I'm not a gamer. Sure, I play "Words with Friends", but real gaming, as my son would put it? No way. Or at least, I wasn't, till the arrival of Pokémon GO.
Launched only week ago by Niantic, in partnership with Nintendo, and as a project originally funded by Google, Pokémon GO immediately caught fire. In a recent interview with Niantic CEO, John Hanke, he talked about the idea behind the game and how it all started as an April Fool's joke.
It's no joke now - already Pokemon GO's daily user count has surpassed that of Twitter, while time spent in the game now exceeds the equivalent spent on YouTube, Instagram Facebook or WhatsApp.
Why the fascination?
There are probably already plenty of people studying the psychological aspects, but here's my take on it - Pokemon GO is truly a social game.
This morning I got out of the house to play and took a walk around our neighborhood park. Pretty quickly I started running into other people playing too, and it instantly created a feeling of community. Some laughed when they realized others were playing and said hello, or at least smiled at each other. They struck up conversations or "battled" it out in the Pokémon GO gym.
That feeling of community in a real world setting may be just what we need right now.
I'm not alone. Neither are you
One of the differences about this game, in comparison to console or desktop options, is that it acts as an introduction to total strangers in real life. This is a game for all ages, races, religions and cultures. It brings us together around a common and relatively benign game with no guns or war or brutality involved. In these times we need something to bring us together as human beings, and if a cute game on our ever-present smartphones is what it takes, I'm all for it.
I almost ran into a young black woman who was playing and walking and we struck up a conversation. She told me it was the first time she'd been out of the house in a week, and we talked for a bit about how we'd both been affected by recent events. Laughing together over learning the game, even talking about the weather opens our hearts in ways that a console game never can.
A couple were practicing Tai Chi while their 10-year-old ran around the park catching Paras and Magmar and then ran to show me her list of captured Pokémon.
I passed 10 or more people who were playing and we smiled and nodded or struck up a quick conversation about the game, the weather, their pets or recent events.
My son and I walked for a couple of miles last evening playing and encountered whole families playing together with random strangers clustering around PokeStops. Age is not a barrier with Pokémon GO.
As we walked last night, I realized I'd forgotten to wear my Fitbit and I didn't care. You see, you have to move around to hatch the eggs you grabbed at the last stop. You find more wild Pokémon if you keep moving.
Not only did I get out of the house and meet new people, I got some exercise too. Win-win all around.
Businesses and Nonprofits opt in
It's been absolutely amazing to see how quickly the game has been adopted by businesses and nonprofits too. There are countless stories on social media of art galleries, museums, coffee shops, restaurants food banks and even animal rescues offering dogs to walk with while playing. I can honestly say I've never seen a social game take off like this. Have you?
How to play Pokémon GO
There are a lot of tutorials popping up already, and the game is rapidly evolving, so this is just a tip of the iceberg.
Honestly, it's really simple or I wouldn't have been able to figure it out. The documentation on the game is minimal so here are the basics - follow these tips to get started, then go to some of the tutorials to get the finer points.
- Download the game to your iOS or Android device. It's best if you create a "Trainer Account" to preserve your personal privacy, though the makers of the game now say they've fixed an issue with iOS devices when registering with Google accounts that gave too much access to personal information to the app.
- Modify your avatar to look more like you. Once you're done with that, you can start the game. You'll be given the choice of a Pokémon to start with and if you walk away from the initial choices 4 times you'll be able to select Pikachu. Now you're ready to play.
- Get out and start searching. Walk around in populated areas and keep an eye on the real-time map of your location and where you are in relation to various landmarks (don't forget to pay attention to your surroundings at all times.). Your phone will vibrate or make a sound to let you know when Pokémon are near.
- Capture Pokemon. To capture a Pokémon, you swipe your PokeBall up towards the creature. Each will be surrounded by a circle of light and inside it will be a circle of green, yellow or red. Each color represents a difficulty level in capturing - green is easiest, then yellow, then red is the hardest. Wait for the inner circle to get smaller before you throw for best results. If you miss, and your PokeBall rolls off, tap them to recover the ball and try again. If you catch your critter the ball will wrap around the Pokémon and you'll see a screen telling you about your new catch.
- PokeStops. As you walk, you may see PokeStops, indicated by blue cubes on your map. PokeStops are locations where people gather. Running trails, parks, restaurants and shops are all likely locations and businesses are quickly adding PokeStops and using Pokémon Lure modules to attract Pokémon and customers inside. PokeStop locations hold a variety of items including additional Pokeballs, lucky eggs, Razzberries and other items. When a PokeStop is in range you can click it and see a disc in the middle displaying a photo of the location. Spin it and you will be rewarded with some bubbles filled with items to collect. Click the bubbles to pop them and add the items to your collection. The stop will turn purple, and you'll have to wait 10-15 minutes to come back and collect more items.
OK, that's all I'm going to go into here. As I've mentioned, what fascinates me is the cultural aspect, so get out there and explore for yourself.
This post originally appeared on The Social Media Coach blog.