Confused by the “Pokemon Go” mania sweeping the world? We have answers.
As the New York Times explains: “The free smartphone game, which was released last week and which is based on the Japanese entertainment franchise Pokémon, has climbed to the top of the app store charts and only gained acclaim from there. The game has swept through the United States, and beyond.”
What is it?
“Pokemon Go” is a free game app played on smartphones. The game asks players to wander their real-world neighborhoods on the hunt for the animated monsters made famous years ago by cartoons, video games and trading cards. Players build their collections, make their Pokemon more powerful and battle other trainers in gyms.
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Sounds like fun. What's the big problem?
While it’s great that people are out walking and exploring, a lot of them are also walking – often the busy streets of big cities like New York – with their heads down and eyes glued to the screens.
This has prompted worries about people walking into traffic, trespassing onto private property or finding themselves in unsafe situations. Many players are children, raising the anxiety level. A woman in western Pennsylvania says her 15-year-old daughter was hit by a car while playing the popular new “Pokemon Go” game on her smartphone.
She said the game took her daughter across a busy highway Tuesday during the evening rush. She remains in the hospital Wednesday with an injured collarbone and foot, as well as cuts and bruises.
Some real-world locations aren’t so keen on attracting players, either.
Operators of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum in Poland have asked that their site be removed from the game, saying that playing it at the former Nazi German death camp would be “disrespectful.” The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and Arlington National Cemetery have also asked visitors to refrain from playing.
Is it hard to sign up and play?
Set up is relatively quick. You customize your player, or avatar – choosing the color of its hair and style of clothing – then set off on your adventures. Fans like how it takes gaming into the streets and gets people walking around outside instead of sitting in front of a console system hooked up to a TV.
How do you play?
The app displays your avatar amid a grid of streets and other bits of geography, such as rivers and parks. It’s like a bare-bones version of Google Maps with a pretty sky above it. You can see in all directions by spinning your character around.
But it takes a little getting used to. The streets don’t have names on them, making it tough to determine which way you need to walk until you actually start moving. (A compass icon points north, if you find that helpful.)
Look around and you'll see floating light-blue blocks that signify “Pokestops,” landmarks that could be anything from the entrance to a park to fancy stonework on a building. Tagging these spots with your phone earns you “Pokeballs,” which you can use to throw at, and ultimately collect, Pokemon, along with other items.
The actual Pokemon – there are 128 initially listed in your profile’s “Pokedex” – also appear on your grid from time to time. Tapping on them brings them up on your screen, allowing you to fling your Pokeballs at them. The idea is to bop them on the head and capture them inside the ball.
Fair warning, some Pokemon are easier to hit than others. Some can escape from Pokeballs, forcing you to re-capture them.
The app makes it look like the Pokemon are right in front of you by using your phone’s camera to capture an image of the street and display the Pokemon on top of it. The phrase for this technology is “augmented reality.” Expect to hear more about it.