Pokémon GO Perspectives
Introduction by Neal Chandran

Unless you've been living under a rock for the past month or so, you've probably seen everyone talking about Pokémon GO on your social media feeds. Equally popular on my own feeds were people asking, "What the &#@? is Pokémon GO (and why is everyone talking about it)?" It's become a phenomenon that has spawned plenty of controversy with people arguing like crazy over both the positive and negative aspects of this...thing. Pokémon GO is near impossible to ignore now.

Before I talk about Pokémon GO itself, let's get into the right frame of mind. Remember when you first played a Pokémon game. Wasn't it a completely immersive experience that made you want to live in that world? Didn't you think to yourself, "I want my own pet Butterfree or Eevee or whatever Pokémon I find appealing. I want to see a professor, pick my starting Pokémon, name it Mister Cuddlyfluff, and go on wild adventures with it. I want to live in this world, it is so wonderful!" Well, Pokémon GO aims to use that feeling to turn your regular life and your surroundings into a Pokémon adventure using your smartphone or tablet.

Pokémon GO is an augmented reality game that makes use of your phone's or tablet's GPS and camera. For those who don't know what an "augmented reality" game is, a good example is the shooter game Face Raiders that comes preloaded on the 3DS. In Face Raiders, you would photograph a face using the 3DS camera and then superimpose those faces onto wherever your 3DS camera is filming, so it looks like your bedroom, car, or whatever place you're playing in is being "invaded" by these faces that you need to shoot. This was fun on long road trips where my buddies and I would blast "evil" faces of each other that had "invaded" our van.

That was Face Raiders and this is Pokémon GO. GO is more of an exploration game comparable to the hobby of geocaching. Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity where participants use a GPS receiver, mobile device, or other navigational techniques to seek out containers (called geocaches or caches) that other participants have hidden around the world. With Pokémon GO, you basically walk around your neighborhood with your phone's or tablet's GPS and camera on, and you might see a wild pokémon on your screen to capture. These creatures can appear anywhere, but there are virtual hubs placed in fixed positions throughout the real world that function as facilities like Gyms and PokéStops where players can replenish pokéballs and supplies (e.g. incubators for eggs). One of my fellow editors discovered that one of the Stops was a neighborhood Chipotle restaurant he frequented, and that never failed to amuse him.

Battle mechanics consist of simple taps and swipes, which are very intuitive for a touchscreen game. Battles are not the patient and complex turn-based affairs of the offline games, so fast fingers and type advantages (e.g. water type pokémon inflict massive damage to fire types but are weak to grass types) will win the day. Along with pokémon, eggs can be found as well and you need to take a lot of steps in order to hatch them.

As with recent Pokémon games, GO allows you to create your own distinct in-game avatar. There are a decent variety of hairstyles, skin colors, and outfits to choose from, and I'm sure new hairstyles and outfits will become available as in-app purchases or for special events. Playing dress-up was one of my favorite aspects of Pokémon X/Y and I'm sure others feel the same way. Who wouldn't want their in-game avatar to be hypothetically traipsing around in an adorably bright Pikachu costume? Adding another aspect of choice is that, upon reaching level 5, you can choose which of three factions you wish to join: Valor (Red), Mystic (Blue), or Instinct (Yellow). This mechanic is similar to the "teams" play in the popular game Agar.io, and gym battles are like playing King of the Mountain. If a Valor player has bested a gym, that gym is Valor territory until a Mystic or Instinct player wins that gym. One of my fellow editors talked about playing during a college visit and, given the amount of players on campus, saw several Valor gyms fall under Instinct control. RPGFan Music Editor Brigid Choi created a lovely chart showing team distribution among the RPGFan staff, and though all teams are represented, the staff as a whole are overwhelmingly Mystic Blue.

Pokemon GO RPGFan Staff Team Selection Pie Chart Cause Pies Are Delicious, Even in Chart Form

This is not the first time the franchise has tried to tie the immersive wonder of Pokémon to the real world, to get gamers to see reality as being as wonderful as a virtual world. When the HeartGold and SoulSilver versions of Pokémon came out, they had an accessory called the PokéWalker: a pedometer where you could load in Pokémon you wanted to level up and they would level up as you walked around. The more steps you took, the better the results. And from what I've read, Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri's hobby of going out and collecting bugs is what inspired him to create Pokémon in the first place, and hopefully Pokémon GO will allow us to see the real world in the fascinating way he did when his Pokémon idea was hatched.

Because of the unforeseen popularity of Pokémon GO, there has been plenty of press on it, both positive and negative. In many places, mobile internet is spotty at best, so the developers are still working through fledgling issues like servers bumping people off, preventing logins, freezing, and crashing, but that's a minor hurdle any endeavor like this would face and the potential is ripe with possibilities. As of this writing, trading mechanics are still being worked out as well as feedback forms to report if any Gyms or Stops are in unsafe areas. The news is always quick to pick up on hazards concerning mobile apps. These hazards range from simply bumping into walls or trees to more sinister threats (e.g. petty criminals camping at the real-world locations of PokéStops to mug people of their phones or cyber criminals camping out to steal users' data.) So, as with any app like this, use common sense and always stay alert and be aware of your surroundings.

That being said, the app has been used to positive effect, getting sedentary people off their couches and walking around outside, exploring their local parks, and enjoying nature to some extent. I was also recently pointed to a lovely Growlithe and Cubone-festooned ad by the Muncie Animal Shelter in Indiana asking avid Pokémon GO users to visit the shelter and get their steps in to hatch an egg or find rare Pokémon while walking one of their many adoptable dogs. Playing the game while helping out the community sounds like a win-win to me, and according to that shelter's Facebook page, they've already adopted out some dogs thanks to the Pokémon GO initiative. How wonderful is that?

Several of our staff members are active Pokémon GO players who have had some memorable and unique experiences playing this unique and popular game, and here is what they have to say about it:

Virtual Reality Without Borders by Jesse Woo
Dealing with Distress by Nicholas Ransbottom
New to the Neighborhood by Peter Triezenberg
The Thrill of the Chase by Samer Farag
Hmm...This Will Take Some Getting Used To by Brigid Choi