Earlier this month hundreds of people gathered in the iconic New York landmark, Central Park. Except, like the park’s usual set of visitors, they weren’t here on a sightseeing trip.
They were taking part in the much talked about hunt for wild Pokémon that has been gripping the world lately. And whether they were aware of it or not, they were pioneers in a new front of digital tourism wherein players of the popular Pokémon Go travel across the land, both in their own backyards and all over the world, searching far and wide for the game’s creatures.
Pokémon Go was released in Australia, New Zealand, and the US early this month and the release has continued to roll out across the world. With availability in much of Europe and North America and now in Japan, Pokémon Go is quickly coming to dominate tourist hotspots.
The game, which users can download for Android and Apple phones, quickly jumped to the top of apps stores and is showing no signs of slowing down. Thanks in no small part to the Pokémon brand, which was popular through the ‘90s and continues to produce its own cartoon show and several games every few years for Nintendo’s handheld gaming consoles.
For all of the talk that Pokémon Go has generated surrounding privacy rights, the future of virtual reality, and the ever changing role of technology in our lives, there hasn’t been quite as much coverage on how the game might affect how we travel. Here are some travel tips for aspiring Pokémon masters and some hints on destinations to avoid for those looking to lie low and avoid the crowds.
Pokémon and International Travel
Nintendo has a history of making it difficult to “catch them all.” In the past they’ve split up Pokémon between different versions of the handheld releases, making it so that certain were Pokémon exclusive to a particular game. Presumably this is done so that players who want to truly be the very best will have to spend the extra cash for the other games.
With Pokémon Go it’s still going to be difficult to catch every Pokémon the game has to offer, but in a much more engaging way than has ever been done before. Niantic, the game's developer, has designated some Pokémon as region specific. One especially dedicated player has already tracked down every single one of the 142 Pokémon available in North America and is partnering with Marriott to help him catch the 3 rare Pokémon.
Presently the Pokémon Mr. Mine, Kangaskhan, and Farfetch’d are only available in Europe, New Zealand and Australia, and Japan respectively. It remains to be seen whether or not Niantic will add more region-specific Pokémon in the future.
Players are becoming urban explorers
Most players aren’t likely to venture outside of their home towns to play the game. Without booking a single flight, players are becoming tourists in their own towns and exploring landmarks, parks, and public markets more than they ever did before. The game places Pokémon randomly throughout the world, but they tend to group around certain landmarks that Niantic has designated as PokéStops. The stops usually include fixtures in public parks, some shops, and public monuments, the usual suspects for most out-of-town tourists.
Major US cities are gearing up for Pokémon tourists, with city officials gently reminding players to be mindful of their surroundings and local businesses taking advantage of the increased traffic by catering to players.
Pokémon Go can give players, local or otherwise, a guide tour of any city. This is especially helpful for tourists in less travelled cities and people who want to get around at their own pace, without getting stuck in the usual tourist routes.
Wild Pokémon on the loose in our national parks
Players don’t just have to catch live Pokémon out in the wild. The game periodically hands out Pokémon eggs, each with a unique creature inside waiting to be hatched. Unlike real world eggs, however, sitting on it won’t help with the hatching process. Instead, eggs all come with their own distance amount, 2, 5, or 10 kilometers. After the player has travelled however far he or she needs to, the egg will hatch, revealing the Pokémon inside. However, the game won’t accept movement above certain speeds, so cheating by driving around town with the app open isn’t gonna work.
Instead of doing laps around town that are bound to get old pretty quickly, why not hatch your eggs on a leisurely bike ride along the iconic Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park. Or perhaps a more low key hike through your nearest national park. Make sure that your chosen destination has cell service, though. Many of the more popular parks (like Glacier National Park) will, but it’s not something to be counted on if you’re headed deep into the wilderness.
Way back in 1999, at the height of Pokémon’s popularity, Nintendo released a game called Pokémon Snap for their N64 console. The game itself was quite plain. Players travelled through the game’s world on rails, virtual camera at the ready to snap pictures of whatever Pokémon they encountered.
Although the game hasn’t lasted long compared to its Gameboy counterparts, it was fun while it lasted and its spirit is enduring. One of Pokémon Go’s most interesting features is surely the ability to take photos using the app with Pokémon superimposed upon the landscape.
So far players have stuck to photographing the Pokémon in their backyards, but it’s only matter of time before taking pictures of rare Pokémon. Popular photo destinations are likely to gain a boost in popularity from players trying to snap the perfect Pokémon pic.