What is Pokemon Go?

Amanda Angus / 22 July 2016

Pokemon Go is taking the world by storm, entrancing kids and adults alike and making headlines almost every day. But what is it?

If you had teenage children or grandchildren in the late 1990s and early 2000s, you might have been dimly or keenly aware of Pokemon – and you might have thought those days were long behind you. So why is Pokemon a thing again, all of a sudden?

Although you might have stopped hearing about these strange little creatures as your children and grandchildren grew up, Pokemon never really went away; after its initial success in Japan in 1996 as a computer game for Nintendo, trading card game and anime cartoon series, it quickly started making waves in the western world. 

Twenty years later, there have been nineteen Pokemon films, a new game released every 3-4 years, and almost a thousand episodes of the anime series produced.

So, if Pokemon has always been there, why has it suddenly started making headlines again?

The arrival of Pokemon Go

July 2016 brought with it Theresa May as PM, a heatwave nobody really expected, and Pokemon Go, a smartphone app for both Android phones and iPhones that uses augmented reality (AR) to let you seek out and catch your very own Pokemon in the real world.

Its release has been surrounded with vague, sinister sounding headlines: Teen playing Pokemon go finds dead body, Driver playing Pokemon Go crashes into police car, Man playing Pokemon Go falls into pond; but whilst alarmist headlines will always get interest, in the most part Pokemon Go seems to be a force for good.

Reports of it bringing diverse groups of people together abound, and parents of autistic children are thankful that it’s helped their children socialise and interact with others.

And as you need to get out and about on foot in order to make the most of the game, something that can slow down our nation’s apparent slide into obesity by persuading everyone to go for a walk, surely can’t be too bad?

Computer games to play together

How do you get Pikachu on a bus? You pokemon!

If you've had any brushes with Pokemon, odds are you'll recognise Pikachu, the cute yellow hamster-like animal with a predilection for blusher. 

Now regarded as the mascot for Pokemon and a pop culture icon, Pikachu is not the only Pokemon - far from it. 

Originally there were 151 Pokemon; now there are over 700. However, Pokemon Go appears to have returned to its roots, and if you start playing, you'll be able to catch 151 different Pokemon, and as the saying goes, you gotta catch ‘em all... 

Download Pokemon Go

If you want to see what the fuss is about, or you'd like to impress the younger members of your family with your Pokemon prowess, or simply engage with grandchildren during the summer holidays, it couldn't be simpler to get started. 

After downloading the app, you're asked if you’re happy for Pokemon Go to access your location and your camera - in order to enjoy the game to its full potential you need to allow this access, as the charm of the game lies in using the AR to explore your surroundings.

 The next question will be regarding your preferences in terms of whether the game is allowed access to your files and contacts - presumably this is so that you can take photos of the Pokemon you catch and send it to people in your address book. 

When going through this process, I denied the game access to the address book of my phone, and was able to carry on with the set up, so it would seem to be down to your own preference how much you choose to share.

Once you've registered with a user name and password, you'll be presented with three adorable Pokemon ready for you to catch and start building your Pokemon empire. 

Then, once your first Pokemon is in the bag (or, more accurately, your PokeBall, the white and red globe that Pokemon live in once you catch them, as if you didn’t know that already), you can start walking around the map of your neighbourhood. Interestingly, as the game's focus is on walking, you'll find pedestrian paths and cut-throughs are given as much emphasis on the map as established roads - so you might find a few shortcuts you didn't know existed!

Now you simply need to take your phone with you next time you go for a stroll, and see what pops up on the screen. Your phone will vibrate if it senses a Pokemon nearby, and then all you need to do is click on it, and throw the PokeBall that appears on your screen at it, and hope for the best.

Energy issues - even if you don't have the energy to play

Naturally, having Pokemon Go active on your phone as you walk around will use up much more battery than usual - not only is the screen light on rather than in sleep mode in your pocket, the GPS will drain your battery too.

If you have decided not to give into the hype and haven't downloaded it yourself, this might still be an annoyance, even if you have children or grandchildren over 25; far from being a game that appeals mostly to children and young adults, 40% of Pokemon Go's adult user base is over 25

If you already struggle to get your offspring to reply to your texts and return your phone calls. the last thing you want is a genuine "sorry, my battery died".

So if they try it, just ask them if they've enabled the battery saving feature provided within the app. It's found in Settings, and it means that the screen light dims when the phone is down by the player's side. 

They can also turn off the AR, as having the camera on also reduces battery life, but you might have less success with this request, as the AR is all part of the fun.

Extend the life of your phone battery

Play smart

Of course, as with anything, a decent amount of common sense needs to be in play – encourage your kids and grandkids to look up from the screen if they’re walking anywhere to avoid any pond-related misadventures, and make sure they know to stay in populated areas rather than sloping off anywhere too isolated.

Bear in mind too that it will use up your phone's data roaming allowance, as its very nature means you won't be able to use your home Wi-Fi. You can keep an eye on the amount of data used in your phone's setting, so it's worth just checking it every couple of days to ensure you don't run out before the rollover date.

10 ways to get smartphone data savvy 

But with heads firmly screwed on, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t embrace the Pokemon Go phenomenon. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.