Pokemon Go – An Engaging Virtual Treasure Hunt

Pokémon Go - An Engaging Virtual Treasure Hunt

Pokémon Go logoThere’s a new craze going around which you’d expect only to affect the young. The young at heart, however, seem no more immune, to the new engaging treasure hunt that is taking the world by storm. It’s called Pokémon Go.

While my husband and I initially resisted the urge to hunt Pokémon, despite constant exposure to the phenomena (our book and game store is a Pokémon Gym), two weeks ago we succumbed. We had to see what these creatures that are slightly out of phase with our reality were all about. Now we find ourselves engaged in a virtual treasure hunt. We swing by PokéStops on our way home, visit local parks in the hopes of capturing a new breed, and excitedly watch our screens in anticipation when an egg hatches. What will it be?!!

Despite all the information – and misinformation – on the web, Pokémon Go remains a bit of a mystery to some. So, for those who are curious what the engaging new treasure hunt game Pokémon Go is all about, here’s an introduction, plus details on how you can play, too.

About Pokémon Go

The Pokémon Go world is an augmented reality, overlaid on your current real-world location as provided by your mobile device's GPS.

The Pokémon Go world is an augmented reality, overlaid on your current real-world location as provided by your mobile device’s GPS.

Pokémon Go is a free-to-play, location-based, augmented reality, massively multi-player online, video exergame. Phew! Say that one three times fast. Developed by Niantic for both iOS and Android devices, Pokémon Go was initially released in select countries, including the United States, in July 2016.

In Pokémon Go, players take the part of Trainers hunting adorable virtual creatures called Pokémon. Ok, so some of them are more adorable than others. In boardgame terms, Pokémon Go is a set collection game as the ultimate goal seems to be to locate, encounter and capture a complete set of Pokémon (151 in total) and catalog them in your Pokédex.

Augmented Reality and Exergame

Augmented Reality: a Meowth on my dash

Augmented Reality: a Meowth on my dash

To do this you have to move around in the real world. The Pokémon Go world is an augmented reality, overlaid on your current real-world location as provided by your mobile device’s GPS. The game’s designers want you to “Get Up, Get Out and Explore!”, so some things in the game work better when you’re walking, rather than traveling by car – hence the term exergame in my description.  When you encounter a Pokémon, you can interact with it in either the Poké world or your own. You’ll need to give Pokémon Go access to your device’s camera for the latter.

Although the app is free to download and play on both Android and iOS mobile devices, you’ll need a state-of-the-art phone and a strong cellular or Wi-Fi data connection to play Pokémon Go. I was able to make it work on my iPhone 4s, but it crashed frequently. It runs more smoothly, loads much faster and rarely crashes on my iPhone 6s and iPad Air.

Acquiring Pokémon

As you move around Pokémon will spawn around you.

As you move around, Pokémon will spawn.

There are two ways to acquire Pokémon in Pokémon Go: capture them or hatch them. As you move around the real world, Pokémon will periodically spawn around you – often 2 or 3 will spawn at the same time. Your device will vibrate or make a sound most of the time to alert you.

Pidgey targeting

Targeting a Pidgey

Tap on the Pokémon you want to interact with and a zoomed-in view activates showing the Pokémon front and center, a red and white sphere, aka Poké Ball, centered at the bottom of your screen and a few icons that will allow you to access items in your backpack or leave the encounter. To capture the Pokémon, flick the ball at it.

Pidgey caught profile opening

Pidgey caught profile opening

Targeting Pokémon

You can improve your chances and gauge how tough the Pokémon is by pressing and holding on the ball. A target ring will appear around the critter. Green means an easy catch, yellow a bit tougher, orange tougher still, and red quite difficult. While pressing down, you can spin the ball a bit before releasing to increase your chances of throwing a Curve, which gives you a 10 point bonus upon successful capture. The target rings starts the size of a shield surrounding the Pokémon and shrinks to a tiny circle. Hit the creature when the target ring is mid-size and you’ll make a Great shot worth a 50-point bonus if that shot results in a successful capture.

Yep, sometimes the critters break free of the ball and you have to try again. Other times they break free and disappear in a poof. Eevees and Pidgeys are notorious for breaking free of your first ball(s). It’s possible to get a 100-point bonus by making an Excellent shot, hitting when the target ring is at its smallest, but I’ve been unable to achieve that myself so far. Tim made one. I’m pretty good at the Great shots, though.

Pidgey XP for Catch

Pidgey XP for Catch

Earning Experience Points (XP)

As your skill in the game improves – as tracked by experience points – you’ll gain access to Razz Berries you can use to entice a Pokémon – making it easier to capture – and to more powerful Poké Balls. You earn at least 100 XP every time you capture a Pokémon. When you capture a new Pokémon – one that’s not already recorded in your Pokédex – you’ll earn 500 XP. There are other ways of acquiring XP, too, which I’ll cover in a bit.

You also earn candies and stardust when you capture Pokémon. You’ll need the candy to Evolve your Pokémon and both candy and stardust to Power Up your Pokémon. Each type of critter favors a particular candy. Powering up a Pokémon permanently increases its hit points (HP) and combat power (CP), making it tougher and more powerful. As your own level increases, you’ll encounter Pokémon with higher CP.

No matter how good you get at flicking those balls, eventually you’re going to run out. That’s where Pokéstops come into play.


PokeStops - Purple visited Pokestop on left - you're close enough to activate it. Unvisited PokeStop on right.

PokéStops: Purple visited PokéStop on left – you’re close enough to activate it. Unvisited PokéStop on right. Move closer to make it bloom.

PokeStop - You're close enough to activate it

You’re close enough to open them!

PokéStops are essential places to visit in the world of Pokémon Go. While you start the game with a large supply of Poké Balls, it won’t take long to deplete it. To resupply you’ll need to visit PokéStops.

Depicted in the game as tilted blue or purple cubes on poles that blossom into revolving rings when you get within activating range, PokéStops turn purple when activated and fade back to blue in 5 minutes. Then you can activate them again. In the real world, keep a look out for statues, signs, murals, government buildings, historic landmarks, and religious places – they’re the most common stop locations.

PokeStop - Open and ready to activate

An open and ready to activate PokéStop. Spin the photo by swiping across it.

How to Open a PokéStop

Tap on a PokéStop and it’ll open, showing you a circle-framed photo of the stop with its name and a short description above it. Spin the circle, by swiping across it with your finger, and it’ll magically produce three or more items. Tap on the items to add them to your backpack, then close the window by tapping the X. Hint: you can actually just close the window and all the items will be added to your backpack. You earn 50 XP whenever you visit a PokéStop.

PokeStop - activated and spilling its goods

Activated and spilling its goods

How to Activate a PokéStop

You’ll probably laugh when I tell you this, but Tim and I were initially baffled by PokéStops. We had no trouble finding them or opening them mind you, we just couldn’t figure out how to get them to spill their goods. We tapped and tapped and nothing happened. We moved around, opened and closed the stop, tapped some more and nothing. Every once in awhile something would spill out of one after all our tapping, but we had no idea why that tap worked and all the other taps didn’t. I had to do some research on the trusty old web to find the solution: swiping the durn circle. I know you’re laughing at me right now, but it really wasn’t obvious to either of us – and I’m a computer geek!

Items you may acquire at a PokéStop include: Poké Balls, Razz Berries, Revive crystals and Potions which you can use to heal your Pokémon after a battle in a Gym, Lucky Eggs, regular Eggs and Incubators. Which brings me to the other way you can acquire Pokémon: hatching them.

Egg in incubator

Egg in incubator

Hatching a Pokémon Egg

To hatch a Pokémon, you’ll need an egg and an incubator. Everyone gets an Infinity Incubator that you can use an infinite number of times. Later you’ll occasionally acquire 3-use incubators, though you can always buy them in the Shop.

Eggs that can be hatched come in three types: 2K, 5K and 10K. The type corresponds to the distance you have to walk in order to hatch it. The longer the distance, the greater the likelihood you’ll hatch a rare or special Pokémon. You earn experience every time you hatch an egg: base 500 XP. If you hatch a Pokémon that’s not already in your Pokédex, you’ll earn additional experience for that.

Egg hatching

Hatching Egg

I recommend that you begin hatching eggs as soon as you acquire an Egg and an Incubator. You can only have nine eggs at a time and they can take awhile to hatch. As soon as one hatches, put another one in to bake. I like to use my Infinite Incubator for the quick-hatching 2K eggs and utilize my 3-use incubators for the 5K and 10K eggs. I’ve been told PokéStops give out a random variety of eggs. I seem to pick up a lot of 5K eggs, while Tim seems to acquire more 2K eggs. I have no idea why that is.

Pokémon Gyms

The final features in the Pokémon Go world are Gyms. Gyms are where you go to train – when the gym is held by your team – or do battle if one of the other teams controls it.

Gym from outside in Mystic team's controls

Gym from outside in Mystic team’s controls

When you reach level 5 in Pokémon Go, the game will ask you to choose a team: Mystic (blue), Valor (red) or Instinct (yellow). Mystic and Valor seem the most popular in my area. At least I see more gyms held by blue and red teams than by yellow. I play for Mystic, my husband plays for Valor. We just followed the colors we usually play in boardgames.

Gyms Most Complicated Part of Pokémon Go

Thus far, I’ve found Gyms to be the most complicated part of Pokémon Go. Not that they’re particularly complicated, just that thus far I don’t have a lot of experience playing in them. The longer Pokémon Go runs, the higher levels players achieve, the more powerful the Pokémon they leave in Gyms. I’ve only recently acquired, evolved and powered up a Pokémon to a combat power high enough to challenge some of the lower level Pokémon controlling gyms. They usually have a CP of 1000 or above.

So, I’ll leave discussion of gyms for a later article when I have more experience with them. For now, don’t let gyms discourage you from playing. You’ll typically earn more XP hunting Pokémon, hatching eggs or even visiting a PokéStop than training in a gym. So don’t worry too much about them until you reach level 15 or higher. You can’t even enter a gym until you’re fifth level.

Getting Started

As you play, you'll gain experience and increase your Trainer level.

As you play, you’ll gain experience and increase your Trainer level.

If you find any of this intriguing and haven’t tried Pokémon Go yourself yet, I recommend giving it a go. I warn you, though, that it can be a bit addicting, particularly if you’re a treasure hunter.

Acquiring the App

You can get the app free from the App Store if you’re on iOS. A free Android app is also available. When you open Pokémon Go, the app will ask you to sign in with a Google account. This is where I first ran into trouble on my iPhone 4s, the app kept lagging and locking up. My iPhone 4s couldn’t handle the memory requirements of having both Pokémon Go and a web browser open at the same time, so I couldn’t get past the start up screen. A little research gave me a solution and I finished the set up on my iPad. I later had no trouble creating a second account with my iPhone 6s.

After you register and sign in, you’ll create an avatar. It won’t take long. Unlike creating a Mii for Nintendo Wii, there aren’t many choices regarding your avatar’s appearance in Pokémon Go. You can choose a style (gender), hair color, skin shade, eye color and outfit. The faces only come in two shapes, one male, one female. Both styles are quite youthful.

Catching Pikachu

After creating your avatar and a short introduction to the game, the very young looking professor will present you with three Pokémon from which to choose.

Now, while researching my iPhone 4s problems, I ran across some info on one of the Easter Eggs in Pokémon Go: how to start the game with Pikachu. When you’re creating a brand new account, you can try it. Several people have told me it worked for them.

When the Professor presents the three Pokémon from which you’re supposed to choose, walk away instead of tapping on one. You may have to do this 5 times to get Pikachu to make an appearance. Once he does, you can choose him as your first Pokémon.

I have no idea why it’s so exciting or important to acquire Pikachu. I guess he’s famous or something.

Sightings bar

Sightings bar (bottom right corner) shows 3 nearby Pokemon

Playing the Game

Now all you have to do is start moving around the world. Periodically, Pokémon will spawn around you. The pulsing circle around your avatar is your finding range. The rustling leaves on the ground represent Pokémon hiding just out of site in the grass, behind bushes and trees, etc.

I’ve noticed when I’m playing the game, while riding as a passenger in a car, that Pokémon often spawn when we stop at street corners or in parking lots. Fast food places and Chinese take-out spots seem to attract a lot of Rattatas and Pidgeys.

Sightings Bar

Sightings window

Sightings window – tap Sightings Bar to open – shows up to 9 nearby Pokemon

The Sightings Bar, near the bottom right corner of your screen, shows up to three types of Pokémon near your current location. Tap on it and the Sightings Window opens showing up to nine nearby Pokémon.

Supposedly, you can use it as a guide to help locate particular Pokémon nearby. As you move further away from a particular Pokémon his picture or shadow (if you’ve never encountered that type before) will move down on the list or drop off entirely. While I have found the Sightings Bar to work that way, it hasn’t really helped me zone in on a particular specimen despite turning around in circles and taking a few steps this way and that. Your mileage may vary, however.

My Thoughts

As you’ve probably already gathered, I’m enjoying Pokémon Go. I’ve been getting out of the house and exploring the area because of the game. I’ve become aware of places I drive by every day, but never really noticed were there before. It gives me an incentive to go to the park and walk around. Exergame indeed. Almost all the statues and historic markers in Azalea Park are PokéStops.

Gym leader - blue Mystic

Gym leader at Here Be Books & Games – for a moment, anyway.

I’ve noticed kids coming into our store with their parents more. Our book and game store is a Pokémon Gym. While in the park, my husband and I encountered lots of adults with cell phones in hand clearly playing the game. We even talked to a few. It’s created a sense of community. It encourages us to move.

Fun Even If You Don’t Know Anything About Pokémon

I know nothing of Pokémon lore. I was an adult when Pokémon was first popular. Still, I find the game fun and engaging. I get excited when an egg hatches, hoping for some new breed I haven’t met before.

Of course, to make money on the project, Pokémon Go offers a variety of in-app purchases. I don’t mind spending money on a good game. While I’m not a big video game player, I have purchased my share of board games ported to iOS apps. Pokémon Go is one of the few non-boardgame games on my phone and iPad. It is the only non-boardgame gaming app that I’ve ever spent money on. That says something about how engaging Pokémon Go is. I’ve bought two backpack upgrades and a 3-use Incubator so far.


Pokémon Go supports an unlimited number of players with state-of-the-art iOS or Android mobile devices and a strong cellular or Wi-Fi connection. It eats your battery up quick, so a portable battery charger is almost a necessity. Kids ages 5 and up can easily play Pokémon Go. You’ll want to closely supervise young kids playing the game so they don’t wander into the street or run into things during their hunts. DON’T play Pokémon Go while driving. Always pay attention to your surroundings. The game can be very engaging, so watch where you’re going and play safe.


Copyright © 2016 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
Photo rights retained by their respective copyright holders.