What is Pokemon Go and why is everyone talking about it?

First, my friend caught a Charmander at a supermarket. Then the flood started: Digletts on a steering wheel. Rhyhorn at the bar. Magikarp on a frying pan. They’re all Pokémon to catch, part of a new game called Pokémon Go. You’ve probably heard of it—but what is it, and why is everyone obsessed with it?

Pokémon is the portmanteau of “pocket monsters,” and an insanely popular franchise with a just as insanely long history. In Pokémon, monsters roam the lands, and your job is to find, capture, and train them. Then you put them in battle against other players. Growing up, I played the heck out of the original Pokémon games on the Nintendo Game Boy, and followed those adventures through a few more generations of handheld game console. I collected the trading cards and obsessed over the (still running) TV series. Fortunately, youdon’t need any previous Pokémon experience to enjoy Pokémon Go.

How Do You Play Pokémon Go?

 Pokémon Go is a free-to-play mobile app that you can download for iOS orAndroid. It’s free to download and start playing, but you have the option to use real money to buy in-game currency called PokéCoins. (Between $0.99 for 100 PokéCoins and up to $99.99 for 14,500.) Those PokéCoins are used to purchase Pokéballs, the in-game item you need to be able to catch Pokémon. Now you don’t have to spend real money, but that simply means you need to pay with your time and energy (which is the fun of it, anyway!).

The game works by using your phone’s GPS for your real-world location and augmented reality to bring up those cool-looking Pokémon on your screen, overlaid on top of what you see in front of you. And you—the digital you—can be customized with clothing, a faction (or “team” of players you can join) and other options, and you level up as you play.

I’ve watched my friends excitedly whip out their phones whenever we walk a couple of yards down the street, round a corner, or enter a new place, in search of new Pokémon. If the timing is right, wild Pokémon leap out at you, giving you have a chance to catch them with a Pokéball. When you capture a Pokémon, it gets added to your Pokédex, a sort of Pokémon database, where you can personalize them later. And then the fun part: You can go to your local “gym” and battle your Pokémon against other trainers (also real people).

PokéStops, on the other hand, are usually predetermined landmarks that you can interact with and get items from. Some of these items will further your “ability” as a trainer, or simply draw tons of other excited Pokémon Go players to your location. All in all, Pokémon Go gives you a lot of things to do, but one of the biggest appeals is its social aspect.

Why Does It Seem Like Everyone Is Playing?

These days you can’t read the news without seeing headlines about Pokémon Go. If you scroll through Twitter or Facebook, you’ll come across what appear to be normal pictures—of a grocery store, someone’s fridge, or even a mother giving birth—and can expect to find a Pokemon in it. Even my friends and I’s group chats regularly light up with talk of which gyms and PokéStops are nearby.

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