Games and Learning

Ready, Set, Pokémon Go!

There are millions of Pokémon players worldwide. This number encompases the Pokémon video game and the Pokémon trading card game. I am one of those people. I have logged countless hours on the Pokémon games for the Nintendo DS, and on occasion I have played the Pokémon trading card game (looking for a replacement for Magic The Gathering, which can get really expensive). So this week when the mobile app “Pokémon Go” game out I was ecstatic. Contributing to my excitement was the fact that I could try and test this mobile app for school! What a great excuse to play a game I love.

The app is called Pokémon Go, and it was created by a company known for creating augmented reality games, Niantic. It is available on Android and iOS devices. It is not available on laptops or computers for reasons that will become obvious below.

The goal of the game is to collect as many Pokémon as possible. Collecting Pokémon is easy, when one is close to you, your mobile device vibrates. The best way to find Pokémon is to simply walk around (this is why a PC or laptop app doesn’t make sense). When you find a Pokémon you tap the creature and throw a pokeball at it. The really neat this about this app, is that it’s considered Augmented Reality. So when you tap your Pokémon to catch it, your telephone switches to “camera” mode so that the Pokémon that you’re attempting to catch is shown to be in your real world environment.

The app is really fun… when it’s working. The game just came out this week, but it seems like the developers and management of the company didn’t anticipate the onslaught of users during it’s initial release. The app is riddled with bugs and issues. It was tough to even get started because the servers kept going down, and after I finally got it working on my smartphone, the app thought that it was nighttime the entire next day (the difference between night and day are important, as different Pokémon are out at different times of the day) It had my location correct, but I couldn’t catch any Pokémon that day because of the night/day issue.

Picture of Pokégum
Pokégym at the White House

Now this is really cool (some parts not so much, but hopefully they get the bugs worked out soon), but how is this useful for education? One of the more interesting aspects of the game is Pokéstops and  Pokégyms. The Pokéstops allow players to acquire new items, and the gyms let you battle other players Pokémon to “own” the gym. The location of these areas is what is useful for education. The Pokéstops seem to be located in educational or interesting areas. For example, yesterday I was at the zoo with my family, and there were Pokéstops everywhere. These Pokéstops were located at interesting areas at the zoo such as the Mountain Lion statue, or the Swamplands exhibit. On the other hand, the Pokégyms are located at significant locations; the gym in my town is at the post office, and there’s even a Pokégym at the White House.

Another benefit to this app is that it’s useful for getting people up and moving, the game requires you to walk / run / travel for certain features to work; the egg incubator will only hatch your Pokémon if you’ve travelled for 2 to 10 kilometers with the app open. My friend’s son was so excited about this game that he went for a run with his dad to catch some Pokémon. My friend said this was the most  he’s moved since being out of school for the summer. My husband even took a long walk the other night trying to catch some creatures, and took a look at the Pokégym at the post office. Just this morning I saw a boy (maybe around 11) running down the street with his smartphone in his hand, he came to an abrupt stop at one point, for which I can only assume he was catching a Pokémon.

I’ve only just scratched the surface of this game, I only managed to reach level 4 before writing this blog post. I can’t wait to figure out all the fun things I can do with this game!

I would recommend the app to any early technology adopter Pokémon fan who has patience for games not working perfectly right away. Everyone else, I would suggest waiting a couple of weeks until the bugs are worked out.

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