Pokémon GO owes its phenomenal success largely to 20-somethings enjoying the nostalgia that comes with revisiting a game most of them haven't played in years. But there's no denying the game's appeal for little ones who may have only recently become acquainted with Nintendo's colourful collectible creatures. Plus, it's the perfect excuse for moms and dads to go out on fun neighbourhood escapades with their kids.
However, if you didn't grow up playing Pokémon, you might be curious to know what all the fuss is about. And even if you did, you might not be sure how to play with your kids once you download it (it's intuitive, but not super intuitive). Here's everything you need to know about the game to impress your kids and have a great time while out.
What's the point of the game? Like most Pokémon games, Pokémon GO involves capturing cute monsters, training them, and pitting them in battle against other monsters. ("Pokémon" is short for "pocket monsters.") You find them by journeying through the real world. The game tracks your position using GPS, so in order to find Pokémon, you need to physically walk to where they are. (Playing on Wi-Fi at home isn't much fun at all, since you'll be limited to capturing only the Pokémon that randomly and infrequently appear around your house.)
OK, I'm at a park with my kids. What do I do now? Whenever a Pokémon is near, your phone will rumble and a creature will appear superimposed atop the real world as seen through your camera. All you need to do at this point is flick your thumb or finger to toss a Poké Ball—that's what the game's spherical traps are called—toward your digital visitor and wait a few seconds to see if you successfully capture it. If you do, it'll be added to your Pokédex—that's the index of who you've caught so far. You'll also earn some experience and gain a bit of stardust (a resource used for training Pokémon to make them more powerful).
Those are the basics. And it's not exactly a new concept. Other games have used this sort of technology—GPS and augmented reality—before and in similar ways. But the real fun in Pokémon GO comes in how it lures players to gather together in specific areas.
What are those blue icons I see on the game map? These are called PokéStops. They're fixed sites tied to real-world landmarks—like statues, public squares, libraries and ponds. When you get close enough to one, you can tap it, then "spin" (swipe) the circular image that appears, and you'll be able to gather up resources, such as Poké Balls. When you reach higher levels, you'll also be able to get potions, eggs and other special goodies.
PokéStops also serve as meeting points for players. Once a player arrives, he or she can insert something called a lure module into the PokéStop (if they received one as a bonus when they levelled up, or if they purchased one from the in-game shop) to begin luring Pokémon to that area for 30 minutes. All players within range benefit from this, so it tends to make nearby players migrate to your location to see what they can find. This is the social part of the game, the reason why we've seen so many news stories with video of dozens or more players, eyes glued to their phones, lingering in what might seem to non-players like a random spot. It's the heart of the game.
However, it's also the part of the game of which parents ought to be most wary. By sending random people to congregate in the same spots Pokémon GO tacitly encourages social interactions – which, of course, means stranger danger. You'll want to keep a close eye on younger kids when you travel to these locations.
I've heard battling is part of the game. What's that about? Once you've collected enough Pokémon to achieve level 5, you can start pitting your creatures in battles at local gyms. You'll find gyms on your map, just like PokéStop. Each one is home to champion Pokémon left there by other players who are members of one of three teams (you get to choose the team to which you want to belong once you reach level 5). These Pokémon are typically extremely strong. To make your Pokémon powerful enough to win in battle you'll need to feed them candy (earned by tapping a button to transfer duplicate Pokémon out of your inventory) and spend stardust. Eventually you'll be able to evolve them to new and even more powerful forms, transforming a Pidgey, say, to a Pidgeotto.
The gyms make for a nice long-term goal beyond just collecting Pokémon, but if your nearby gyms are popular it could take a very long time for you to train one of your Pokémon to become a true contender. You may want to brace your kids for a bit of frustration and disappointment, especially if they expect to win right off the bat. Remind them, too, that Pokémon are never killed—they just get knocked out. This could prevent a few tears.
Do I have to worry about in-app purchases? The game is free to download, and you'll never be forced to spend to keep playing. However, like most free-to-play games, there's lots of ways to spend money to speed up the process. If you run out of Poke Balls—those traps mentioned earlier—you may need to purchase more. You can get 20 Poké Balls for 100 gold coins, which will run you $1.39. The modules needed to act as lures at PokéStops also cost 100 coins each. Other items—incense to lure Pokémon to your location so you don't have to move (handy if you're trapped inside or playing on Wi-Fi), eggs to increase the rate at which you earn experience, and a Pokémon storage upgrade—can be found for free at Poké Stops, but if you want extra, you can buy them using real-world money.
What all of this means, of course, is that you need to make sure you've set your phone to ask for a password (that you don't share with your kids) in order to safeguard against massive credit card bills. Without it, your kids could end up buying bulk bags of gold coins for $139.99 a pop with just a couple of quick taps.
If you can keep a lid on spending, Pokémon GO can be a great, physically active way to spend an adventurous couple of hours with your kids.
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