Pokémania … how Pokémon Go, the bug catching game, is taking the world by storm

July 14, 2016

Back in the late 1990s, Pokémon became a cultural phenomenon.
Now, Nintendo has brought it back, and its taking the world by storm. Pokémon Go is redefining online gaming as we speak, and demonstrating how physical and virtual experiences are becoming one. Augmented reality made real.
Launched last week in USA, it has since rolled out daily into other countries across the globe. Most significantly it doesn’t require a Nintendo gaming device to play (no Wii or DS consoles, no expensive cartridges to plug in). It’s free to download as an app to any smartphone. As a result, almost every global teen, and many more people, are playing the game right now. In a week it has become the world’s most played online game in history, and almost doubled Nintendo’s share price.
Pokémon Go uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon “appear” around you (on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them. As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is. The idea is to encourage you to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game. The physical and digital hybrid games makes it more real, more local and more addictive.
So why are people seeking out virtual creatures while at work and as they go to the bathroom? It’s free, easy to play, and accessible to almost everyone. But more significantly, Pokémon Go fulfills a fantasy Pokémon fans have had since the games first came out: What if Pokémon were real and inhabited our world?

A short history of Pokémon

Pokémon games take place in a world populated by exotic, powerful monsters. They can look like rats, snakes, dragons, dinosaurs, birds, eggs, trees, and even swords.  In this world, people called “trainers” travel around the globe to tame these creatures and, in an ethically questionable manner, use them to fight against each other.

Bug catching is a popular hobby in Japan, and this is where the games originated. The goal in every game, from the original Pokémon Red and Blue to the most recent Pokémon Sun and Moon, is to collect all of these virtual creatures. The first generation of Pokémon games began with 151 creatures, but the family has since expanded to over 700.

The games took the world by storm in the late 1990s. Pokémania was born. The original handheld games came out in 1998 in USA, followed by spin offs such as trading cards, merchandise, TV shows and movies.

But since the games came out for Nintendo’s handheld consoles, fans all around the world have shared a dream: What if Pokémon weren’t limited to the games’ world? What if they were real and inhabited our world? But Pokémon aren’t real, at least not yet.

However technology has evolved to be able to simulate a world in which Pokémon are real. That’s essentially what Pokémon Go attempts to do: By using your phone’s ability to track the time and your location, the game imitates what it would be like if Pokémon really were roaming around you at all times, ready to be caught and collected. And given that many original Pokémon fans are now adults, this idea has the extra benefit of playing to their nostalgia, and boosting its popularity.

Update 31 August 2016

What went well, and what didn’t … learning from Pokemon’s adventure into AR:


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