You’ve seen the Facebook posts. You’ve seen the headlines, you’ve heard about it in conversation, and you may have seen groups of teens and young adults walking around in odd places with smartphones and simultaneously bewildered and overjoyed expressions. But what is is this game? Why is everyone so excited, and how can I use it at my library?
Here’s what you, the librarian, need to know about Pokemon Go:
What is Pokemon?
Briefly, Pokemon (short for “pocket monsters”) was originally a video game released in 1995 from Shatoshi Tajiri. You could play as a human “trainer” who traveled the tiny virtual world collecting weird, adorable “pocket monsters” (Pokemon).
You could train, improve the stats of, and battle with them (I hear you, “You mean they catch those adorable little creatures and fight with them?! For fun?!”. And the answer is yes, yes they do. But the focus of Pokemon has always been teamwork, friendship, hard work, and determination. Pokemon are sentient, intelligent, and capable of making their own decisions. They can choose whether or not to travel with the trainer, and whether or not they want to battle. And none of them actually die. This stuff was make for kids.)
In order to catch Pokemon, trainers would have to fight and then catch “wild” Pokemon using capsules called Pokeballs:
The game instantly stole hearts and has since become a massive part of international pop and nerd culture. The original game was followed by more video games, a card trading game, graphic novels, tv shows and movies, themed restaurants, hotels, and even theme parks. The franchise was and continues to be wildly popular in Japan (it’s homeland) and the rest of the world.
What is Pokemon Go?
The most recent addition to the Pokemon brand, Pokemon Go is a free app that uses real time maps (via Google Maps) to create a “world” for players to explore and catch Pokemon in. The game was released in the United States on Wednesday, July 6th.
While the app is open, it tracks the location of the player, and shows them nearby Pokemon to catch. Pokemon can appear anywhere from right next to the player, to several blocks away. This requires players to actually move to new physical locations to participate in the game. You literally walk along a map of your neighborhood to catch virtual Pokemon.
The game uses the player’s camera to create an AR scene (AR stands for augmented reality, meaning it places a made-up, computer animation in a physical space -whatever you’re pointing your camera phone at- in real time to create a really cool image. You can point your phone at the ground, and watch one of the Pokemon growl and jump and make noises)
Players can also join one of three teams to represent, giving the game an added competitive aspect.
In addition to catching Pokemon, players can travel to Gyms and PokeStops, physical locations on buildings and landmarks where the players can get more supplies and battle for their teams.
What does any of this have to do with libraries?
In the Pokemon Video Games, players catch and train Pokemon in order to compete at Gyms. Pokemon Gyms, in the Pokemon Universe, are places where trainers can compete and battle for prestige, earn badges, and make their Pokemon bigger, badder, and better.
In Pokemon Go, Gyms are attached to free, safe, public places that all players can get to.
This means us, the libraries.
Thousands of libraries across the country have been made virtual Gyms, and this has already caused an increase of foot traffic for our buildings, attracting teens and young adults who may not typically be library patrons. Personally, I believe this is a huge blessing. It opens doors for new patrons, it gives librarians the ability to make connections with a section of our demographics we don’t normally get the chance to talk to, and it gives us the opportunity to do some really, really fun programs and displays.
So what do I do with this information?
– Firstly, get the app! You can get it on any Android or Apple IOS smartphone. If you don’t have one, or aren’t comfortable with technology, grab a coworker who is and explore it together. You don’t need to be a fan of Pokemon or a fan of video games to explore and get an idea of what it looks like. It’s also important for you to find out if your library is a Gym or a Pokestop.
Gyms look like this:
PokeStops look like this:
-Secondly, don’t be afraid! I know groups of teens and young adults walking in and out of the library can sound off-putting. But remember, for the most part, the people playing the game are incredibly excited and don’t want anything more than to come inside, grab a couple Pokemon, battle at your gym or get supplies at your PokeStop, and then move on to the next location. Now, there will be exceptions to the rule, the way there always are, but by no means should you throw the baby out with the bathwater. I can almost guarantee you will get more foot traffic now that this game is out than you had before.
Didn’t you say something about using it in the library?
Displays: A trend I’ve noticed at my library – groups of teens and young adults will come in, sheepishly walk through the main circulation area, walk through the shelves, and sheepishly walk out again after catching what they want to or battling. They aren’t so engrossed in the game that they don’t see what’s going on around them, but they do feel uncomfortable in an unfamiliar space. This is important exposure that you can capitalize on! Especially teen librarians, how hard do we normally have to work to get teens in the building? And now they’re voluntarily walking in and looking around!
-Set up some book/dvd displays as close to the front door as you can. If they walk in for Pokemon, and are instantly greeted with a Pokemon display, they’re going to have a much better feeling about being in our buildings. I’ve put a big “Welcome Pokemon Trainers” sign at the front entrance of our department, and a semi-interactive display at the front of the Teen Room.
-I know copyright laws are a bear and they can be discouraging when you’re trying to appeal to a fan group. I had a volunteer make this:
Pokemon colors married with library symbols, and everyone’s lawyers are happy! The book is big enough that you can see it from two rooms away, standing in the front lobby.
As of right now, it would be pretty difficult to organize an active program for the app. Because millions of people are trying to play it at the same time, the servers (massive computers that sort through all the information everyone needs to play) crash often. The game has been out for less than a week, and the company running the app is frantically trying to keep up with the sheer mass of people who want to play.
Right now, the only things you can do in the app are catch Pokemon, improve their stats (make them more powerful), evolve them, visit Pokestops to get more supplies, and battle at gyms to claim them for your team.
Eventually, players will be able to battle each other anywhere, whether or not they are at a gym, and trade Pokemon (a huge draw for past Pokemon games). That social aspect of the app will be hugely beneficial for programmers. We’ll be able to host Pokemon trading events, battles, team gatherings, etc. But for right now, I wouldn’t recommend trying to host an active program with the app. It’s too unreliable.
However, passive programs will be perfect while we wait in limbo for the next parts of the app to be released.
-SIGNS. Put signs up wherever you are allowed to. “Welcome Pokemon Trainers!”, “Welcome to our Gym”, etc. Let everyone walking in off the street know that they are welcome and we know why they’re here.
-In my library, I put up an semi-interactive display that welcomes trainers and shows which team is currently controlling our gym (I have the logos for the red and blue team on standby):
-Make Gym Badges! In the original Pokemon games and tv series, each Gym has a badge that players receive when they beat the Gym Leader (the person controlling the Gym, so in Pokemon Go that would be whoever shows up when you tap on the Gym and their Pokemon). My library is fortunate enough to have a 3D Printer, so I’m going to design a library badge that would be quick and easy to print, and could be handed out to anyone who can show they’ve beaten the Gym Leader at my library.
Gym badges are traditionally very small (about the size of a quarter) and minimalistic. If you are artistic and/or determined, you could create a custom badge for your Library Gym. You could make them out of felt, foam, laminated paper, or if you have a button maker this would be an excellent place to use it. If you decide to make Gym badges, advertise it! Put signs up in easily visible places so players walking in off the street know you have them. This gives you the opportunity to get talking to them (and maybe steer them in the direction of some books or an upcoming program!).
Pokemon Go appeals to a huge spread of demographics. Teens and young adults are playing it, young families and couples, middle aged and older. This is just like every other fandom you’ve tried to market to in the past. The people playing this game LOVE this fandom. It is hugely nostalgic and sentimental for a lot of the older players. For the most part, it isn’t a passing obsession, it’s a deep and abiding love that spans decades for most people.
We have been given a huge gift of outreach. Let’s use it!