If you have been outside and looked up in the last 72 hours, you've probably noticed even more teens than usual staring at their phones. Turns out they're not tweeting or texting (or sexting) — they're...wandering around trying to capture imaginary Japanese monsters with names like Squirtle and Snorlax.
At this point, the cartoon fantasy smartphone game that's sending the globe's youth into hospitals and dead body–filled rivers has also caused Nintendo's stock to spike by about $9 billion and is now poised to surpass Twitter in terms of daily active Android users. This is Pokémon Go's America, and we're all living in it, whether we like it or not.
As a member of today's society, you have reason — nay, a responsibility — to learn the basics. With the knowledge about to be dropped here, you'll at least get the essentials and understand how to play. It's likely you'll read this, play a few times, and then go back to your normal life, as Stan. But better to have loved and lost than... Well, OK, here we go.
Lesson 1: It's not really about the Pokémon.
The Pokémon are a group of wackadoo cartoon creatures dreamed up in what must have been a very wild acid trip for some Japanese animator. They are monsters — pocket monsters, if you will. But it doesn't really matter what they are; they could be tokens, or prizes, or anything else. You'll be able to get by with these basic facts:
- There are (arguably) 151 Pokémon.
- You have to catch them all.
- You catch them via a terrifying, solitary-confinement trap called the Poké Ball.
Lesson 2: This game is played outside.
To play Pokémon Go, you must walk out the door. The game uses the GPS of your phone to overlay itself onto the real world. It's kind of like walking around a tricked-out version of Google Maps: As you walk around your real world, you'll walk through the game as well. Walls will become magical, strangers beside you will become your mortal enemies, and Pokémon will "appear" at your feet, depending on where you are and the time of day. All the while, you must keep your eye on your goal: capturing all the Pokémon.
Lesson 3: How to find and capture Pokémon.
See that ugly little green centipede on the right? That's a Pokémon. Your job is to catch it. These monsters appear on the map as you walk around your environment. When you see one, you sorta bump into it by tapping it a bunch. Then things get interesting. When you engage a Pokémon, the game uses your camera to superimpose the Pokémon on whatever scene you're in. You must then attack it with your Poké Balls.
Here's an example of me catching a Pokémon, called Pidgey, on my keyboard:
You catch the Pokémon by flicking the Poké Ball at it with your finger. Get in the ball, Pidgey, I need to type. No, seriously, you little monster, get in the goddamn ball.
Now, you may ask, are there secrets to finding Pokémon?
Why yes, there are.
As you walk around the Pokémon game, you will see these blue things sticking out of the ground. They are called PokéStops. And they're the key to doing well in the game.
When you see a PokéStop, you walk close to it, and tap it. When you tap the PokéStop for San Francisco's Hotel Union Square, for instance, a screen with a picture of the hotel pops up. When this happens, you swipe across the picture to spin it, and then stuff you want (like Poké Balls) falls out of the PokéStop. You tap to collect the stuff, which you can then use it to get better at accomplishing your main goal: capturing all the Pokémon.
Lesson 4: You'll have to meet other humans.
To truly catch 'em all, you'll need to spend a lot of time walking around. At PokéStops, especially ones with lures, you'll likely encounter other people looking for the same Pokémon, or for the same power-ups. It's a cool part of a game played outside.
When my co-worker Jeff and I went out hunting for Pokémon, we encountered a man on the street playing as well. This is common.
Lesson 5: The more you play, the more the game unfolds.
The game gets better and more interactive as you go on. A few examples:
- There are levels in Pokémon Go. When you reach level 5, you can bring your Pokémon to gyms (pictured on the right) and fight with Pokémon owned by other people. Since Pokémon Go is based on proximity, there's a good chance you'll see someone you're fighting with standing close to you. Winning fights makes your Pokémon stronger.
- After you reach a certain level, you can select a team and then go fight members of another team. This is pretty cool when millions of people are in the game, all running around the same imaginary-but-real turf trying to catch 'em all.
- From time to time, you'll remember how much Herman Cain loved Pokémon, and it will make you happy.
Being an adult is hard. Basic tasks, like walking down the street, aren't as easy as they used to be. But at least now you'll be able to beat up little kids' Pikachus as you trudge along from point A to point B.
Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.
Contact Alex Kantrowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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