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Why this hullabaloo about Pokemon Go

By Kaif Siddiqui
Last updated on: August 03, 2016 10:37 IST
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Here's how a simple game theory and a sense of nostalgia has led to the success of Pokemon Go across the globe, says Kaif Siddiqui, who will turn 18 this month.

IMAGE*: A cosplayer dressed in one of the characters of the augmented reality mobile game Pokemon Go poses for the camera at the Poketour organised by the municipality in San Salvador, El Salvador, July 23, 2016. Photograph: Jose Cabezas/Reuters

If you have followed news items in the last two weeks, some really bizarre, you have probably heard of something called Pokemon Go, about which nearly the whole world is talking.

So what exactly is this, and why is it so popular? Let's find out.

In 1996 the first pair of Pokemon games, Pokemon Red Version and Pokemon Blue Version, was released which was exclusively playable on the gadget of the era, the Nintendo Game Boy. The games focused around exploring a fictional region that was filled with mysterious creatures called Pokemon.

The objective of the games was to collect all these creatures, and win battles against other Pokemon with your own team of Pokemon. To encourage interaction between players, some Pokemon were only available in either version, and players would have to link up their games with those who had the opposite version, to 'trade' Pokemon.

Pokemon Red and Blue were huge hits, followed by sequels, an animated adaptation, animated movies, a card game, comics, toys and a plethora of merchandise. The franchise is still running strong today, with the last pair of games having been released in 2014, and the next pair to come this November.

While the games themselves have remained popular, the only device on which the new instalments of Pokemon are available, the Nintendo 3DS, is not selling so well, thanks to competition from smartphones and tablets.

It is very rare for someone to buy an expensive device just for one software, and this is probably why the newer games have not managed to come close in terms of sales to the original pair. This is where Pokemon Go comes in.

IMAGE*: Pokemons can be anywhere and everywhere. Look how a fan playing Pokemon Go on his Samsung smartphone finds his Pokemon right in front of a woman's face in a park. Photograph: Mark Kauzlarich/Reuters

Announced in 2015, and released in July 2016 for Android and iOS, Pokemon Go is a free-to-play smartphone game, and out of several Pokemon apps released on phones, probably the closest to the main games in terms of structure and objectives.

Much like the main series of games, players have to collect Pokemon, with battling and trading scheduled to come in updates.

What differentiates it from its forefathers, is the twist: Instead of exploring a fictional region, the player must explore his or her own real-life region to catch Pokemon.

Prominent landmarks in the player's city are usually dubbed as 'PokeStops' or 'Gyms', both being vital to progress in the game.

PokeStops provide players with tools and Pokemon eggs, and Gyms are spots which can be claimed by any players belonging to one of three global teams.

Taking down the Gyms of other teams and defending the Gyms of the own team is one of the main activities of the game.

Pokemon can also be hatched from eggs obtained from PokeStops. To hatch the egg, players must walk a distance of 2, 5 or 10 kilometres, thus further encouraging physical activity.

This focus on getting outside to catch new Pokemon, visit PokeStops, and engage in battles at Gyms, is probably one of the reasons why people are enjoying this game; it is literally a breath of fresh air.

People of varying ages are stepping out of their homes, walking several kilometres probably daily, losing weight, getting exercise. The fact that the fans who had been wanting a main series-like Pokemon game for ages, have finally Got it, may be another reason why this game seems to be on everyone's phones.

IMAGE*: And the Pokemon Go fever has gripped children too. Photograph: Jose Cabezas/Reuters

Despite not having been released officially in India, it is very popular here, because most of the young adults and teenagers of today probably watched the anime in childhood.

Since so many people are playing the game, it is not difficult to find other players at local PokeStops and Gyms. The fact that players are allowed to team up with others to take down Gyms together makes for interaction between players.

The outside exploration aspect of the game may be great, but it is also the most worrying thing about the game. There is a risk of getting lost somewhere while Pokemon hunting, and with the phone unavailable to help, thanks to the game's heavy use of the phone's resources.

Even scarier is the possibility of running into unpleasant situations while lost in the game, including, but not limited to, accidents on busy streets, falling off bridges, and getting mugged with the phone and other valuables stolen.

Criminals have even started exploiting the game, placing Lures (items which draw more Pokemon for all players) at PokeStops which are situated in secluded areas, and then lying in wait to rob or assault unsuspecting players.

That is why all players are advised not to Go to any PokeStops or Gyms lying in lonely areas, and stick to areas where more people are there.

There is always some news about some player having got hurt while playing the game, which, as mentioned before, the media loves to harp on.

The advice for a Pokemon Go player is not much different from the advice for anyone using his or her smartphone in public, that is, don't get so involved in your phone that you don't see objects and people around you, don't play the game while driving, don't harm others, stay away from uninhabited areas.

While outside, remember that your safety is the priority and the rare Pokemon you might be after is not. The game is more exciting if you stay aware of the world around you.

Kaif Siddiqui is a student at Aligarh Muslim University. He loves playing Pokemon Go.

*Images published for representational purposes.

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