If you want to be the very best—like no one ever was—there's a new mobile game that might be right up your alley.
Released just over a week ago, Pokémon GO (available on Android and iOS) has led the global phenomenon that originated in Japan 20 years ago to sweep the country once again. In that time, the mobile game has already become both the top free and top grossing app in the iPhone app store. According to a report on Forbes.com, it had been downloaded 7.5 million times and was earning $1.6 million in daily revenue (through in-app purchases) as of July 11.
What is Pokémon GO? It's a free-to-play, augmented reality game that puts you in the world of Pokémon through the use of Google Maps, GPS and your phone's camera. Players seek out the "pocket monsters" through avatars on a virtual map, which then appear in the real world through the use of the phone's camera. In addition, players have the opportunity to gain equipment at Poké Stops located at various landmarks in the community and can battle other players for control of "gyms" (competitive virtual arenas).
Newton, like many cities across America, has embraced Pokémania. On Sunday, the Facebook group "Pokémon GO of Newton KS" was created and roughly tripled in size in the span of a few days. That highlights the social appeal of the game, which was a big draw for group administrators Bonnie and Kris Armstead.
"I think it's a great family thing to do. That's why we started it, for the boys. My youngest son is a huge Pokémon fan," Bonnie said. "He was the reason I started because I was like, 'oh, this should be fun.'"
On Monday night, the Armsteads noted they started hunting for Pokémon outside the Carriage Factory Art Gallery, met another family and continued the search with their acquaintances at various spots around the city for the next three hours.
Fellow player Derrick Garnica spoke to that instant connection as well, noting meeting other players at Poké Stops can be a conversation starter.
"It's kind of interesting. I've met a few people. I'm just standing there, people walk up and we start talking," Garnica said.
Engaging others is a benefit of the game, but engaging yourself is also a plus in the eyes of Bonnie. She noted the initial idea to get her kids involved was to encourage more walking and exercise, which her fiancee Kris can attest to. He admitted he has walked an estimated 20-some miles in the past four days.
Garnica noted he has gotten swept up in the nostalgia of the game as well. The Pokémon franchise is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with the original Red and Blue editions (the top selling RPG of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, with 31.38 million copies sold) starting the craze that has come full circle.
"It just brings back a part of my childhood. The last few years with Pokémon they changed it a lot. I wasn't very interested in it any more. Now, they brought back this app and it's totally different. It's pretty fun," Garnica said. "It's crazy because when I was a kid, I would've never thought something like this would've happened. It kind of makes me think what's the next thing they're going to come out with or how much more advanced is it going to be."
Local individuals aren't the only ones getting in on the fun, as Newton Public Library IT supervisor Nathan Carr noted the NPL is working to engage players even more. Along with the resources it naturally provides (wifi, A/C, water, etc.), Carr said the library is working to become a registered host for the larger social battles that were teased in the game's trailer. Taking a page from other libraries, Carr said the NPL may also start offering badges to players who conquer the nearby gym.
Players and community members alike admit that the game comes with some good and bad. There have been reports of Pokémon GO causing car wrecks along with being used to commit robbery. Initially, there were also issues with the iOS version of the game having too much access to users' Google mail accounts.
The Harvey County Sheriff's Department addressed some of those issues recently and public information officer Melissa Flavin noted one of their focuses has been stressing the importance of situational awareness. Players caught up in the game can lose that awareness and put themselves in unsafe situations (i.e. walking into the street).
While there have not been any reports to date, Flavin noted she and some deputies received calls over the weekend from concerned citizens and the department is taking measures to make sure Newton does not face any of the more serious issues that some communities have been dealing with.
"We're trying to be proactive rather than reactive with the whole situation. We don't want to see something bad happen and then go, 'oh, you know what, we should've said something because we saw that could be an issue,'" Flavin said.
Sheriff T. Walton also addressed the issue as it relates to motor vehicles. While the department does not want to impose guidelines, he also noted they are stressing safety to the players engaged with the game.
"Absolutely enjoy the game, walk around, do all that that. That's fine," Walton said. "We don't have a problem with that, it's that distracted drivers are bad drivers."
Pokémon GO has already surpassed established social media apps like Instagram and Snapchat in terms of average daily usage and is encroaching on Twitter as well. It's everywhere, with the Armsteads noting they get thumbs up from other players seemingly wherever they go. As you attempt to "catch 'em all," though, they also suggested being aware and paying attention to make sure it remains a fun experience for everyone.