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Pokémon Go - What You Need To Know

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If you’ve been anywhere near the Internet, you’ve probably heard of Niantic’s new game, Pokémon GO. Even by viral video game standards, its popularity has been impressive. According to SimilarWeb, within just two days of its U.S. release, the game was installed on over 5 percent of the country’s Android devices (approximately 7.5 million downloads).

Game Background

Around 1990, a video game designer named Satoshi Tajiri began hammering out the concept of Pokémon, which combined his childhood hobby of insect collecting with his love for video games. His original first-person game centered on a young trainer capturing 151 different types of Pokémon, ranging from ones that vaguely resemble turtles (Squirtle) to humanoid ones (Jynx) to the most recognizable Pokémon in the world, Pikachu.

The new game, Pokémon Go, was released on July 5, 2016. It’s specifically a mobile game, a celebration of Tajiri’s initial idea and the original 151 Pokémon. Available for both Android and iPhone operating systems, Pokémon Go uses your device’s ability to track time and your location, and allows you to catch Pokémon the same way as in the original game — by virtually launching red and white "Poké Balls" at them.

Pokémon Go expands on Tajiri’s initial idea that Pokémon are all around us, and his intention to encourage kids to realize the world around them, to create an augmented reality world where you can catch 'em all.

In short, Pokémon Go is benefiting from a perfect storm of millennial nostalgia for the original game and the fact that many of those same millennials spend a lot of time talking about themselves on social media.

How Pokemon Go! Works

Clearly this game has struck a chord with players, but how does it work? The game sends people around to public locations in search of virtual treasure. Based on the 1990’s Pokémon video games and built using technology similar to a game called Ingress, Pokémon GO uses virtual reality technology along with a mobile device’s GPS and camera to bring Pokémon to the player’s real-world surroundings.

Players can find “wild Pokémon” on an in-app map. As they approach the designated location, their device will buzz. At this point, the Pokémon character appears superimposed on a real-time image of the location; players can catch it by throwing a Poké Ball. Though this may sound easy, the difficulty varies by Pokémon to keep players engaged. Once a Pokémon is captured, it is added to the player’s Pokédex.

Though collecting (and training) Pokémon is the central element of the game, players must also find designated Poké Stops—existing geographic spots—to collect more Poké Balls and other special elements.

Once they reach Level 5, they can join one of three teams and battle other players at locations called Poké Gyms. Currently, locations have little control over whether they have been designated Poké Stops or Gyms.

However, if your library is at or near a Poké Stop, you can place a “lure” to attract additional Pokémon for 30 minutes at a time. Though items, including lures, can be purchased in the app, all of the functionality can be accessed by dedicated players for free. Additional details and tips are available on the Pokémon GO support page and Glossary.

Privacy Concerns & Safety Issues to Consider (as with anything)

Pokémon GO has clearly managed to capture the imaginations of a wide audience, but it is not without serious issues. Beyond the general dangers of distracting players as they wander around the real world, players may occasionally be led to private property or even sketchy locations.

The official Pokémon GO website has several warnings that players should pay attention to their surroundings and respect private property. But some worrying stories have already emerged, including one about robbers who used the game to lure victims. View the Pokemon Parents Guide that is posted on the official Pokemon Go! page.

In addition, as of June 11, players were required to give Pokémon GO access to all of their Google account data in order to login, potentially including email, documents, browsing history, and other data. While the company has stated this was an error they are working to correct, and that they have not actually collected any information beyond basic login information, it is a clear example of the importance of understanding the terms of all digital activities and being aware of the data companies are collecting.

Is the Game Any Fun?

The main draw of Pokémon Go is "catching" Pokémon, which is sort of fun. According to Alex Abad-Santos of Vox, "Pokémon Go is fun, but not necessarily very good. A lot of the appeal and gameplay of Pokémon Go is determined by your geographical location. If you walk past a body of water, you’re supposed to find water Pokémon. If you go to a forest or Central Park, you’re supposed to find grass or bug types.

Some Pokémon are much more common than others — and a good number of Pokémon Go experiences may be buggy and unsatisfying. The game crashes and stalls frequently, and if it crashes too many times, it logs you out and forces you to sign in again, putting you in line for a jam-packed server that, depending on how it feels that morning, might take upward of 10 minutes to respond".

Though it remains to be seen whether Pokémon GO will be a brief fad or a long-term obsession, the game’s popularity has already helped to demonstrate how emerging technology creates opportunities for parents and communities to connect with and educate each other in unexpected ways.

Sources: School Librarians Online and Vox

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