First introduced in 1998, the Pokémon franchise is one of the most popular and long-running video games series of all time. Pokémon GO, the latest instalment, was released by Niantic in early July.

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Now available in most regions throughout the world, the game has been downloaded over 75 million times — and this is before even reaching both China and South Korea. 

The newest iteration of the classic Nintendo game takes the Pokémon experience to the next level by allowing users to interact with a virtual game world while walking around in their own cities and towns. Much like in the earlier console, PC, and Game Boy games, the player moves to collect Pokémon, levelling them up and having them battle at gyms.

New to this game, however, is the ability to seamlessly go between the “augmented reality”of the digital Pokémon realm and the GPS coordinates of real locations. As players travel they encounter different Pokémon creatures and “Pokéstops” at which they can acquire items for their Pokémon, such as pokeballs and potions.

A sneak preview of this game came in 2014 when Google Maps published a video titled “Google Maps: Pokémon Challenge” on YouTube as an April Fools’ joke. It showed competitors hiking, rock climbing, and engaging in other extreme activities around the world in order to collect Pokémon and earn a position at Google as a Pokémon Master. While everyone had a good chuckle at the premise of the video, few actually expected it to transform into the international phenomenon we are currently witnessing. 

Much of the world was taken aback by the sudden reveal of Pokémon GO. This game has shattered expectations as to what an augmented reality app could be, and led to a number of unforeseen consequences — both good and bad.

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Fans of this new type of gameplay are excited about its ability to draw people together to socialize while at the same time encouraging more outdoor activity and movement. The game has proven that “gamifying” exercise is one of the best ways to draw kids and adults off the couch. Already, individuals who suffer from symptoms of PTSD and depression have come forth to commend the game’s positive impact on their mental well-being.

What’s Happening

That said, the after-shocks of Pokémon GO are not all fun and games — serious incidences of violence, robbery, and even death have also been attributed to playing Pokémon GO. People have accidentally stumbled into dangerous situations while searching for Pokémon (though the game has also been credited with helping find three bodies, and an attempted-murder suspect). Other people have made the mistake of Pokémon’ing and driving; one man even crashed his car while glued to the screen of his phone hunting wily pocket-monsters.

Beyond mere accidental inconveniences and the inevitable dangers associated with distraction, criminals have devised how to use the game for truly nefarious purposes. According to one home security website, some people have tried to register their residence as a Pokéstop for the express purpose of luring people onto their property to rob them (or worse).  A group of men in Missouri camped out near a Pokéstop and mugged several unwary players who passed by.

Additionally, individuals concerned about privacy and data collection have noted that the game app requests full access to users’ Chrome accounts, and any information gathered could be forwarded to companies or government bureaus. Niantic says that this was an error and that a patch to ask users for only limited access is in the works, but it’s further proof of the fact that no communication across the “cloud” can ever truly be private.

Pokémon GO became the number 1 downloaded app in the United States less than a day after its release. Free content is limited, so many users pay for game-related benefits, which has also led to the app reaching the top of the app revenue charts as well. Some feel that this is a death blow to traditional console gaming, which is stationary and requires a significant upfront investment by users. Besides earning money by selling game content to fans who were hooked for free, Nintendo may also be able to tap into marketing dollars from businesses that pay to have their locations marked as Pokéstops.

Pokémon GO has brought us a new type of game experience that’s having an impact not just on players, but society at large. Though the game engages players more closely with “real world” environments in an exciting new way, serious questions about security and the potential for criminal activity remain. It’s important to address these topics now because the issues surrounding Pokémon GO will be relevant long after the game itself has faded from the spotlight of fame.


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