Why Pokémon GO Is an Overnight Sensation

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In a departure for digital games, this new smartphone app gets players to "get up, get out and explore" their world.

Unless you spent the last week camped out in the woods with no connection to the outside world, you’ve probably been exposed to the launch of Pokémon GO. The smartphone game became an overnight viral phenomenon after Nintendo, software developer Niantic Inc. and the Pokémon Company released it on July 6.

This begs the questions: What in the heck is Pokémon GO, and why are people going so crazy over it?

In simple terms, Pokémon GO is a free game for iPhones and Android smartphones that gets players out in the real world. It’s based on the fictional Pokémon (“pocket monsters”) that first became popular as a game for the hand-held Nintendo Game Boy back in 1996.

Here’s how it works: Pokémon GO is an augmented-reality game that “uses your phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when you are in the game and make Pokémon ‘appear’ around you (on your phone screen) so you can go and catch them,” explains Vox. “As you move around, different and more types of Pokémon will appear depending on where you are and what time it is. The idea is to encourage you to travel around the real world to catch Pokémon in the game.”

As a player — or “trainer” — your goal is to capture as many virtual “pocket monsters” as you can, which can then be used to battle other Pokémon and trainers. The game also directs players to visit PokéStops, which are notable or easily identifiable locations in the real world — like churches, parks and museums — where players can pick up digital rewards like Poké Balls or eggs.

“We’re excited that Pokémon fans and gamers can now start exploring their very own neighborhoods and cities to capture Pokémon using the Pokémon GO app,” Niantic wrote in a news release Wednesday. “Players can discover and catch more than 100 Pokémon from the original Red and Blue games.”

Pokémon GO — so far released in the United States, Australia and New Zealand — has become an instant sensation, especially with millennials who played the old games and collected the trading cards as kids. It’s so popular that it has crashed Niantic’s servers repeatedly, causing Nintendo to pause its plans for a global rollout until it has some of the bugs fixed, The Washington Post reports. According to analytics firm SimilarWeb, the game was downloaded on more than 5 percent of all Android devices in the United States, just two days after it was released.

Bodies, injuries and robberies …

The popular new game has had some interesting and unintended outcomes, including injuries (for those whose eyes are glued to their smartphones and not on their surroundings) and the discovery of a dead body in a Wyoming river by a woman who was trying to capture a water-based Pokémon. It’s even played a role in some armed robberies, according to the Post:

Missouri police say players were robbed after visiting remote PokéStops. The perpetrators allegedly used digital items called lures to make the PokéStops more alluring to Pokémon — and the players who would follow them.

Although the Pokémon GO website encourages you to “Get up, get out and explore,” it also has this warning for players:

For safety’s sake, never play Pokémon Go when you’re on your bike, driving a car, riding a hoverboard, or anything else where you should be paying attention, and of course never wander away from your parents or your group to catch a Pokémon.

What do you think of the Pokémon craze? Have you played the game? Share your comments below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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