The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
So, after what feels like years (but in reality has only been about a week) we finally have Pokémon Go in the UK on Android and iOS. While you’re probably already pretty aware of the game’s existence, you might not be quite clear on what exactly it is. Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game wherein you use your phone to catch Pokémon who live all over your surroundings. That’s in fields, the sea, your local shop...you name it.
The game has blown up and this means massive things for augmented reality, the mobile gaming market, and Nintendo, who developed the game alongside mobile gaming startup Niantic, Inc. It’s played across a four quadrant audience already, something that can only be aspired to by a number of other developers and media producers generally. But what makes it so popular? For a start, it has near-perfected augmented reality and brought the revolutionary technology to the masses. Secondly, it plays on the marketing goldmine that is nostalgia. Pokémon is still going strong in terms of new games, films, and merchandising, but it’s been around since its creation by Satoshi Tajiri in 1995. This means that Pokémon Go will not only be played by its intended audience of children, but also by fully grown adults who were fans the first time round and long to recapture the energy they felt then.
Thirdly, the augmented reality achieves what everyone who has ever watched or played Pokémon really wanted – it allows you to be a Pokémon trainer. Not from your Gameboy or by throwing plastic Pokéballs around, but actually in the real world, through the medium of your phone screen. You can collect them virtually as you would films, games, or photos; in fact, there isn’t a great deal that we do collect physically anymore.
Aside from the general fun factor and playability (which cannot be understated), Pokémon Go has had an incredible effect on its players. While the game has predictably gotten a number of young indoor-dwelling gamers up and out of the house, it’s also had an unprecedented effect on a number of other people. Players who had previously had an aversion to exercise now find themselves walking miles every day, agoraphobic gamers now have a purpose to step outside, and generally, shy, anxious or developmentally challenged players are now desperate to go outside and hunt Pokémon. Players, both adults and children, find themselves chatting to other trainers in the street, and exploring new areas of their towns and surroundings. Some have even been sent to monuments or places of interest they might not have otherwise discovered.
These things are impressive to say the least in a world that would rather look at screens from the comfort of their own homes, and it was all achieved in a week. Despite this, there are dangers associated with playing Pokémon Go. Some are more obvious, and can be managed with common sense – mostly people getting distracted while walking around, crossing the road, or driving. The game even warns you during the loading screen to “remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.” Others couldn’t be predicted by even the most conscientious of developer – this story about a girl who stumbled across a dead body is chilling to say the least. Regardless, it didn’t put her off playing.
There have also been reports of muggers in Missouri using the geolocation feature of the game to lure victims to a secluded location. Players more familiar with and aware of their surroundings can avoid this, though, by just being careful and sensible. No Pokémon is worth heading down an alley you don’t know. These tips on staying safe during gameplay should help you to avoid any real danger, but mostly common sense and awareness should keep you safe.
Some data protection concerns were raised prior to the UK release when it transpired that the app could access all of your data via your Gmail account. Some experts were worried about how Niantic was using that information, but Google have now fixed the issue so the app cannot have full access. Cybercriminals also took advantage of the gradual worldwide release of Pokémon Go, creating fake apps in countries where the game wasn’t available.
The mapping facilities of Pokémon Go are very accurate, in part thanks to the fact that there are people who developed Google Maps on the Niantic team. Pokémon Go also uses data collected for Niantic’s first augmented-reality game, Ingress, to populate the location of Pokéstops and gyms. This can mean that some Pokéstops are perhaps unsavoury or inappropriate for kids to stumble upon, like sex shops and bars. The location of Pokémon is determined by GPS but related to their surroundings, for example, you can find water Pokémon by the water. There are also Pokémon Gyms in the sea, which could lead to accidents by people unaware of the dangers – if they’re willing to pop on a waterproof case and swim out at all, that is.
Pokémon Go has also led to some disrespectful behaviour by players with a little less common decency, like players going into establishments to catch Pokémon and not paying for anything. There have also been reports of people playing at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, showing a complete lack of reverence for their surroundings. The playing of Pokémon Go is now banned there, which is unsurprising.
Despite these points and despite the other negative stories you might hear (some of which are hoaxes, bear in mind) Pokémon Go is a massive development in mobile gaming and augmented reality. Not only that, but the positive effects it has on players’ mental and physical health is invaluable – creating a world in which we not only go outside more regularly, but we engage with one another.. So if you haven’t already, get outside and Catch ‘Em All. It’s worth it.