In just one week since launching, Pokemon Go has become an absolute phenomenon. Soft launched in just a few countries (Australia, New Zealand, United States), it has been so downloaded and played that it has collapsed the servers of developer, Niantic. Launches in further countries are now postponed until the developer can get the servers working properly again.
What is Pokemon Go, and why is it so successful? It’s an augmented reality app for smart phones that allows people to catch and battle Pokemon in the real world. If that sounds like a childhood dream come true, it’s because it is, and the game lives up to that dream.
Using the data from Google Maps, players need to hit the streets and travel around to try and find Pokemon hiding in real-world places. They’re also encouraged to drop in at points of interest for rewards (Pokestops), and join one of three global communities and battle over “gyms” placed around the world for additional rewards.
Despite the ability to only infrequently play thanks to those server issues, those that have downloaded Pokemon Go have been utterly addicted to it. Already in Sydney one meet up, to get people together to play, went viral. The organiser intended the meet up to be for a small group of people, and ended up with around a thousand.
“Shit, if you wanna catch them all you gotta risk it all so I put my car in park and started tossing these balls,” “Lamar Hickson” said.
Pokemon Go has been so popular that workplaces have sent around notices threatening people’s jobs if they don’t get back to work. Other businesses have left “paying customers only” notices on doors, because, one assumes, too many people have been going into the building with the sole intention of finding pokemon. The Northern Territory police circulated a warning that people should not enter one of its buildings; gym or not people should do their collecting from outside.
And it has already prompted some satire. A website called Cartel Press — in a report which may have been claimed a man caused a major accident (allegedly pictured above) because a rare pokemon showed up while he was driving.
“Shit if you wanna catch them all you gotta risk it all so I put my car in park and started tossing these balls,” the website “reported” the comments of a 26 year old it named as “Lamar Hickson”.
Enterprising criminals were able to figure out where people would be playing the game, and then gone and robbed them.
Thankfully, those real incidences have been rare so far, but don’t discount the fundamental value of Pokemon Go. It has become an instantly valuable artefact and curiosity because it is much more than a game.
Pokemon Go is a very social experience. Players have the ability to place down ‘beacons’ that encourage Pokemon to appear in specific locations in great numbers. Those beacons are visible to all players, and without fail, placing down a beacon would result in a group of people showing up to look for pokemon. They talk and compare notes on where to catch specific pokemon, or organise to take on a gym together.
Enterprising criminals figured out where people were playing the game and robbed them.
It’s also a game that is remarkably good at getting people out and about and exercising without even realising it. Can you drive around and get from one location to the next in Pokemon Go? Sure. But everyone knows the fun of it is going for walks. I’ve seen countless numbers of people say that they have ducked out of home to catch a nearby pokemon, and found themselves wandering around for hours. I already walk a great deal each day, but I’ve found myself varying routes and taking detours to visit different Pokestops and gyms; I’ve added around 20 per cent to my own daily step count on this basis.
And finally, it’s educational. Each Pokestop is a real-world landmark, and in visiting them, you’re given not only the reward, but a photo and, sometimes, brief description of the landmark. These encourage you to look at the real-world landmarks in greater depth. Even in the areas that I frequent the most I’ve discovered (or re-discovered) points of interest that I was never aware of (or took for granted). Pokemon Go does a remarkable job in highlighting the interesting or the quirky in any area, and there is both educational and tourism applications for this game into the future.
As a game, Pokemon Go is simple gamification on steroids. There’s actually not a whole lot to do, other than catch pokemon and then drop in to gyms for the most simple of battling (basically just tap the screen like a madman until either your pokemon, or the enemy, runs out of health and faints). The strength of the game is its ability to integrate with the normal habits and behaviours of people, and then, ever so subtly, encourage them to slightly adjust their patterns so that they’re more rewarding; to be more active, learn more things, and meet more people. On a social, health, and cultural level, Pokemon Go enhances a person’s life, and that’s precisely why it’s resonating with so many people; it’s showing us how augmenting reality can improve it.