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Pokémon Go explained: Tips from a first-time player

For its 20th anniversary, the Pokémon media franchise released an augmented reality game, "Pokémon Go," which makes use of the user’s GPS location and camera.

I went on my own adventure with this app – my first real encounter with the Pokémon franchise. To preface this, I was born in 1995, leaving me just young enough to have missed the sweet spot for the original Pokémon craze. The franchise was started the next year as a video game for Game Boy; my friends probably picked up the game in its second or third wave right around the start of the millennium. I have only younger sisters, leaving us outside of the original target demographic, and none of us were particularly drawn to Pokémon in its various forms – video game, anime television series, trading card game – so I only ever saw the game when I went to friends’ houses or at recess.

The app, available on iOS and Android, draws a varied audience. Walking around the streets of Manhattan, I ran into longtime fans of the Pokémon franchise as well as first-time players.

Before you can begin any adventuring with the
Photo Credit: Pokémon Go

Before you can begin any adventuring with the likes of Ash Ketchum, the app warns you to remain alert to your surroundings. It's a disclaimer that you respond to first by thinking, "Of course! I'm not going to be one of those people walking around the city staring at my phone!" before you realize that no, you will definitely be one of those people walking around the city staring at your phone.

After signing into the app with your Google
Photo Credit: Pokémon Go

After signing into the app with your Google account or creating a new one, you meet Professor Willow, a beautiful old man wearing what appear to be running tights, board shorts, fancy Crocs, a lab coat, gloves and a hiking backpack. Willow has created quite a stir on social media, with many Twitter and Tumblr users commenting on his appearance. Willow introduces you to the concept of the game and walks you through the beginning process, making you his assistant in Pokémon research.

You choose an avatar, who you can customize,
Photo Credit: Pokémon Go

You choose an avatar, who you can customize, and then a username. You can't underestimate this part, of course; it's a daunting task to choose a name for yourself that 1) isn't ridiculous, 2) doesn't reveal too much personal information and 3) hasn't been used by anyone else. In most cases, I go with the good old firstname.lastname, but I wasn't a fan of the idea of putting my last name out onto an app that could potentially reveal my location to the world. My usernames from childhood, while awesome, verged into the category of goofy, so I settled on a fun combination of numbers and my name.

After all of that, my avatar (who I did not customize) was plopped onto a grassy field. Where was I? How should I go about following the beautiful and oddly dressed Professor Willow's instructions to catch a Pokémon? It took me about 3 minutes before I figure out how to find the Pokémon, lob a virtual Pokéball in its direction, and capture it. My first find, Squirtle, was added to my Pokédex, and I was released into the augmented reality of Manhattan.

The Pokémon franchise slogan,
Photo Credit: Pokémon Go

The Pokémon franchise slogan, "Gotta catch 'em all," is a great place to start. There are 151 Pokémon available in the game, and one of the objectives as Professor Willow's research assistant is to "catch 'em all." To do so, you tap on the Pokémon and are brought to the app's catching interface. You can either attack it with your real surroundings plugged into the background (which is why you've probably seen quite a few pictures of Pokémon perched on toilet seats or desks) or a predesigned backdrop. A red and white ball sits at the bottom of your screen, which you need to successfully lob at the creature. After this, the Pokémon is added to your collection.

The only way to keep locating Pokémon is
Photo Credit: Pokémon Go

The only way to keep locating Pokémon is to walk. I decided first that a random approach to this adventure would be fun, winding up around Penn Station area. Quickly, I discovered several items deemed important by the app's designers: Pokéstops, which are scattered around near plaques, street art, statues, places of worship and iconic buildings. At each Pokéstop, users can find extra Pokeballs or items meant to help in later competitions. This part of the app made me look up and swivel my head around every once in a while to look out for these real-life places and things.

One of the most talked-about parts of this
Photo Credit: Emily Schienvar

One of the most talked-about parts of this game is its social nature. In the first 45 minutes or so of my adventure, I didn't run into anyone who looked like they were actively playing the game, but soon enough, it seemed as though everyone was. Walking through a crowded street fair, I overheard several conversations about the game. Approaching Bryant Park, which features several Pokéstops and a gym where players can battle against each other, dozens of people were playing. One, Joseph Cervini from Manhattan, was offering advice to people he noticed playing as he walked around the city.

"I'm a '90s kid, so I grew up around Pokémon. The idea of Pokémon in the real world just really piqued my interest, which is funny, because I haven't touched a Pokémon game in years. The last I played was probably Gold and Silver, and that was back in the early 2000s. And now, thanks to the game, I'm re-watching old episodes again. Heck, I'm even listening to the theme song," Cervini said.

When not battling other players or attempting to
Photo Credit: Pokémon Go

When not battling other players or attempting to capture Pokémon, the app offers a digitized map of the world to its users, with Pokémon, Pokéstops and gyms made visible as well. Bryant Park is home to several Pokéstops, with several statues in its vicinity, as well as a gym centered at the fountain.

Once in Bryant Park, it was clear that
Photo Credit: Emily Schienvar

Once in Bryant Park, it was clear that hundreds gathered there were playing the game. Many people stood in circles, battling their Pokémon, while others took videos and pictures to send to friends, remarking on the odd scene. Mike Zwerin from Wanaque, New Jersey, works in a nearby building and was playing the game with friends during their lunch break.

"Well, I never really played it as a kid. For me, it's kind of cool walking around with a map -- the technology is kind of cool. We're trying it out. Literally everyone here is playing this game. ... It's an epidemic," Zwerin said.

Photo Credit: Pokémon Go

"Pokémon Go" certainly keeps its users active. Over the course of about two hours, I logged about 4 1/2 miles of walking, leaving me glad I'd worn sensible shoes and wishing I'd brought along some sunscreen. But for all of its perks, the app is still buggy, having only been on the scene since July 6. At several points during my trip, the app's servers crashed. A ghostly Pokéball appeared in the corner to signal the attempt to reconnect, which I likened to Apple's rainbow spinning wheel of death as I closed and restarted the app to no avail.

This app is killer on your phone's battery.
Photo Credit: Pokémon Go; Apple

This app is killer on your phone's battery. I began my adventure nearly fully charged at 95%, but after about two hours of continuous gameplay, I was down to 9%, even after taking all necessary steps to conserve battery power, like turning down brightness and closing out other apps. This game is not for the weak-in-battery life; carrying around an external battery pack might sound like a ridiculous part of your gaming experience, but it's probably necessary.

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