You might have started seeing something unusual this weekend: People of all ages glued to their cell phones.
Wait, no. I guess that's not the unusual part.
What's unusual is that all of these people are glued to their phones and walking around outside as if they're following a treasure map. They're congregating around fountains, on benches, in the grass ... all over the place. Mainstream media is catching on, and now it feels like I haven't gone anywhere this week without hearing the name Pokemon Go.
Sometimes, though, those words are preceded by, "What the heck is ... ?"
Video game fans have been familiar with Pokemon for two decades, but Pokemon Go has reached the level of "cultural phenomenon." Shortly after it launched on mobile phones, the game was both the most-downloaded and highest grossing free app on the iOS App Store. Its success has sent Nintendo's stock soaring, adding $9 billion to their market value.
Confused? Here's everything you want to know about Pokemon Go.
What is 'Pokemon'?
The original Pokemon video game was released for Nintendo's portable Game Boy system in 1996. The game put you in the shoes of a young, aspiring Pokemon trainer, who leaves his home on a journey to collect all 150 (well, 151, if you look hard enough) known species of Pokemon -- fictional creatures (pocket monsters) that are as diverse as our own animal kingdom. You would obtain Pokemon by finding and collecting (after fighting) the ones you would find throughout the game world, as well as by trading with friends.
Pokemon was released in two distinct versions in North America: Red and Blue. While they were essentially the same game, each different version had a handful of Pokemon that were exclusive. So if you wanted to complete your collection and obtain every Pokemon in the game, you would need to find somebody with the other version (and the other Pokemon you were lacking) so the two of you could trade with each other.
In a time when video games were often still seen as anti-social, Pokemon encouraged players to find each other and play together, face-to-face. More recent games in the series have added the ability to trade Pokemon online, but Nintendo has always put an emphasis on getting out into the real world and making new friends.
But the video games are only part of the story. Pokemon has been a huge multimedia success with successful manga (Japanese comic books), TV shows, movies, merchandise and more. Perhaps most notably outside of games, Pokemon is known for spawning a highly successful trading card game that still has well-attended tournaments 20 years after its introduction.
As of May 2016, Pokemon video games have sold more than 280 million copies. Combined with trading cards, shows, movies and more, the series has grossed more than $40 billion.
So what is 'Pokemon Go'?
Pokemon Go is the first serious attempt to bring the Pokemon experience to smart phones (a puzzle game spin-off, also available on the Nintendo 3DS, was released earlier). Its biggest hook is that it's an augmented reality (AR) game that puts Pokemon into the real world, rather than a virtual one.
The main takeaway from this change: To catch new Pokemon, players have to physically travel to new locations.
Using data from Google Maps, Pokemon Go spawns Pokemon all over the world, and you can only catch them when you're close enough to them. So you may not have any Pokemon around you while in your bedroom, but if you walk across the street, you might find a Pidgey in your neighbor's bushes, or a Squirtle in the nearby church parking lot.
Once you find a Pokemon, you need to throw a Pokeball at it by sliding your finger on the touch screen of your phone. If your timing and accuracy are good enough, you'll soon have a new creature to train.
In the simplest terms, Pokemon Go is like a digital scavenger hunt.
So you need go outside to play?
Yes. If you're looking for an immediate upside to everybody being addicted to this new game, it's that it forces people out of their homes.
Have you caught the only three kinds of Pokemon that seem to be in your neighborhood? Better walk somewhere else.
Do you need more Pokeballs with which to catch Pokemon? You'll need to find some nearby PokeStops to get items from them.
Did you find an egg that you want to hatch? You can only incubate it by taking steps.
Looking for a friendly Pokemon battle? Better hit up a Pokemon Gym.
What's a PokeStop? What's a gym?
PokeStops and Pokemon gyms are points of interest throughout the world, so they've become hubs for player interaction. Both types of locations have been pre-determined by Google Maps data.
PokeStops are places you can visit to collect new items for free. They're at places like churches, pieces of public art, some noteworthy retail locations and even The Dallas Morning News building in downtown Dallas. You can visit a stop every few minutes to get a fresh supply of items from it.
Additionally, players can lay down Pokemon Lure Modules at a PokeStop, which will attract nearby Pokemon to it for any and all players for half an hour.
Pokemon gyms are where Pokemon Go becomes more of a "game." While the rest of the experience is all about catching and collecting Pokemon, the gyms are where you can pit your strongest creatures against an opponent's strongest creatures. Gyms are claimed by teams (you join the Red, Blue or Yellow team when you reach level five in the game), so if a nearby gym is controlled by a team other than your own, you should try to take control of it yourself.
What if I'm in the suburbs and I'm not around many real world points of interest?
That's a legitimate concern. While at my own suburban home, the number of PokeStops and gyms can be few and far between, and not really within reasonable walking distance of each other. When I'm at work in downtown Dallas, however, there are stops all over the place.
In my case, Pokemon Go has been a great excuse to go explore places outside of my own neighborhood. That said, I have the privilege of owning a car and having a driver's license. For kids playing the game, they're a bit more dependent on their parents for going outside the house.
But hey, as a parent, Pokemon Go might make it a lot easier to convince your kid to go to church.
Who developed the game?
Pokemon Go isn't actually developed by Nintendo, even though their name is the one most closely associated with the series. This game is developed by Niantic, a company that spun out of Google in 2015 after releasing their hit mobile game Ingress, which was actually a lot like Pokemon Go, only it was about finding and controlling alien portals around the world, not Pokemon.
What ages is it for?
Pokemon is typically marketed towards a younger audience, but like a great Pixar movie it can really be enjoyed by all ages. The only thing the series really demands of you is some basic reading comprehension, so it's been easy for people from all walks of life to pick up the series and have fun with it.
And since the original Pokemon games came out in the mid-90s, you can definitely expect people who are in their 20s or older to get in on the Pokemon Go action if only for the sake of nostalgia. Many people who are adults now grew up playing Pokemon with their friends on the school bus.
Before you get elitist and say something like, "That's creepy. Adults should grow out of things they liked when they were kids," I have to ask: Did you grow out of everything you liked when you were in elementary or middle school? Did you stop liking sports or space or cars or wrestling when you hit the age of 18 just because you got into that thing when you were a child?
Who's playing it?
Seriously. I went out for sushi with my family the other night, and literally everybody in the restaurant was either playing Pokemon Go or talking about it. These were people of various races and ages, all talking about a video game on their cell phones.
Earlier in the week, my wife and I went out to Twisted Root in Richardson, and the fountain outside was a PokeStop. It made for some of the best people watching we've ever experienced.
How can people play together?
Right now, there isn't much direct user-to-user interaction, like trading or fighting with Pokemon. But players are finding each other in fun and unique ways on their own, just because the game naturally directs people toward the same general locations in the real world.
Should I worry about my kid meeting strangers?
Short but complicated answer: Maybe.
Yes, Pokemon Go is a pretty social experience that encourages people to get out into the world and meet up together. That said, there are no in-game tools for doing that. You don't have to worry that your son or daughter is secretly chatting with a predator in the Pokemon Go app, because there are no chat features and there is no real identifiable information to reveal.
The "risk" of meeting strangers comes purely when players are out and about in the world. So yeah, adults might see each other playing the game and strike up a conversation with each other about it. But if you've taught your children the basic rules of stranger danger (or, better yet, you're with them while they're out collecting Pokemon), there should be no more risk now than there was when you let them outside in a pre-Pokemon Go world.
But what about this news story I read? Some kid found a body! And I heard about robberies!
Yes, sadly, the body discovery that did happen. A teenager playing Pokemon Go — and thus exploring her surroundings more than should would have been otherwise — stumbled upon a dead body in a nearby river.
Unfortunately, though, bodies are found by unsuspecting passerby all the time. This story could have just as easily involved younger children playing make believe or football.
And yes, some much more nefarious teenagers were hiding out in popular Pokemon Go locations and using Pokemon lures as bait for Pokemon players, at which point they would rob them. It's a scary, cautionary tale to always remain vigilant and be aware of your surroundings, wherever you are. If you wouldn't go into an abandoned parking lot or alley alone before, don't do it now just because you might catch a Charmander.
Look, I'm not going to simply brush away all concerns about Pokemon Go safety, especially with regards to children. Parents should definitely be aware of what their kids are playing and how they're playing them. Creepy people could definitely try to use this game as a way of getting close to kids, the same way they could use a stereotypical "free candy" van.
But with proper supervision, getting the kids out of the house with Pokemon Go could be a good thing rather than a bad one.
Are there any other safety concerns?
The biggest concern is already being addressed: Privacy. Reports surfaced on Monday that if you logged into the iOS version of the game with your Google account, the game would actually obtain complete access to that account. Panic quickly spread about the idea that the developers of Pokemon Go would be able to read your e-mail and change your passwords.
Niantic was pretty quick to issue a statement assuring people that not only was the "Full Access" setting a mistake that would soon be rectified, but that it actually didn't give them as much access as people originally feared.
Just don't walk out into the street while playing, and don't Pokemon Go and drive.
What will this game do to my battery life?
Drain it. One of the biggest flaws so far in Pokemon Go is that it seems to absolutely destroy your phone's battery life, in part because it demands to always be on, always using the GPS.
What does 'Pokemon Go' cost?
At the start: Nothing. And theoretically, you can keep it that way. Pokemon Go is a "free to play" game, so while there are items and features you can buy with real money, it's never required.
That said, players can spend a few dollars to acquire gold coins, which can be used to buy items such as more Pokeballs, lures and egg incubators.
How many Pokemon are there to catch in 'Pokemon Go'?
Currently, the game features the original 150 Pokemon from the original games that came out in the 90s. Based on the success of the game, though, I imagine it won't take too long for Niantic and The Pokemon Company to start filling the world with hundreds more Pokemon from throughout the series.
Any more questions?
Let me know on Twitter: @BrittonPeele