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re-Kindling the Spirit of Adventure: Why everyone is freaking out over Pokemon GO

By: Mithrandiel

My wife isn’t exactly the biggest fan of gaming. She enjoys watching me play certain titles like Uncharted, but otherwise she’s more entertained watching TV than spending hours jamming on a controller. That being said, with the release of Pokémon Go, her curiosity was piqued. We enjoy taking walks in the evening with each other and thought that setting off on a Pokémon journey together could be a lot of fun. As it turns out: we were right.

Pokémon: A Primer

A quick breakdown of the game for those who are unfamiliar: Pokémon (short for “Pocket monsters”) revolves around collecting, breeding and evolving a variety of different creatures to do battle with each other. First released in 1996, Pokémon has seen numerous iterations across Nintendo’s handheld lineup from the original GameBoy through the most recent Nintendo 3DS.

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With each new generation of Pokémon games came a new roster of creatures to collect and train, inspiring avid fans to “Catch ’em all” and become the ultimate Pokémon master. Pokémon GO takes things in a slightly different direction, as the battles themselves are all but removed, and instead it relies more on exploring and collecting Pokémon through the use of GPS and augmented reality (AR) technology. While you’re walking around you have the chance to encounter pokéstops, where you can acquire the pokéballs needed to catch the monsters, as well as see nearby Pokémon that you can capture and add to your collection.

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By capturing multiple of the same pokémon you will acquire additional “candies” for that specific type. In order for that pokémon to evolve to its next form, you will need to feed it a certain number of its respective candy. This helps add some value to capturing the same pokémon over and over again. You also gain more experience points and stardust, another currency used to power up your pokémon. The exploration & discovery, fusion and evolution of pokémon is at the heart of Pokémon GO – and since its release in the last week, captured the attention of millions of mobile gamers.

We decided we would install the game on my wife’s phone, as I’m easily distracted and have an addictive personality that would ultimately result in me getting carried away with the game on my own time at work. Wanting to add some fun to our evening walks, we created a character and set out on our first journey. Within the first minute we encountered a Squirtle, an Ekans and a Rattata, all while taking note of the various pokéstops scattered throughout our neighborhood. During a particularly troublesome duel against a Zubat, my wife chastised me for wasting too many pokéballs; I could tell she was getting invested.

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Pokémon GO & The Social Network

We’ve been playing actively for the last couple days and I can say with confidence that it’s added a level of fun and playfulness to our daily walks. What’s stood out to me even more, however, is how it has impacted gamers all over the country and re-kindled a spirit of adventure that has roused millions of people to get up, get out of their homes, and form relationships with fellow Pokémon hunters.

Numerous meet up groups have been formed to do pub crawl/Pokémon hunting. When we were at a nearby park we saw groups of people wandering around with their phones out as complete strangers looked over at other groups and shouted, “Find anything good?!” One group that started with a couple ended up growing to ~6-8 people within 15 minutes as they did laps around the park collecting pokéballs and hunting for rare Pokémon.

The benefit certainly isn’t limited to encouraging strangers to meet new friends; families can utilize Pokémon GO as a means of encouraging more outside activity with their kids. Since the pokéstops are typically located around major monuments, it invites kids and parents to explore areas of the city they might otherwise overlook, such as old churches, parks and other city monuments.

Mental and Physical Health Benefits

One of the first jokes regarding the staggering popularity of Pokémon GO was the fact that all of the gamers playing were going to find themselves in much better shape as a result of constant pokémon hunting. With all of the walking and exploring needed to find and capture rare pokémon, the physical health benefits are sure to be felt far and wide.

There is quite a bit more to this health appeal however; since the release of Pokémon GO there have been a number of heartwarming stories regarding individuals with crippling anxiety or agoraphobia (fear of going outside) are seeing some serious improvements to their mental health. For many, seeing an eevee outside gives them a reason to get out of bed. Having a shared interest with a stranger makes it easier to begin and carry on conversations. While the internet has certainly allowed us to form relationships with people far away, the interaction and physical connection that results from exploring your neighborhood for pokémon cannot be understated.

Trading, Battles, and the Future of Pokémon GO

The release of Pokémon GO certainly hasn’t been without its failures: rampant server issues, exploits that are being discovered and shut-down by the day, and of course there are many gamers hunting for pokémon in inappropriate locations such as the 9/11 memorial and Auschwitz museum. That being said, the game has successfully captured the imagination and attention of millions of gamers (and non-gamers) across the US and around the world. Its commercial success has given Nintendo a much needed boost, growing its value by nearly $8 billion over the last week.

What’s next for Pokémon GO? There has been some talk of integrating a trading feature that would allow pokémon trainers to swap their captured pokémon with one another to help build a more well-rounded roster. Bolstering the battle system would also be a welcome change, as battles exclusively take place in Gyms now, and are not yet approaching the depth and complexity of a real Pokémon game.

In the meantime, I know that my wife and I will be hitting the road again soon, on the hunt for the elusive rare pokémon that lurk nearby. If you haven’t had a chance to give the game a  try – do it. You won’t regret surrendering to your spirit of adventure and fulfilling a dream many millennials had as kids: being the very best pokémon trainer, like no one ever was.

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