The Ultimate Pokemon Go Guide

by Terry Bryant

No game has ever captured the world like Pokemon Go. Why are so many people trying to catch them all? How can people stay safe while doing so?

Anyone who came of age in the 90s, or anyone who had a child who came of age in the 90s, probably remembers the world of Pokemon to some extent. The first games were released in the U.S. in 1998, the card game was released in 2000, and from there, the Pokemon phenomenon never let up. Pokemon Go is the newest entry into the franchise, and it may end up being its most memorable. Not only is it a massive success for Nintendo and Niantic (the game’s developer), Pokemon Go also confirms the power of augmented reality, which will likely become an increasing focus of game developers in the future.

But for those not familiar with augmented reality, what’s the big deal about Pokemon Go and its risks?

Augmented Reality: A New Way of Experiencing the World

Pokemon Go is largely successful due to the way it integrates a player’s surroundings with the game world. Augmented reality (AR) is nothing new, and in fact, it was invented in 1968. Back then, the technology was simple, requiring a full head-mounted display system, and only capable of producing wireframe drawings.

In 1998, AR was adapted for the NFL. Most people take the 1st and 10 yellow line that’s projected on the screen for granted, but the technology behind that humble line is based on improved AR methods. Before Sportvision offered the technology to the NFL, it was impossible to project informational markers on the screen during a live game.

Various gimmicks were coupled with AR in the early 2000s, and though it showed increasing promise in a number of fields, including the aerospace, film production and military equipment industries, it wasn’t until the late 2000s that game developers started taking advantage of it. And Pokemon Go is not the first game to reap a lot of success from AR. Niantic’s first AR game, Ingress, was also extremely successful, garnering 7,000,000 players at one point.

By all accounts, Pokemon Go has fully eclipsed Ingress in terms of popularity and profitability. Just three weeks after its release, the game had been downloaded more than 100 million times by Android and Apple users, according to an article in Engadget. And in that same article, Engadget also revealed that Pokemon Go makes about $10 million every day, and Nintendo’s valuation following the release of the game spiked up $11 billion before settling in at about $5.5 billion higher than its previous valuation.

To AR enthusiasts, Pokemon Go represents a watershed moment.

Pokemon Go: Combining Novelty and Nostalgia

Niantic’s hit title brings more than modern AR methods to the table, though. Pokemon is still a recognizable trend for millennials (those aged between 18 and 34)– 83% of players are part of the millennial generation, according to a marketing survey by MFour. In fact, more millennials recognize Pikachu, the game’s mouse-like mascot, than Vice President Joe Biden, which was revealed in a poll taken by Morning Consult. These millennials grew up with Pokemon, Pikachu, and a plethora of related products and merchandise. Various media reporting on the game has determined that millennials are drawn to the game for the nostalgia and socializing it offers.

But how does the game work?

Player avatars are represented in a game world that is mapped on top of the player’s surroundings. The game keeps track of the player through their phone’s onboard GPS, so when they move around in real life, their avatar moves in the game world accordingly. So, instead of being whisked to an alternate world that has no connection to the real one, Pokemon Go uses street-level maps as the setting for the player to romp around on. It’s important to note that almost all the gameplay interface involves real world maps of cities and communities.

Various landmarks, which may include schools, libraries, parks, or nearly any other point of interest, are represented in the game world as “Pokestops.” At these locations, players can accrue items that they use to catch the eponymous Pokemon. And these Pokemon are encountered randomly (or at least governed by algorithms that mimic randomness). They pop up on the map and players tap on them to attempt a capture.

There are other mechanics as well, but the basic gameplay loop encourages players to go outside, walk around (often for miles at a time), and stop at points of interest before carrying on. People unfamiliar with Pokemon Go may wonder why hundreds of players are gathering around in parks and markets. The reason is because these are high activity areas in the game, and this tendency to congregate has added a social element to the game that sparks cooperation and competitiveness.

It also, however, puts players at risk.

A Constant Distraction

The news isn’t all bad when considering Pokemon Go’s impact on health and safety. Players are walking long distances, and the sheer number doing so has attracted the attention of doctors, many of whom consider the game to be an excellent way to promote cardiovascular and mental health. For example, a fitness app known as Cardiogram tracks users’ heart rates throughout the day. This data is gathered by Cardiogram, and according to the app developer, the percentage of users getting at least 30 minutes of exercise a day rose from about 45% on July 6th, the game’s release date, to about 55% just four days later.

Pokemon Go does require constant attention from the player, though, which encourages them to stare into the phone while walking and driving, even though players are cautioned by the game itself not to do so.

Most of the injuries and problems players have suffered have been due to distraction. Some examples include:

  • Two men in Encinitas, CA fell off a 90-foot ocean bluff while playing the game. One man landed on the beach 90 feet below while the other landed on a ledge 50 feet down. Both were taken to a local trauma center with unspecified, though serious injuries.
  • A player online claimed to have fallen in a ditch the first night after release, breaking several bones in their foot.
  • A Pittsburgh, PA teenager was hit by a car while distracted by the game and suffered several deep contusions. The teenager claims that she looked both ways before crossing the street, but was lured across a busy highway by the game.
  • A Baltimore man crashed into a police car while playing the game and driving at the same time. The crash occurred in the middle of the night, and several officers were standing by the car at the time of the crash. No one was hurt, but the driver was cited for failure to control his vehicle.
  • Police arrested four men in O’fallon, MO responsible for robbing nine Pokemon Go players at gunpoint. According to the police, the robbers waited for players at a popular Pokestop and ambushed them while they were distracted.

This is just after one month following the game’s release. Reports from other countries include hit and runs, people wandering into secure military bases, and even warnings for players to avoid walking into areas where live mines may still be buried.

If players remain aware of their surroundings at all times and put the phone away while in the car, they will greatly reduce their risk of injury. In addition, players should consider the following before hitting up the local Pokestops:

  • Police may be suspicious of players loitering in parks and around public buildings at night. Be prepared to explain the game to a patrolling officer.
  • Distracted players are easy to spot at night, as their phone’s glow can be seen from a distance.
  • Thieves may use this as a way to mark potential victims.
  • During the day, make sure to carry adequate water and stay close to shade. Heat stroke can sneak up on players who aren’t paying attention.
  • Parents should know exactly where their child are traveling before leaving the home. Also, parents should ask their child if they encountered anyone while attending Pokestops. Though there are no publicized cases yet, some police fear that predators may use the game as a way to meet unsupervised children.

In short, as long as players keep an eye out while tracking down the digital monsters, they can help avoid running, walking, or even driving into danger.