As Pokémon Go Becomes a Sensation, Ed. Experts Weigh Pros and Cons

By guest bloggers Leo Doran and Michelle R. Davis for Edweek.org

 Pokemon-300

Like a thunderbolt from Pikachu’s tail, Pokémon is once again electrifying the nation.

The latest incarnation of the Japanese franchise is a mobile app, Pokémon Go, which puts a digital overlay on the real world, requiring users to walk around their neighborhoods to collect characters and do battle with one another.

The game has exploded in meme-driven popularity to become the largest mobile game ever, only 10 days after its launch.

The unexpected summer surge has parents and educators buzzing about the potential for educational applications, and fretting about privacy and safety risks they’d prefer children to avoid. Educators say they see opportunities to capitalize on students’ love for the game in the teaching of subjects like social studies, local history, math, mapping, and literacy.

“Pokémon Go is interdisciplinary in a way that’s hard to obtain with other programs,” said Jessica Torres, an assistant principal at Brook Avenue Elementary School in Waco, Texas. “I’m tired of seeing science in one area, reading in another area, math somewhere else.”

The Pokémon world first rose to iconic pop-culture status in the late 1990’s as a trading card game, then as a TV show, then as Gameboy-supported video game. The unlikely resurrection of the virtual world of anime creatures into a 2010s social gaming phenomenon is powered by a roster of over 21 million daily mobile users, and counting.

Nintendo, which owns a stake in the parent Pokémon Company, has seen its stock value rise by the billions as a result of the success.

Grand Illusions

The success that Pokemon’s developers have found in stitching together the real world and the virtual game goes a long way to explaining the game’s appeal to users.

Until now, the convention for nearly every game on the market has involved moving a virtual avatar around in a virtual world delineated by a virtual map. But in Pokemon Go, once the app is downloaded and an avatar is selected, the player is located by the game via GPS.

In Pokémon Go, users walk to local parks, landmarks, and buildings in their communities to gather resources. Every once in a while the gamer’s phone will vibrate and jump the display from a GPS-Maps-like view of the gamer’s avatar, to activate the gamer’s camera.

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