By Kendall S. with contributions from Don S.
Don't be surprised if summer 2016 goes down in history as "The Summer of Pokémon Go." Kids are playing. Teens are playing. Grown adults are capturing Jigglypuffs on their lunch breaks. Never before has the release of a mobile game been met with such euphoric, cross-generational fervor.
So what does the Pokémon Go craze mean for families who are already struggling to limit "screen time" for kids and adults? Well, that's up to you—every family dynamic is different. But whether you're on the fence about the game or choose to embrace it as a tool for family bonding, one thing is for certain—Pokémon Go has forever changed the way we play mobile games, getting us off the couch and outdoors for some virtual—and real-life—adventuring.
How Pokémon Go Has Redefined "Screen Time" for All Ages
It's the biggest "augmented reality" mobile game of all time
Not only that—CNCB has noted that it's also the top mobile game of any kind in US history.
Using the GPS on your phone, Pokémon Go scatters virtual catch-able critters around the real world. If you want to catch one, you need to be physically near it. It's also worth noting that different climates spawn different types of Pokémon. For example, if you want Water-type Pokémon, head to the beach. If you live in a hot and dry area, you'll catch mostly Fire-types, with a hearty dose of Sandshrews.
Pokéstops are placed throughout neighborhoods, city streets, and shopping centers, and provide essential items: Pokéballs to catch Pokémon, healing potions, eggs to hatch more Pokémon, lures and incense to attract creatures, and other necessities.
When you stumble upon a Pokémon you want to capture, you can choose to activate your smartphone's camera so that the ensuing battle appears to unfold right in front of you! You also have the option to battle other players at Pokémon Gyms in order to take over the gyms on your team's behalf. The "augmented reality" aspect of Pokémon Go is quite immersive.
It motivates us to get up and moving
You won’t find the Pokémon you covet or hatch your eggs by spending summer vacation flopped on the couch. The whole game revolves around getting outside, walking around, and exploring!
Since the release of Pokémon Go, players have spent countless hours hiking along trails, tromping through nearby parks, and being *really* tempted to get Starbucks (they often double as Pokéstops).
Many of us are getting way more exercise than we were before the game came out. In fact, major news sources like the Washington Post have reported that fitness trackers nationwide have majorly spiked since the release of the game. The positive impact is real!
Screen time becomes an extension of outdoor play
Perhaps you're used to your son or daughter sprinting inside after their usual outdoor activities, grabbing the tablet, and zoning out on the sofa for the rest of the day. Not with Pokémon Go. The game is keeping players outside for longer and longer periods of time, providing extra vitamin D for kids and adults alike. For those of us who work inside an office all week, that's definitely something to celebrate!
It's more fun to play together than solo
Many mobile games are solitary endeavors and sometimes get a bad rap for distracting players or distancing them from friends and family. While Pokémon Go is technically a single-player adventure game, fans nationwide seem to agree that it's endlessly more fun to venture out in search of Pokémon as a duo or in a group. The satisfying rush of sharing your discoveries and successes with fellow players in real-time is part of what makes the game special.
It promotes social interaction with new friends
Niantic, the creator of Pokémon Go, has come up with some brilliant ways to get people out and talking:
- Lures can be dropped on Pokéstops, causing more Pokémon to appear nearby for half an hour. Thus, more players to appear to catch them.
- Gyms are owned by one of three teams at any given time, making them natural gathering points. You have to work together with your team to attack a rival gym, so people have to be physically nearby.
Don, a member of our Curriculum Development team, shared his recent social experiences with the game.
"While visiting one of our camp locations, members of my department and I took a few minutes to catch some Pokémon. A couple skateboarders rolled past, yelling support for Team Mystic, our bitter rival.
A short time later, we found a Magikarp and promptly yelled “Magikarp!” to get everyone’s attention. Someone popped around a corner, excited to join us and catch the Pokémon we’d discovered.
While trying to catch a Zubat at Starbucks, people snuck up behind me to see if I was playing and joined me.
At a local fountain, there were twenty-odd people hanging out catching Pokémon. A Magmar appeared and you could hear a ripple of “Magmar!” go through the crowd. Some people started yelling like crazy and running down the sidewalk: turns out their friends had randomly shown up to catch Pokémon, too. It’s like a big party had spontaneously erupted.
These are the types of social encounters that make Pokémon Go truly unique."
It brings out the magic in everyday life
Sometimes we get stuck in a rut and start to take our neighborhoods, workplaces, and community in general, for granted. Pokémon Go encompasses an uncanny ability to make the familiar seem unfamiliar and magical, fostering renewed appreciation for local landmarks like libraries, thrift shops, murals, sculptures, and museums. By turning these everyday sights into coveted Pokéstops, the makers of the game teach us to appreciate and absorb the nuances that make our communities special. Last weekend, I discovered a beautiful, sculptural fountain I might have otherwise overlooked if it weren't a Pokéstop.
It bridges the "generational gap"
One of the most impressive features of Pokémon Go is its ability to bridge the generational gap between kids, teens, and adults. I’ve seen moms and dads guiding young children as they learn to catch their first Pokémon, and teenagers shouting excitedly to their parents that they "CAUGHT A CLEFAIRY!!!!" in the parking lot of Fry's Electronics. I've witnessed professional 20-somethings laughing and bonding with parents and 8-year-old kids as they refuel together at local Pokéstops.
The best part is that gameplay is simple and fun, making it great for people who aren’t technologically savvy; if you can swipe on a smartphone, you can catch a Pokémon. It’s a great way to relate with your kids, and you can squeeze in a conversation with them while you venture to the next Pokéstop.
It's uplifting to see people of all ages outside catching Pokémon and connecting with other players they meet along the way. If you’re worried about trying to find that balance between screen time and the great outdoors this summer break, Pokémon Go might be exactly what you’re looking for. Remember to stay safe while playing and keep an eye on your surroundings!
Have you or your family had a unique or memorable experience with Pokémon Go? Tell us about it in the comments. In the meantime, check out our augmented reality summer camps, and this awesome Pokémon video created by our students and staff over at iD Tech Camps held at UNC-Chapel Hill!