If you were a full-blown adult or already approaching your 20s when the first Pokémon game was released to Nintendo Gameboy in 1996, you might have trouble figuring out why the new Pokémon GO app is so immensely popular.
We can help.
First, you need to know the world’s hottest video game app is played in what’s called augmented reality, which involves superimposing computer-generated images on a person’s view of the real world.
Pokémon GO utilizes maps of real places like Main Street in Bay Shore, using Google Maps. Players can elect to view the Pokémon world through digital-only versions of these real maps.
Here is Pokémon GO’s digital version of the South Shore:
That, or players can elect to see these digital Pokémon characters (and accumulate goodies, battle, etc.) in a real world-view, which utilizes a phone’s built-in video camera. Take this example:
OK, so why is it so popular?
Allow 25-year-old Roberto DaCosta of Vibe Branding Web Development to explain:
“It’s kind of like what you always wished for when you were a kid,” he said. “When I was a child I would imagine these little creatures running around and battling them and acting like they were really there. Through this you can recapture your childhood in augmented reality.
“Playing Pokémon on Gameboy is one thing, but walking around playing Pokémon in real life is like a dream come true.”
To put this in perspective for Gen X’ers, imagine playing Super Mario Bros in real life in, say, Heckscher State Park.
“Yes!” DaCosta said of the comparison. “Picture cubes floating around and collecting coins.”
As a media franchise of video games, card games, movies and more, it’s pretty easy to explain Pokémon.
It’s not fantasy, and it’s not quite Italian plumbers-turned-whatever the Mario Brothers are.
Basically, the storylines are centered around fictional creatures called “Pokémon that humans known as Pokémon Trainers catch and train to battle each other for sport. It’s not unlike cockfighting, to be frank, except without all the real-life animal cruelty.
(There’s no evidence that playing Pokémon leads to cockfighting.)
OK, so now you get a basic idea.
Here’s another question you might still be asking yourself:
Is it easy to tell if people walking around outdoors are actually playing Pokémon GO?
Every player we interviewed for this story said emphatically yes.
“Anyone you think is being rude, they’re not; they’re playing Pokémon GO,” said Mike Marcin, 23.
“A lot of it looks like shady behavior,” said Michael Buono, 33, of Northport. “You can go down to Shorefront Park right now and just see people idling in their cars.”
Which brings us to our next step in your very basic understanding of Pokémon GO.
There are things called Poké Stops pinned to real locations like a library, statue or street sign, where players can grab helpful items to train their Pokémon.
They can then enter those Pokémon into battle at what’s galled a Gym. There may be two or three in the heart of any downtown area like Bay Shore or Islip, and everywhere else.
Players have to physically walk to where the Gyms are, within about 30-40 yards, to do battle.
Ownership of the Gyms typically changes multiple times a day.
“It’s exactly like king of the hill,” DaCosta said. “You gotta go in there and beat everybody.”
How do you beat somebody?
For older school video game fans, think of Punch Out, Street Fighter or Mortal Combat, expect there’s no punching and kicking, and of course there’s no joysticks or pads.
You tap the phone screen to attack, but much of it is still about timing.
So, how are the Gyms and Poké Stops established?
Here can even provide another layer of understanding for you, courtesy of Buono.
As he explained, the landmarks used for Gyms and Poké Stop are actually taken from another game released about five years ago by the same developers of Pokémon GO, called Niantic, Inc.
That game is called Ingress.
“The idea with Ingress is you’re capturing as much landmarks as possible by connecting as many different points as possible, which players have created, around the world,” he explained. “Niantic took the data from Ingress and basically put it into Pokémon GO.
“So Ingres players actually created the geographic data that was used in Pokemon.”
There’s good and bad to everything, but Pokémon players are seeing mostly good in the new app.
For one, they say, it’s getting people off their couches and walking around, so there’s health benefits to the game.
Not only that, it’s getting people interacting with one another — not just instant-messaging.
Of course, there have already been several reports of people being robbed after being lured to a real location, as well as other real-world problems.
Buono advises using a little common sense when playing the game.
“Don’t go alone to a location that’s not well-lit or there’s nobody around,” he said. “Go in groups, during normal times. If there’s a way for criminals to make money, they’ll find a way.”
The players say there’s no reason to purchase items through the app’s store. But they’re confident Pokémon GO, which is free to download, will be used for advertising and promotional purposes for businesses and organization in the not-so-distant future.
“They’re gathering so much data, every second,” Buono said. “The money will be rolling in.”
One last positive, from Buono, is the attention the game brings to local landmarks.
“We spend this time and money on monuments and over the course of a town’s history they stop getting noticed after awhile,” he said. “People are going to places they don’t often go. And here on Long Island there’s a danger of people going to work, to home, to the diner, to work, to home, and seeing nothing else of where they live.”
Photo: Roberto DaCosta, 25, plays Pokémon GO on Main Street in Patchogue. (Michael White)