Everything you need to know about Pokémon Go

Everything you need to know about Pokémon Go

Cabot Square has become a meeting place for Pokémon Go players, with hundreds of players active at times. On the right, the in-game map shows the area is rich in Pokémon Go activity.

You may have noticed a surge in people walking about, fixated on their smartphones, and if you’re on social media you’ve definitely heard about the new game everyone seems to be playing: Pokémon Go. Pokémon Go officially launched in Canada yesterday, but since it launched a week earlier in the United States, anyone able to get access to a US account on their phones’ app stores has been able to play the game for about a week now. Here’s the essential things you should know about Pokémon Go.

How the game works: An overview

First, as the name implies, Pokémon Go is a game set in the universe of the Pokémon games, in which the titular Pokémon are adorable wild monsters you can capture and train to fight other players’ monsters. Pokémon Go is the first Pokémon game to come to smartphones, and it’s not like most other smartphone games. Unlike Candy Crush or Angry Birds, Pokémon Go relies on your phone’s GPS as an integral part of the game. Your local area is turned into an in-game map, and by moving around the real world, you also move around the in-game map, allowing you to interact with the game’s environment and catch Pokémon hiding throughout the Pokémon Go world.

With me so far?

The game world and our world align. Many real-world landmarks (parks, statues, historical buildings, churches, schools, even particularly striking graffiti murals) are also “Pokéstops” in the game. When you get close enough to a Pokéstop, you can activate it to see an image of the real-world landmark, which sometimes includes a brief description the landmark itself. The Pokéstop then gives you certain items which help you in-game in various ways.

As you’re walking around, eventually you’ll come across some Pokémon. Clicking on them takes you to an augmented reality, which superimposes the animated Pokémon over a real-time image of your surroundings (taken from your phone’s camera). Using the items you’ve picked up at Pokéstops, you can then catch the wild Pokémon in a Pokéball. You’ll get a small amount of “Stardust” – used to strengthen any Pokémon – and that Pokémon line’s “Candy” necessary to strengthen that particular Pokémon’s family. Most Pokémon can evolve when you collect enough of their Candy, evolving them into stronger versions of that line. For example, given enough of its Candy, the common bird Pokémon Pidgey can evolve into Pidgeotto, which can then evolve into Pidgeot. (Any relationship to Darwin’s theory of evolution is completely thrown out the window – this is a game.)

As Pokémon get stronger, their CP stat (short for Combat Power) will increase, which will allow you to take your Pokémon to Gyms in-game – that is, by going to the real-world landmark tagged as a Gym in-game. At Gyms, players from rival teams (each player joins one of three teams early on) compete for control of the Gym. Players who win these competitions can then deposit their own Pokémon to defend the Gym, earning in-game currency and – most importantly! – bragging rights as all other Pokémon Go players around will see who’s the king of the hill.

Why is it such a hit?

Pokémon Go’s appeal is one of those things that if you don’t get it, you just don’t get it. The game perfectly captures the nostalgia of being an 8-year-old playing the very first Pokémon game all over again (helped by the game’s limitation to the first generation of Pokémon, giving truly old-school appeal). Millions of players embodied the young Pokémon trainers Red and Blue in a quest to catch ’em all in the mid-90s, and all of them at one point thought “wouldn’t it be cool if I could do this in real life?” Pokémon Go allows for that… almost.

Clearly a lot of people did get it. Within days of its US launch Pokémon Go broke all sorts of records. Pokémon Go now has more daily mobile users than Twitter. Niantic, the company that developed the game, has barely been able to keep its servers running under the load. Videos have surfaced on YouTube of veritable stampedes of players in public parks whenever a rare Pokémon appeared as hundreds of players tried to catch it.

The game has also been noted for its ability to get people active outside. Since so much of the game revolves around walking, avid players can end up walking for several hours, checking landmarks in their cities, and interacting with other players they might otherwise never speak to. “Eggs”, which can be placed into incubators, will only hatch once the player has walked a certain distance – between 2 to 10km – which is a great incentive to exercise and explore (and no cheating – if you’re moving too fast, the game assumes you’re in a car and stops counting your distance). Landmark-rich areas like public squares tend to draw large crowds of players, with some players setting in-game “Lures” (items to attract more Pokémon) to help the group.

I discovered one of these natural congregation spots in Cabot Square in Montréal last night, where some 200+ players were congregating, chatting, and catching wild Pokémon. Some had brought chairs. I ran into one of my friends there, who had joined two other new players. In between catching wild Pokémon, we got to talking and knowing each other better. Former strangers quickly became friends.

Is there anything I should worry about?

No doubt city by-laws will be coming soon to limit or control Pokémon Go players. Players engrossed in the game have already caused accidents, trespassed onto private property, or otherwise gotten themselves into real-world trouble chasing after in-game rewards.

Some players may also get steep phone bills, depending on their data plan. In about 4 hours of playtime, I used up 65MB of data bandwidth – not much, but since the game encourages “always-on” tracking I could see this adding up to a hefty bandwidth charge over a month. The drain on your phone’s battery is also considerable: from a full charge, my iPhone 6 burned through its battery in about 3 hours.

Will the game continue for long to be as popular as it is right now? It’s hard to tell. This certainly wouldn’t be the first Pokémon fad to sweep the world. As far as fads go though, this certainly isn’t a bad one, getting otherwise insular and sedentary gamers to go outside, walk for hours, meet new people, and get to know their environments. As strange as it is, Pokémon Go may have set the stage for a time when parents will admonish their children to go outside and play more videogames.

Let us hope!

Categories: Arts & Culture

About Author

Farnell Morisset

Farnell Morisset is passionate about discussing (among other things) the issues of modern social identity for many Québécois who, like him, feel deeply connected to the Québécois nation and culture yet do not identify with the traditional francophone non-practicing Catholic nationalist image. He has an engineering degree from Université Laval and is currently a law student at McGill University.

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