The latest monster craze: traffic injuries and Pokémon hunts
Everyone's talking about Pokémon Go, the new mobile game in which you hunt down and train Japanese pocket monsters. John Brennan reports on the global phenomenon that you'll probably be an expert in by next week
It's been a pretty confusing week so far. Our GDP has gone through the roof, we're all still mystified by Brexit and now, just to add to the general sense of chaos, everyone is suddenly obsessed with yellow Japanese pocket monsters.
We can't help you with the first two mysteries, but we can shed some light on the last: the new global phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. The app, or game, was released last Friday in the US, Australia and New Zealand, and has became a runaway success - it was the most downloaded app for both Android and iOS in the States this week.
So what is it? Well, in short, it's an interactive game you can play on your smartphone. Using GPS technology and displaying a map of your area, the app tells you when wild Pokémon - little monsters which could be anything from a caterpillar to a dragon - are close by, allowing you to track them down.
Players go in search of the monsters, and then using augmented reality - a technology which blends digital images with the user's view of the real world through the camera on their phone - the creatures appear before their very eyes.
Once you've nabbed your monster, you can bring it to a Pokémon 'gym' for training sessions, or you can hang out at a Pokéstop, where you can pick up things like Pokéballs to catch more monsters.
It all sounds quite mad, but it's already proved utterly addictive for the millions of people around the world who've found once they start, they can't stop - users are playing for an average of 43 minutes a day.
The game is the brainchild of Nintendo and a former Google company called Niantic - and Nintendo has seen its market value soar by €10bn this week alone. Angry Birds, eat your heart out.
While the app is not officially available in Ireland yet - it's expected to be released in the next few days - quite a few digital enthusiasts have outwitted restrictions and managed to download it anyway, either by using unofficial websites or by simply changing the region settings on their iPhones.
That means that a number of Irish people are already playing the game, but you can expect that figure to go through the roof when the app is officially released.
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Pokémon first appeared in 1996 on Nintendo's handheld Game Boy. By the turn of the millennium, the phenomenon had become massive, mushrooming into a cartoon series, trading card games and countless films.
In the original game, players had to travel through an imaginary world, trying to catch, battle and train the Pokémon, in the pursuit of being the best trainer around.
The new app is simply a new take on the original game, now aimed at a new generation of millenials who are already glued to their phones.
But no one could have predicted the popularity of Pokémon Go - it has almost surpassed Twitter in daily active users and has already overtaken popular dating app Tinder.
So why has it proved such a hit? In a word, nostalgia. Many of the original fans of the games and series are now in their twenties and thirties, and like me, these adults often wondered as a child what it would be like to go out and actively catch Pokémon - to become a Pokémon Master like the original games tasked them to do. Now they can.
Beyond helping people realise forgotten childhood dreams, this is very much an active app. It requires you to get out and about to hunt down the 151 critters on offer. It's even been hailed as one of the best fitness apps around. Jennifer Johnston (27) from Rush would agree with this.
"I was out in a friend's house in Shankill yesterday and we both have the app, so we decided to go for a walk - we ended up going on a seven or eight kilometre walk and spent the day out in the sunshine chatting. It's more fun being out and about then just sitting in chatting - you're out doing something better.
"The game changes depending on if it's day or night, so different Pokémon will be available at different times - so you'll want to pop out for a wander at different times," she explains.
David Gavigan (27), originally from Clonmel, but living in Dublin, has also been using the app since downloading it last Friday, and even went out catching Pokémon on his lunchbreak from work yesterday.
"I would have been 10 or 11 when the first Pokémon game came out, and I remember it being absolutely massive. The game was just so addictive and you were competing with your friends to see who caught what," he says.
"Last night I was in bed at about half eleven and I just turned on the app and I saw what appeared to be a Snorlax - I couldn't tell exactly where it was and I wasn't that tired so I got up and walked about for about for 20 minutes. Everyone I know who has it is massively addicted to it."
Like any modern phenomenon, the game has already sparked a number of controversies: police in the US and Australia have had to warn gamers to be careful after a number of accidents were linked to drivers playing the game and pedestrians not looking where they were going. Meanwhile, on Sunday night, three men in Missouri were charged with armed robbery after police said they allegedly used the game to entrap victims by setting up a virtual 'lure'. The men are claimed to have set up a cluster of virtual Pokémon at a location, to lure gamers who were then robbed a gunpoint.
It's not all bad though. Countless images have appeared online showing the app in action with everything from a Pidgey (one of the characters) appearing in a US hospital room where a man's wife was in labour to a Jynx being spotted on Kevin Street in Dublin. All in all, this looks like a phenomenon that's only going to get more monstrous (sorry) by the day.