Understanding The Hows And Whys Of The ‘Pokémon Go’ Craze


You’ve seen the photos on Facebook. You’ve heard about people getting robbed over it and finding dead bodies thanks to it. You’ve probably found yourself confronted with total strangers standing in groups in front of your house arguing over whether or not to capture a Pidgey. Within a week, the entire nation has found itself gripped by Pokémon Go fever, or been extremely confused by it. So, from Pokeballs to Gyms, here’s everything you need to know about Pokémon Go.

What The Heck Is A Pokémon In The First Place?

Short for “pocket monster,” they are adorable creatures that are the foundation of a hugely successful series of video games and a merchandising and multimedia juggernaut from Nintendo. First becoming popular in 1996, the series features the player, generally playing a preteen, exploring a vast world full of these monsters, who he or she then traps in a tiny little ball called a Pokeball to be force-fed stimulants and relentlessly trained to fight each other. Basically, it’s cockfighting, but adorable and with the conceit that the Pokémon that loses “goes to sleep.”

What Makes Pokémon Go Different?

The basic conceit is that you’re finding, and capturing, Pokémon in the real world. The game, designed by Niantic and available on iOS and Android smartphones, puts you on a map based on where you are, and you navigate the map by walking around in reality. As you walk, Pokémon appear for you to collect and you gain levels, letting you fight Pokémon in gyms. You can also find Pokestops to get items, which are generally local landmarks of note. Although by necessity there are some incredibly low standards for local landmarks. We’ve found that historical markers, parks, even street signs will do the trick as far as the game is concerned.

The other difference is that although you really don’t need to buy anything in the game to play it. Needless to say, it has been raking in money hand over fist anyway.

So, Wait, It’s A Video Game You Play Outside?

You’re not alone in your bafflement, but indeed, really the only way to play is to get moving, although that doesn’t stop some people from cheating, and the game has a tendency to make Pokémon appear in some incredibly awkward places. The real thrust of the game is to get players outside, walking, and exploring their local communities. Needless to say, there have been a litany of jokes about nerds stretching their muscles for the first time, made by nerds themselves, and there are certain areas where the game will put out an overabundance of goodies for players to find, which is how they’ve wound up getting robbed.

Do I Need To Walk A Lot?

Not particularly. Players have reported finding ‘Mon while walking their dogs, taking the plane to work, at baseball games, going about and running errands, and other activities. While there are plenty of monsters to catch, it’s still a mobile game. You can dip in and dip out as you want. If you’ve got the map open, look for a green icon that resembles leaves blowing. As you get closer to it, Pokémon will appear.

Where Should I Play?

As we said, the game rewards exploration. Part of that is that as you get closer to certain natural features, like forests or bodies of water, different types of Pokémon will appear. So if you get really obsessed, hitting a local walking trail for a few miles might be in order.

What Are These Spinning Blue Cubes?

Those are the Pokestops we mentioned. You should hit those regularly, as they give you extra items and eggs that, as you walk, will hatch into Pokémon.

I See A Pokemon! How Do I Catch It?!

First, tap it on the map. That’ll take you into the “battle” screen. Then wait for the circle over its face to turn green, then flick your finger towards it on the screen. You’ll capture the Pokémon.

What About These Giant Towers I See Pokémon Standing On?

This is where the more advanced social aspect of the game comes in. Those are gyms, located in public spaces players are likely to find themselves in. Once you’re at level five, essentially once you’ve captured a bunch of Pokémon, you can choose a faction and fight in gyms. Fighting in the game is basically Rock-Paper-Scissors. Choose a Pokémon that can counter the type you’re fighting, i.e. if you’re fighting a fire Pokémon use a water one, and pick the Pokémon with the highest CP.

This is, by the way, completely optional. If you just want to walk around finding Pokémon, you’re free to do that instead. Many players are opting to.

How Can I Make My Pokémon Better?

Mostly you improve them by stuffing them full of the various items you find, which is where the microtransactions come in. Using items like stardust and candy let you improve your Pokémon and increase their odds of winning a fight. Like fighting them in the first place, this is optional.

How Do I Catch Them All?

Luck, mostly. Gamers haven’t really teased apart yet just how the game works and quite what you have to do, although it will likely involve raising your level and boosting your Pokémon. But the best way to play the game is to not worry about it. The real fun here is finding out stuff you never knew about the place where you live, and finding unexpected community.

Just, you know, use your common sense. Standing in a parking lot with your phone out at 3am is going to look sketchy. So keep that in mind as you play.