By Ruth Bayang
Northwest Asian Weekly
You’ve probably heard by now of the Pokémon Go phenomenon.
Or you’ve seen groups of people gather in one place, their eyes glued to their smartphones.
Pokémon Go is a free-to-play mobile app that you can download for iOS or Android.
Released earlier this month, the app has quickly rivaled the popularity of Twitter, Tinder, Instagram, and Snapchat.
People of all ages chase Pokémon (pocket monsters) and some pay money to buy Pokéballs, which is then used to catch the creatures.
The game works by using your phone’s GPS for real-world location. The Pokémon are overlaid on top of the real world — what you see in front of you.
The object of the game is to train the monsters and use them in battle against other players.
Pokémon has been around since the mid 1990s. The franchise began as video games for the original Game Boy. The franchise now includes trading card games, animated television shows and movies, comic books, and toys.
The criticism against video games has been that players sit still for hours on end, and their snacking and calorie intake increase while playing, which can lead to obesity. Then video games evolved to be more interactive; players have to move to play tennis or other games on the Nintendo Wii. Now, Pokémon Go requires that players venture outside of their homes to collect Pokémon.
My 17-year-old son, who prefers to drive everywhere instead of walk, told me he walked several miles in a day last week — chasing Pokémon.
Other players (trainers, as they are called in the game) have posted on social media that not only is the game fun — especially for people who grew up being involved with the franchise — it’s a great way for people to get outside, explore places they never would have otherwise, and meet new people.
And because the people you meet are also playing the game, Pokémon Go instantly provides common ground (just trying to catch that Pikachu) for you to easily bond with fellow trainers, or maybe forge new friendships.
People who aren’t playing the game are also benefitting: “I have friends taking their kids out to go catch Pokémon,” one woman said.
The game also has broad appeal. There are young kids playing, senior citizens, parents, teens, 20-somethings, middle-aged adults, and everything in-between.
Best of all, the game never really puts you in direct competition with anyone else. You can fight for control of gyms from others, but you never are fighting them directly — and even then, your victory or loss is only temporary, as gyms change allegiances by the hour.
I remind my son to always pay attention and be aware of his surroundings while playing — don’t walk in front of a moving car or into a ditch.
And let’s hope the servers don’t go down again.
Ruth Bayang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.