PICKENS COUNTY — On Sept. 30, 1998, America got its first taste of what was to become a worldwide phenomenon — Pokemon.
What started out as a simple role-playing game (RPG) for Nintendo’s Game Boy has evolved into a multi-billion dollar industry that spans seven generations of video games, trading cards, an animated series, movies, merchandise and of course, Nintendo’s latest and arguably most successful launch to date: Pokemon Go.
But what in the world is it?
What are those kids doing walking around town with their eyes glued to their phone? Why are there suddenly groups of people gathering at the clock tower in Old Market Square? And what in the world does Pokemon even mean?
As it turns out, it’s surprisingly simple.
According to Nintendo, roughly translated from the original Japanese, Pokemon means “pocket monster” and the guy who came up with the concept, Satoshi Tajiri, did so because as a kid, he liked to collect bugs.
Down to its bare bones, Pokemon is basically digital bug collecting. You wander around, find Pokemon and “catch” them to be stored in your Pokedex (collection). Of course, Pokemon aren’t real, so this is where the app comes in.
Players download the game (or app) onto their smartphones. The game then uses the phone’s camera and GPS to insert Pokemon into “real life” — in real time. Basically, the phone’s screen becomes a “magic window” in which players can see the Pokemon.
In the course of — ahem — “research,” this reporter spent an afternoon wandering around with a co-worker trying to figure out what all the fuss was about. We encountered our first Pokemon just seconds after installing the app. It was a “charmander” (he looked kind of like a baby dragon) — and he was sitting right next to my car.
Players capture Pokemon by throwing “Pokeballs” at them and if you hit them, they’re added to your collection. After a little practice perfecting our Pokeball throwing technique, we accumulated over 30 Pokemon in just a couple of hours.
We found them everywhere: at gas stations, parks, the amphitheater, churches, schools and the post office.
Here’s where it gets a little weird: other than capturing the Pokemon, there’s one other thing you can do with them — you can fight them. Once they’ve reached a certain level, players can form teams and pit their Pokemon against each other in battles at Pokemon gyms. Controlling the gym earns you experience (XP) and points.
Since Pokemon Go’s release, it has racked up an astounding 30 million downloads and according to TechCrunch, Nintendo’s market value increased by $9 billion within five days of the game’s release.
But, as with any new technology, the game has had its criticisms.
Worldwide, players have been arrested for trespassing, hospitalized for accidents and even killed.
In Japan, the first “Poke-accident” occurred within hours of the game’s release when a player not paying attention fell down a flight of stairs. A girl in Pennsylvania was struck by a car when she wandered into traffic while playing and NBC recently reported in San Diego that two men playing Pokemon Go were hurt when they fell 80 feet off a cliff.
Police departments nationwide have issued warnings to players about minding their surroundings, keeping safe and respecting private or restricted properties in their search to “catch ‘em all.”
Reach Kasie Strickland at 864-855-0355.