soon as the app loads of this but is it truly enough? As long as “Trainers” remember to pay close attention to their surroundings and if you are going to explore to do so with other players then this can be an enjoyable, virtual collecting game that will maybe help players interact more with others as well as get them possible into other outdoor activities. Only time can tell.
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