Get up and get moving with Pokemon GO!

pokemon-go-new3-1200x675My wife’s not a gamer. I, on the other hand, enjoy playing several computer games. However, in the past seven years we’ve been together, the time I’ve spent gaming has considerably decreased because, well, my wife’s not a gamer, and we spend much of our limited leisure time together, engaged in activities we both enjoy.

Sure, we’ve made attempts to enjoy gaming together, and have even  purchased a few console systems with the intent of playing titles my wife says she enjoyed in her youth. After a few days, though, the novelty is gone, and nostalgia’s not enough to keep the consoles from collecting dust on a shelf. We bought a Wii with the idea of using it as a fitness tool. My wife hated the controller’s shape and functionality. I repurposed an old Xbox so we could play electronic board games like Monopoly but, again, my wife’s interest quickly waned once she took control of Park Place and Boardwalk. She told me her favorite computer game of all time was Sim City, so I bought her the latest incarnation. She fired it up twice, then complained it was just another activity that kept her chained to her PC.

She’s actually been known to poke lighthearted fun at people who enjoy gaming. Many times, I’ve looked up from playing a rousing round of Plants vs. Zombies to find her staring at me, an expression of bewilderment on her face. I’ve heard her on the phone with her mother, scoffing at the notion of crushing candy or tending to pixelated cows.

If my wife’s attitude about gaming seems harsh, realize she came to the conclusion – for a host of reasons – in her late teens that gaming was a colossal waste of time. Her view of gaming has evolved since, however, it’s still safe to say, my wife isn’t a gamer.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into the house one recent afternoon to find her furiously tapping away at her smartphone, an unfamiliar gleam in her eye.

“What are you doing?” My thoughts came to life when I gave them voice.

She looked up at me, but just barely, her response barely audible.

“I’m catching Pokemon,” she said quietly, matter-of-fact, then returned her attention to her screen.

“You’re playing Pokewhat?”

“Pokemon GO. It’s a new game app. Just came out a few days ago.”

Being in the tech world, I’d of course heard of Pokemon GO, created by a company named Niantic. I’d even played an early version of the game, though it wasn’t called Pokemon GO at the time. It was titled Ingress, and it was essentially an electronic scavenger hunt.

After we established a few basics, such as the fact that my wife’s 39 years old and a university professor, not to mention owner and editor of this publication, I whipped out my phone and downloaded the app, now eager to find out what the fuss was about.

We’ve never really looked back, fully enthralled by the Pokemon fever that’s swept the nation.

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or under a rock, you’ve likely heard of Pokemon GO. Maybe you’ve heard it described as a dangerous new fad, with the pursuit of Pokemon leading people up trees and into oncoming traffic. Maybe your kids are playing it, or you’re just curious as to why every other person you encounter lately is more glued to their phone than usual. Maybe you’re interested in the game, but just haven’t jumped into the Pokeverse yet. As a player, and as a technology columnist for Pennsylvania Bridges, I want to explain – in a nutshell – the ins and out of Pokemon GO to our readers.

Pokemon GO was created, as I mentioned earlier, by a software company named Niantic. The actual creator of Pokemon, however, is a Japanese video game designer named Satoshi Tajiri, who combined his youthful interests in insect collecting and arcade games together to form the basis for the Nintendo game, Pokemon: Red, White & Blue.

Just as Tajiri caught and collected insects as a child, the goal of Pokemon GO is to collect Pokemon, short for Pocket Monsters. You then train and evolve your Pokemon creatures so that they (and you) attain higher levels. To evolve Pokemon, you need to either collect candy or hatch eggs, both of which you’ll earn when you catch and hatch Pokemon.

To catch Pokemon, you launch Pokeballs in their direction and they are captured inside the Pokeball. Some creatures take more than one Pokeball to capture, while others require being fed berries to sweeten their disposition and make them easier to catch. How many Pokeballs it takes to capture a creature depends on their CP (combat power) and their HP (hit points).

You begin the game with a set amount of Pokeballs but will find you will run out quickly once you get into serious gameplay. In order to refresh your supply, you need to visit Pokestops, located at various sites in your community. Popular sites include churches, libraries, statues and historic landmarks.

Once you catch Pokemon, and you reach level 5 in the game, you’re allowed to visit gyms, where you train and fight your Pokemon against other players. Each gym has a color, determined by which of three teams has won the latest battles at that gym. Gyms are red, blue, or yellow. Red is Team Valor, blue is Team Mystic, and yellow is Team Instinct. Players on the same teams can train and defend gyms together to increase both their experience points and the gym’s prestige level. Additionally, you earn Pokecoins when you win battles at gyms, which you can use to purchase items in the app’s store. You can also use cold, hard cash to buy items, but I don’t recommend parting with yours as I sense that could quickly spiral out of control.

That about does it for basic gameplay, so now let’s discuss some of the hype surrounding Pokemon GO and dismiss some of the myths that have sprung up about playing the game.

Is playing Pokemon GO dangerous? While people have wandered into perilous situations while playing the game, if you’re mindful of your surroundings – and they warn you about this every time you start the game – and you don’t run into the street or ill-advisedly climb trees in pursuit of Pokemon, game play is harmless. In fact, because you have to physically move about your community in order to find Pokemon, hatch eggs and visit Pokestops, you’ll get some exercise in the process, which can’t be a bad thing.

Will I wreck my car playing Pokemon GO? Yes, you will. We do not suggest or advise playing Pokemon GO while operating a motor vehicle at any time, under any conditions.

You’re a grown man. Why are you playing Pokemon GO again? Collecting and evolving Pokemon is a fun activity my wife and I can share. It’s gotten us out of the houses on days we’d otherwise have watched TV, and gotten us moving. It’s had the same effect on children, by the way, encouraging them to go outdoors and exercise. It’s allowed us to bond with other players we’ve encountered “in the wild” as we’ve collaborated to take over gyms and given each other tips on where to find Pokemon. It’s given everyone playing something positive to discuss. Certainly, there are serious issues facing our country, and we need to devote significant time to those concerns. However, a little mindless escapism is good for the spirit, and allows us to briefly focus on the banal, giving us an opportunity to refresh and reinvigorate.

There’s so much more to Pokemon GO than I can fit in the space allowed, so let me leave you with a few hints on where to find more information.

Visit YouTube and look up tutorial videos. There’s tons of them. Some feature cruder language than others, so exercise care when sharing them with children or watching them when tender ears are listening. Check out the trailer for YouTubers Trainer Tips, which one of the better YouTube channels devoted to Pokemon GO.

Google Pokemon GO for tips and tricks. The Internet is full of people willing to share their Pokemon GO knowledge. Keep in mind, however, not everything you read on the web is true, and be wary of people making claims that seem too good to be true. Never download any related apps or programs to your phone other than the official Pokemon GO app.

Finally, talk to other Pokemon GO players. We’re a friendly bunch, and we’re always happy to talk about Pokemon GO.

That’s it for now. My wife just told me there’s a rare Pokemon hiding out about a block from our house.

Gotta catch ’em all!

Story by Eric J. Worton for Pennsylvania Bridges