If you've seen groups of people crowded together in specific spots in the neighborhood, staring at their phones and screaming, "Guys, guys! There's an Aerodactyl!" you're witnessing the "Pokémon Go" craze.
The augmented-reality game and phone app is every millennial's dream come true. "Pokémon Go," co-developed by Niantic, The Pokémon Company and Nintendo, was released in the U.S. on July 6 and continues to be released around the world. The idea is that you wander around different communities to discover and catch Pokémon (small cartoon creatures that you can later use to battle other creatures). You do this by tapping on the Pokémon when it pops up on your screen (your phone should buzz to alert you when you're in proximity). Your smartphone camera will turn on to show the real world around you, while the cartoon Pokémon hovers in front.
Here's a screenshot of me trying to catch a Doduo in front of the infamous The Americana's fountain in Los Angeles.
You then press on the Pokéball that appears and flick it toward the creature. Just remember that sometimes it can take a few tries to catch it. Other times the Pokémon might escape or run away. Bonus tip: If you feel like you've got the hang of throwing a Pokéball, try dragging and spinning the ball before flicking; a curve ball will give you more Experience Points (XP)!
The goal is to track down 150 types (currently) of Pokémon, some rarer than others. If you find that you're low on Pokéballs in your adventure, visit and click on Pokéstops (usually real-life landmarks, local churches or art installations that are really cool to visit with the family), spin the medallion that pops up and touch on any bonus items that float across the screen to collect them.
Here are the Pokéstops around our office (those blue floating cubes) that you'd have to walk to in order to activate. One currently has pink flower petals floating around it because someone activated a lure module. (Without getting too complicated, a lure is an item in the game you can use for 30 minutes, and during that time any player can see and catch the influx of Pokémon that show up around the lure—hence, the crowds of people hanging out outside our building.)
Once you have high-level Pokémon, you can use them to battle other players at gyms (the giant red structure in the screenshot above). Gyms will change colors to the color of the team that took it over; after you reach level 5, you can choose to be on Team Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue) or Valor (red).
Now that you have the basics down, it's also important for you and the kids to be aware of a few things. There are many benefits to Pokémon Go (mainly getting everyone outdoors and walking; families and other players have even bonded over the game while catching Pokémon). But, as the game continues to take over the world, we're also seeing how things can go really wrong.
1. As the app says when you open it, "Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings."
People have used the app to rob players. A group of armed teens were apprehended by police in in Missouri for targeting victims and luring them to isolated traps. They've used the lure modules that players must travel to. So be vigilant of where you're going and do not go to isolated areas alone.
2. Like any other game, there are times when you shouldn't be playing "Pokémon Go."
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum issued a statement on Monday requesting visitors to not use the app on its premises.
“We feel playing ‘Pokémon Go’ in a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism is inappropriate,” Andrew Hollinger, the Washington, D.C., museum’s communications director, told Yahoo News. “We encourage visitors to use their phones to share and engage with museum content while here. Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls outside of our educational and memorial mission. We are looking into how the museum can be removed from it.”
Whether it's at school, work, or hiking somewhere steep, use your best judgment on when to turn off the game. That Charmander can wait.
3. Be aware of security threats.
For players in countries that don't have "Pokémon Go" yet, it can be a real struggle to watch the rest of the world be the very best that no one ever was (that's an allusion to the Pokémon theme song, folks).
Trainer hopefuls in Canada have been filling social media with their own (sad) version of the game:
But don't let your eagerness land you in some steep digital trouble. According to Fusion, someone uploaded a fake Android version of the app that lets the hacker take control of the phone.
Because many people log into the game with their Google accounts there have also been big concerns over the app providing Niantic unlimited access to user's private accounts. The company just released a new update, so be sure to update your app, that mostly addresses this concern. You can grab the latest iPhone update here. The new version, 1.0.1, will reduce just how much Google data "Pokémon Go" can see and change. But if you're still worried, Pop Sci has a great article on what other steps you can take to ensure privacy.