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Pokémon GO's Augmented Reality Has Made The World Are Far Weirder Place

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Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Fun fact, Pikachu means "mouse squeak" in Japanese. a katz/Shutterstock

Pokémon GO is here, and there’s no escaping from it. This free-to-play augmented reality smartphone app, which lets you hunt the little animated wildlings in the real world around you, has only been out for a couple of weeks, but it has taken the world by storm – for better or worse, depending on your perspective.

On the one hand, it’s making people get out and exercise by meandering around their city or town on the hunt for something more impressive than a Magikarp. On the other, people are breaking up with their partners after discovering that nothing on Earth can pull them away from their quest to be the very best, like no one ever was.

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Either way, it shows how immersive and popular augmented reality, a relatively nascent technological field, can be when framed the right way.

The objective, simply put, is to catch all 151 original Pokémon, as players see their local neighborhoods transformed, via the app, into Pokémon gyms, shops, and battle arenas. People across the planet have become utterly obsessed with it, with some catching Pokémon while driving their cars down the highway, as their wives are giving birth, in the middle of illicit drug deals in poorly lit alleyways, and even while stumbling across dead bodies.

One ingenious technophile has managed to hook the game up to a drone, where he can hunt for Pokémon from the sky while sitting in the comfort of his own home.

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It's already bigger than Tinder, which is installed on 2 percent of Android smartphones – GO is on about 5 percent of them. Twitter is also feeling the squeeze in terms of daily active users, with almost as many using GO as were tweeting.

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The transformation of real-life buildings into virtual Pokémon battle arenas or wild Pokémon hotspots is causing both amusement and consternation among the general populace. One enthralled user on Twitter was enjoying seeing gamers gather outside of his house, which in the world of Pokémon GO was a battle gym. The Northern Territory Police Fire and Emergency Services in Darwin, Australia, have had to issue a public statement on the game asking people not to wander into their stations, which have been converted into virtual stores for Pokémon goods.

Amusing GO tales aside, there have also been numerous health concerns regarding the use of the app. Essentially, people playing the game have their eyes glued to the app more intensely than ever before, and as a result, they’re walking into poles, walls and holes like no tomorrow.

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Mike Schultz, a 21-year-old communications graduate from Long Island, New York, thought it was a good idea to play the game while skateboarding. As the bruises and cuts on his hands suggest, this was not a well thought out plan. Kyrie Tompkins, a 22-year-old web designer from Waterville in Maine, was so distracted that she fell into a hole in the sidewalk.

Although it’s only technically out in the US, Australia, and New Zealand at the moment, millions have downloaded it in a range of other countries using fake accounts or servers based in one of these three territories. So if you live in Europe or Asia, and you have seen your office colleagues wandering around screaming about a Charizard they have spotted in the stairwell, you probably shouldn’t be too shocked by this point.

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