Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Web Secret 433: Pokemon GO

Unless you have been living off the grid, you have at least heard of Pokemon GO.

This is what you need to understand about this worldwide phenomenon.

Pokemon - stands for "Pocket Monsters" - was originally a Game Boy video game, a card game, and a TV series. If you grew up during the 90s or raised a child during the 90s, you know all about this early phase.

Players of the games, AKA Pokémon Trainers, had two general goals. They had to complete the Pokédex by collecting all of the available Pokémon species found in the fictional region where that game takes place; and to train a team of powerful Pokémon from those they have caught to compete against teams owned by other Trainers, and eventually win the fictional Pokémon League. The whole thing was G rated and geared towards elementary school children.

Fast forward 20+ years and those 90s children are now 20 something Millenials. They are very nostalgic about the 90s. And their parents, Gen Xers and Boomers, also know about Pokemon because - well you had no choice - the TV series was on all the time, the cards were all over the house and you were pressured to buy the latest Pokemon game cartridge by your addicted progeny.

On July 6, 2016, (a date that will live in infamy,) Pokemon GO was released. It is a free-to-play location-based augmented reality mobile game - aka an app. To say that this game became a monster of a global phenomenon doesn't even begin to do it justice.

Within 1 week of the release, it seemed like everyone had downloaded the interface and was completely obsessed. A very, very small minority of Millenials resisted the lure. The Gen Xers and Boomers were sucked in too.

Here is a very brief synopsis of the game:

After logging into the app for the first time, the player creates their avatar.

After the avatar is created, it is displayed at the player's current location along with a map of the player's immediate surroundings. Features on the map include a number of PokéStops and Pokémon gyms. These are typically located at public art installations, historical markers, historic buildings, cenotaphs and other memorials, public parks and fountains, places of worship, and other points of cultural significance.

As players travel the real world, the avatar moves along the game's map. Different Pokémon species reside in different areas of the world.

When a player encounters a Pokémon, they use their smart phone camera to view it and capture it.

The ultimate goal of the game is to complete the entries in the Pokédex, a comprehensive Pokémon encyclopedia, by capturing and evolving to obtain the original 151 Pokémon.

Now you are ready to watch the trailer for the game:

If you live in a big city, you will come across groups of (usually young) adults, standing on the street, with an arm extended, holding a smartphone, as they try to capture the Pokemon in that location. Everywhere.

The bad news first: it's an addiction. People have gotten into accidents because they are hunting Pokemon while driving, walking, biking, etc. At least one person reportedly quit their job to hunt full time. One of my sons reported seeing a group of police officers hunting together instead of protecting the city.

The good news: geeks are emerging from their homes to participate, previously sedentary humans are walking miles to capture the monsters, and there is a camaraderie developing between hunters.

One of the early proponents of the mental health benefits of the game is Dr. John Grohol, the founder of Psych Central, and an expert in technology's impact on human behavior and mental health.

And Grohol has never seen anything like Pokemon Go.

"In terms of the phenomena of people expressing the benefits of playing the game to their real-world mental health status, I think that's very unique ..." he says.

Twitter is flooded with stories about Pokemon Go's impact on players' anxiety and depression, with thousands of people lauding the game for getting them out of the house and making it easier to interact with friends and strangers alike. These simple acts are crucial milestones for anyone struggling with depression, Grohol says.

Watch with me as Pokemon Go evolves from game to business application to mental health tool. 

And revolutionizes the gaming industry.

And maybe more.

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