When Niantic Labs released Pokémon Go, the company was a small mobile games developer, and by no means a household name. Now their game, a groundbreaking update to the classic Pokémon games, has risen to the top of the app store charts and caught millions of daily users worldwide. Players have integrated the game into their everyday lives, some going so far as trespassing on private property to catch the rarest Pokémon.
At points of interest in the real world, players can receive rewards from “pokéstops”, in-game features where players can pick up virtual supplies, such as pokéballs. These pokéballs are then used to catch Pokémon, but only when they appear on the in-game map. Images from a player’s camera are combined with animations from the game, allowing players to try to “catch” a Pokémon that appears to be right in front of them.
The game features a GPS system that tracks the location of nearby Pokémon, and at points of particular interest on the in-game map, a tower sporting red, blue, or yellow will appear. These features are gyms, the only place that players can use the Pokémon they’ve caught to battle others. At any given time, a gym will be controlled by one of Pokémon Go’s three teams, and will change to the corresponding team’s color. The three teams, Mystic (blue), Valor (red), and Instinct (yellow), have become cultural centerpieces, with some businesses even offering players on a certain team discounts or special prizes.
The cultural impact of the game has been widespread, with players meeting up to play together, or gathering to take back a gym from a rival team. Businesses spend real money to attract players by placing Pokémon-attracting lures on pokéstops near their businesses.
In Tenley, there are a few pokéstops along Wisconsin avenue, but most are local points of interest like the Tenley-Friendship Library and the St. Ann’s Church, not businesses. Many of the Talk of the Town informational signs, which create a walking path with relevant facts about Tenleytown and its history, are also pokestops. If you’re looking for a gym, the entrance to the Wilson Aquatic Center and a statue of St. Ann behind Janney Elementary School are both popular, but according to sophomore Virginia Mogzec, it could be difficult to get your Pokémon in.
“My Pokémon don’t always last long because there’s always so many people in Tenley, especially because of school starting,” she said.
The popularity of the game has surprised many in the mobile gaming industry. The game appears to cater to a niche market, and before it’s release, the game wasn’t expected to make such a large cultural splash. Other augmented reality games, especially those that require players to interact with the real world to play, have been underwhelming and largely unpopular. Yet Pokémon Go seems to have found a happy medium and a large audience of devoted players, because of its simplicity and large appeal. Years from now, the Pokémon Go craze may have ended, but the game’s popularity bodes well for the future of mobile gaming and augmented reality.
IMAGE COURTESY OF BRIAN KEYES