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Thinking About Pokémon Go!​

The educational side of the video game sensation

· Pokémon go,Video games,Critical thinking

Have you seen a lot of people (well, more than usual) walking around with their noses buried in their phones these past few weeks? If you somehow missed it, most of these people are taking part in what has rapidly become the biggest-ever runaway craze in the world of mobile phone apps: Pokémon Go.

The app takes advantage of the wild success of the Pokémon franchise. Originally created as a pair of Game Boy (you know, those big clunky things that didn’t have touch screens) games in 1995, the brand quickly took off with trading cards, a TV show, feature films, and many more game installments. The new mobile app introduces the world of tamable monsters to young users, and delivers a healthy dose of nostalgia to those who were around in the franchise’s heyday. Check out the game’s official trailer:

For those who don’t play the game, the knee-jerk reaction may be one of frustration, disgust, and eye-rolling. Video games get a pretty bad reputation as brain-drainers. However, like a lot of games, success in Pokémon Go actually demands a fair amount of critical thinking. Believe it or not, Pokémon “trainers” are learning while they play in several ways.

1. Finding wild Pokémon

Central to Pokémon Go is the system of tracking down and finding wild Pokémon creatures, in order to capture and train them. The app doesn’t make it easy, though. Users are only alerted when Pokémon are nearby -- within a 200-meter radius, to be precise. They aren’t given any clue how far or in which directions the creatures are hiding.

As such, players have to do a bit of navigating to successfully close in on their targets. They must think spatially, picturing their position within the 200-meter circle in which the Pokémon dwells. Players use basic orienteering and navigation skills, using landmarks to estimate the real-world size of the area the Pokémon is hiding in, and methodically searching in every direction. it’s clearly not a trivial task.

2. Allocating resources

It’s not enough to just find wild Pokémon, though. Players must utilize a variety of items: “Pokéballs” to catch the monsters, potions to heal their own Pokémon after battling, special gadgets to attract wild Pokémon, and much more.

As in real life, though, these needed resources are relatively scarce. Players must travel through the real-life world to gather them, and can only carry limited quantities. As such, trainers must think critically about which resources they need most, which they can afford to discard, and which to prioritize when it comes to rationing.

3. Pokémon type strategy

Once players have captured and trained some Pokémon, it’s time to pit them against one another at a local Pokémon “gym.” These real-world hotspots are arenas for two monsters to battle, with glory, bragging rights, and various rewards at stake.

Battling isn’t a matter of chance, though. Each Pokémon has a “type.” You’ve probably seen the cute, yellow Pikachu, who is an electric-type; or the orange, fire-type lizard Charmander, with a flame over his tail.

Each of these types relates to every other types, in surprisingly logical fashion. For instance, use a water-type Pokémon to douse a fire-type; that same water-type, though, won’t be very effective against a grass-type (water just helps grass grow, after all).

This creates a simple yet challenging layer of strategy. Players must carefully choose which Pokémon to use in battles, and balance their “team” with a good variety of types, covering all their weaknesses.

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Clearly, Pokémon Go isn’t quite the mindless, soul-sucking video game it may seem to be. Like a lot of games, it requires critical thinking, strategizing, and continual learning. Like all things, of course, it should be taken in moderation. Overall, though, Pokémon Go might not be such a bad way to spend a couple hours, after all.

Have you seen Pokémon Go used in creative ways, like in advertising or public programming? Do you think it has the potential to be used effectively in a school or office setting? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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