More than 20 years after the introduction of the cartoon and gaming franchise, the latest Pokémon craze is once again hooking gamers of all ages. This time, it’s encouraging them to get out around their community to catch digital monsters and battle against other players using a mobile app on their cell phones.
“Pokémon GO” was launched last week and quickly became one of the most used mobile apps on the market. Madison College Marketing Professor Steve Noll says usage has topped such massively popular apps such as Twitter and Tinder, which means millions of users are out hunting for Pokémon.
The game utilizes several features on smart phones to allow users to play. Using local maps, it drops players into a real-time environment that follows where they are in the physical world. Nearby landmarks, such as parks and historical markers, are treated as designated stops where players can claim items by checking in. There are also gyms where players can battle other users.
By moving around, players can randomly encounter Pokémon, which are digital creatures that comes in many forms. From cartoonish rats to giant birds, there are dozens players can encounter. The game makes use of something called “augmented reality,” which uses your phone’s camera to drop those creatures into the environment. Users can even take pictures of the Pokémon hanging out in their front yard or along a busy street. Noll says that technology is not exactly new, but Pokémon GO pretty much marks a turning point for its use in entertainment.
Noll says a big reason for the success of the game is the familiarity many people have with Pokémon. Introduced in Japan in 1996, the franchise made its way to the U.S. in 1998 with a TV show, Nintendo Game Boy video game, and eventually a popular card game. With about two decades of public exposure, that means many people under the age of 50 have likely had at least some contact with the property. “Even though it may not be as recognizable a character as something like Bugs Bunny, most people who are at least into gaming or comics are familiar with Pokémon,” Noll says.
The game has also attracted some criticism and concerns though, with UW-Madison Police issuing a warning to users to watch where they are going while playing the game. The message came after numerous reports over the weekend of people wandering into traffic or biking erratically on campus, which police believe was linked to people playing. There were also arrests in Missouri, after several teens were accused of using the game’s check-in feature to identify secluded locations where they could target players. Noll says he was not surprised to see such issues pop up so fast, given the massive popularity of the game so quickly after its introduction. “This is such a new, exciting game…and sometimes judgment doesn’t come along when you’re going out searching for these little creatures.”
Noll notes there is a good aspect to the game as well, since it requires people to get out and explore the world around them. “Look on the bright side – you have all these kids walking around neighborhoods and getting some exercise.”
As for how long people will be out trying to catch them all, Noll says he would not be surprised to see it still going strong at least a year out into the future. Other companies are likely to jump on board with the augmented reality features as well. “This game has launched to great acclaim and it’s not going to disappear anytime soon…and I think pretty much every other electronics company is probably having a meeting to discuss this,” he says.