Pokémon GO is a new mobile app that's available for Android devices and Apple's iOS, and the latest in a series of Pokemon games.
What are Pokémon?
It's likely that most people have heard of Pokémon over its 20 year history, but that doesn't mean that they are aware of much beyond the name..
Pokemon first started as video games, released for the Game Boy in 1996, numerous Pokémon games have been released on multiple platforms, primarily handheld and console games and, more recently, arcade and mobile games. Credit: Niantic/eGDC LtdAs well as these games, there was a trading card game called, naturally enough, Pokemon Trading Card Game, which became a big hit. A Pokémon-themed Monopoly game has also been made.
Pokemon has made it into other media, with television series (manga and anime) as well as many (often quite dreadful) films. Other associated Pokemon-themed items have also been released over the years. The popularity of the Pokemon franchise has waxed and waned over the years - possibly its greatest period of popularity was when the trading card game was released - but it has kept going.
In all the Pokémon games, players capture Pokemon - a romanticised contraction of the Japanese for Pocket Monsters, or Poketto Monsuta - monsters, as the name suggests. These are then trained, evolved and used to battle the Pokemon of other players, whether these be actual people or simply against a computer.
Pokémon GO is what is called a freemium game; the game itself is free to download, but there are in-app purchases. Freemium games are made with the hope that players will buy these in-app purchases, and they often do. Parents should be careful that their children don't rack up large bills due to this; although the laws have been tightened up to help prevent such situations, they can still happen (and, of course, it depends what the local laws are).
What is the Aim of Pokémon GO?
Credit: Niantic/eGDC LtdThe overall aim is similar to the majority of Pokemon games. Players wander around catching wild Pokemon with PokéBalls, which can be trained and evolved, and then used to battle those of other players, typically for the control of what are called Gyms.
The game requires the device's GPS location be activated to locate the player, and any Pokemon, PokéStops and Gyms in the neighbourhood. A map will show the location of PokéStops and Gyms, and the approximate location of very near Pokemon, as well as how many Pokemon are nearby in total and a rough estimate as to how close they are.Credit: Niantic/eGDC Ltd
Players can use the device's camera in AR (Augmented Reality) Mode to see Pokemon superimposed against the real surroundings, and take pictures of them.
Credit: Niantic/eGDC LtdThe camera will show Pokémon; the map will show those in the neighbourhood. It isn't essential to use the camera, as it just superimposes the Pokemon on the actual surroundings. The player can turn that mode of and catch Pokemon in a purely game mode. Once the first Pokemon is found, more options open up. Players will also need more Pokéballs, which can be found at PokéStops (along with other items) or purchased from the shop - which is where the company plans to make their money.
Player can train Pokemon at Gyms, but these Gyms need to be owned by their team, or captured from another. As a player increases their own level by earning experience, they will be able to catch better Pokemon. They can join teams and cooperate with other players on the same team to defend Gyms.
The Dangers of Playing
When signing up for the game and starting it up (and on the official website) it warns you to be aware of your surroundings when playing (possibly in a, quite probably futile, attempt to prevent what would look like inevitable later lawsuits). An update added a popup warning that needing clicking off every time the game started, with different rotating warnings. Any game that involves the player staring at their mobile screen whilst wandering around is potentially dangerous, especially as this is an app that works best in the outdoors - GPS is notoriously unreliable inside buildings (and without GPS, tracking down the Pokemon is tricky).
There have already been at least minor accidents, and it seems likely that it is only a matter of time before there is a major one. There have been a few reports of major ones, but these may be inaccurate - they can't at the point of writing be confirmed by a reputable news site. A major incident could happen when someone wanders out into traffic whilst playing the game.
Incidents have happened in the past where people are paying too much attention to their mobile device and not enough to their surroundings, without making a game that depends on them doing just that. There have been claims made that the game will not work if the player is moving at more than 20mph, theoretically to stop it from being played in cars, but this does not seem to be backed up by anything on the official website. The game has been seen to work in cars travelling faster than 20mph (even though it may be travelling too fast to actually catch Pokémon, the app still works), and cars do travel slower than that, especially in cities. This doesn't consider things such as bicycles - or even skateboards - a bicycle hitting someone at that speed is going to cause injuries. The game should simply be not played when using any form of transport the player is in control of. An update added a popup warning stating that the player was going too fast, when a certain speed was exceeded, and they had to confirm that they were a passenger. There are, of course, two problems with this. The first is that the player could by lying (presumably, the company hope this popup will absolve them of responsibility in this case). The second is that even playing it at a lower speed than this in a vehicle that the player is in control of is still dangerous.
Just because there's something connected to the game in a particular location, it doesn't mean that you are actually allowed to go there. PokéStops need activating from the shortest distance, but these are public places and landmarks, so trespassing is generally not a worry here.
Gyms can be activated from some distance, which is fortunate, as these can be in unsuitable places such as roundabouts; perhaps not trespassing, but certainly dangerous to approach.
Pokemon themselves, certainly outside AR Mode, can also be activated from some distance, and often should, for they may be in private residences, or on the grounds where random strangers are frowned upon, such as schools (schools in particular are justifiably less than keen to have random strangers wandering around them).
The official Pokemon site states this as well, but players will have to visit the site and read it. It doesn't appear to be in the game itself - yet, anyway.
Battery Life and Bandwidth
If a player uses GPS and the camera whilst playing, naturally, this is really going to eat into a device's battery life, especially the GPS usage. To improve battery life, it can be an idea to turn off GPS unless you are actively searching at that point for PokéStops and Gyms.
If the app is running, but the game isn't actively being played, it is unlikely to use much more in the way of bandwidth. However, if the game is being played with it constantly on and GPS constantly updating the location, it will very quickly use up the battery and use an appreciable amount of bandwidth. It would be quite easy to go through an entire month's allowance in a few days of active play. Local Wi-Fi hotspots, those that don't cost money to use, will be a great help.
The Pokémon GO Experience
Credit: Niantic/eGDC LtdThe GPS location was a bit unreliable, and it seemed to get stuck. It was unable to determine the phone's (a Samsung Galaxy J5) orientation in AR Mode (which is when the camera is on and Pokemon are shown in the real world). Turning off AR Mode makes catching Pokemon easier and made the game frankly safer to play; otherwise it required a disturbing amount of concentration to play.
However, AR Mode doesn't always work, which removes a good chunk of the app's experience, when it's used in safe conditions. This doesn't tend to be an intermittent fault, but a permanent one for certain devices. Players will get the following message. "We are not detecting your phone's orientation. Would you like to turn off AR Mode?" This can be due to your phone lacking a gyroscope (common in older devices, but not even newer devices, such as the aforementioned Galaxy J5, necessarily have them), the gyroscope not working or simply faults with the software. Niantic are, at the time of writing, apparently working on a fix for this. Certainly, if a player downloaded the app to find that it wasn't fully supported on their device, they are likely going to be disappointed and are more likely to stop playing. It certainly isn't as addictive.
The game can be dangerous for adults, who should know better, and parents may want to be careful of what their children are doing when playing this game. Not just to ensure that they don't rack up in-app purchases, but also to make sure that they don't run into a dangerous situation when chasing Pokemon. In Derbyshire, the police warned parents after children were seen playing the game on a railway line.
The official site advises players not to use a hoverboard, bike or car whilst playing, or anything else where you should be paying attention (this does include walking; you should always pay attention to where you are going) and not to wander away from parents or groups chasing Pokémon.
Whether these warnings will do the company any good when what seems like the inevitable happens is rather unlikely.
The game itself is not really that impressive. It is its link to a two decade old franchise, and the novelty of interacting with the local environment, that make it currently popular.
Some Tips for Playing Pokémon GO (Or, How to Survive Playing the Game)
These tips are not necessarily for playing the game itself better, but how to survive playing the game and not get into trouble or injured playing it.
Turn it off in the car, unless you are a passenger. Even then, it can be a good idea to switch it off, rather than risking distracting the driver by telling them to stop in unsuitable places.
Whenever you are using the game, pay careful attention to your surroundings. Make sure you don't wander anywhere dangerous, for whatever reason that might be.
Turn AR Mode off (assuming it works on your device) in more uncertain surroundings. The sacrifices some of the immersion of the game, but decreases the likelihood that you will wander out into traffic.
Remember to turn GPS off when you aren't actively using it, as it tends to rapidly drain the battery. The GPS is important for hatching eggs though (see below).
Credit: Niantic/eGDC LtdAt PokéStops you may get Pokemon eggs. You can have up to nine of these. They can be hatched, using the Incubator, into new Pokémon. This isn't automatic, however. Once you have an egg, you need to go on to the Pokemon screen that lists all you have caught and swipe right. This brings up the eggs. Use the Incubator to start incubation of one of the eggs. Each egg requires the player to walk for a certain distance, listed beneath, along with how far has already been done. For example, 0.0/5.0 km. This is a case where the speed of the player's movement does matter; distance travelled in a car at speed will not affect the distance that needs to be travelled to incubate an egg.
When you decide to look at your phone, perhaps after getting an alert, stop, and move out of the way of other pedestrians, before actually.
Sometimes the game can stick on various screens. This seems to happen when the player clicks a Gym or a Pokemon that is out of range, but can happen at other times too. The only easy fix for this is to exit the app and restart the device.
Gyms and PokéStops may fail to appear on the map screen (possibly Pokémon too, but this is harder to tell). This is most obvious in places where you already know there are Gyms and PokéStops. In this case close the app, restart the device, then open the app up again. The missing locations should now appear.
The little grey box at the bottom right of the screen will display nearby Pokemon, up to three. Tapping this box will bring up a popup that shows up to nine Pokemon in your local vicinity. These used to have three, two or one footprints underneath them, with three footprints being the furthest away and one footprint the closest, but these were removed in an update. There is no active way of tracking how far away Pokemon are using the radar, but the opened box lists the Pokémon by how far away they are.Credit: Niantic/eGDC Ltd
The Pokemon at the top left is the closest; when there are a number of Pokémon in this popup, it's possible to determine whether you are getting closer too or further away from the closest Pokemon by whether it stays in the top left, or moves down. This makes it a bit easier to track them by keeping the box open.
Pokémon GO Plus
This is a small, Bluetooth device that (naturally) needs purchasing and can be worn around the wrist. It will blink and vibrate when the user is near a PokeStop, and this can be activated using the device itself. The light will flash if the player is near a Pokémon, and it has some, limited, ability to catch Pokemon as well.
The Pokémon GO Plus doesn't require a user to stare at their phone constantly, which adds an element of safety.
It's Not All Bad
In an era when so much entertainment involves sitting in front of a screen and not moving, this is a game that is specifically designed to work when the user walks around. Sitting at home will not catch any Pokémon, nor will a player be able to top-up from PokéStops. A dedicated player can do a lot of walking playing this, thereby getting a lot of decent exercise at the same time.
In addition, the PokéStops are often points of interest and landmarks, quite possibly ones a player has never seen before, even in their own neighbourhood.
In the Long Term
Currently, Pokémon GO is the latest thing. Just like other mobile games, the novelty is bound to decrease in the long term, although as it is tied into an existing franchise, that will probably increase its longevity.
What is most likely to cause problems are when serious accidents occur. These will probably lead to legislation against the game, it being banned in some regions, and lawsuits being started against Niantic (which may or may not be successful). It is the dangers of playing the game that are most likely to affect it in the long term.