Katie Wright on the smartphone phenomenon that’s sending users into the real world again
REBOOTS, revivals and remakes are all over TV and cinema screens at the moment (Cold Feet, Ghostbusters, Star Trek, to name just a few), but by far the most successful comeback of the year has been on smartphone screens.
Pokémon Go is a new mobile version of the game originally developed for Game Boy (remember those grey handheld gaming devices?) in 1995.
Since launching initially in the US, the app has already overtaken the notoriously addictive Candy Crush to become the biggest mobile game ever, with a reported 21 million daily active users in the US alone.
But Pokémon Go isn’t about mindlessly matching trios of treats, oblivious to what’s going on around you — the game uses augmented reality (AR), so your surroundings become part of the action.
The aim of the game is to catch as many of the 100-plus Pokémon as you can. The little animal-like characters, who have names like Squirtle, Pidgey and Drowzee, appear at random as you walk (or run, or bike, or bus — basically any transport method that doesn’t disrupt your GPS signal) around, and you have to ‘throw’ a Pokeball at them by swiping the screen to catch them.
To replenish your stock of Pokeballs and collect other useful items you have to visit Pokestops, which are highlighted on the map and give you interesting facts about the local area at the same time.
The app itself is free to download and play, but you can acquire additional items by buying PokeCoins with real world money.
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Catch enough Pokémon and you’ll gain XP (experience points) and progress through the levels, then, when you reach level five, you can visit ‘gyms’, situated at significant landmarks, to train your Pokémon and pitch them in battle against other trainers.
If that sounds complicated, you haven’t heard the half of it — there are endless online discussion boards and guides dedicated to ranking Pokemon types and sharing battle tips and training techniques.
On the other hand, at its simplest, Pokémon Go is a really fun, engrossing pursuit that is getting people active in a way that’s not normally associated with computer games.
With all the political upheaval, terrorism and police brutality that’s been making headlines recently, no wonder this dopamine-inducing distraction has rocketed into public consciousness.
Will it last? It’s hard to say. According to web traffic monitor Similar Web, users are spending 10 minutes longer a day catching Pokémon than they are on Whatsapp, Instagram and Snapchat.
Even if Pokémon fever dies down rapidly when the next craze comes along, it’s proven the potential for AR games in a big way. Maybe the next wave of revivals will be augmented versions of classic games. Candy Crush Go, anyone?
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