If you didn't spend the weekend immersed in Pokémon Go, prepare to be thoroughly confused by today's watercooler talk/Slack conversations. Tweens and grown-ass adults alike have been consumed by the new "augmented reality" mobile game, which uses GPS and your smartphone's camera to turn your surroundings into an IRL Pokémon hunting ground.
While Pokémon can be found anywhere, including often inside players' own living spaces (I literally just caught a Squirtle in the corner of my living room), building any semblance of a collection will require users to do a significant amount of walking. Besides traversing their cities to capture Pokémon, players also have to walk to reach PokéStops, where they can acquire much-needed items like Poké Balls (to hold all those Pokémon) and eggs (to hatch new Pokémon), and gyms, where Pokémon are pitted against one another in battles.
As Polygon writer and Pokémon Go authority Allegra Frank explains, "Pokémon Go culls location data from an earlier, similar game, called Ingress, in order to determine which real world spots are worth visiting. In Ingress, this information was decided by players themselves, who would choose notable spots in their communities to attract other players to. In Pokémon Go, those special spots have already been decided for us. People swarm to these gyms to prove themselves worthy, so expect a lot of extra foot traffic at your favorite restaurant-turned-gym from determined Pokémon trainers."
The reason restaurants become part of the game is that these preexisting points have a radius of about 15 meters, so restaurants — and any business — can easily fall into one.
Polygon's engagement editor Jeff Ramos believes the game will help more than hurt restaurants. "I imagine it would increase patronage. At least I hope," Ramos says. "If restaurants can find a way to meaningfully get people in the door. I forget where I saw it in Brooklyn, but a venue had a sign in front that basically said, 'Come in, a very rare and strong Pokémon was found here!'" According to Ramos, no game has caused such an abrupt fuss with so many people, gamers and non-gamers alike, "This weekend I saw a lot of people I didn't assume were gamers walking around my 'hood and in bars and restaurants. So it definitely has a very deep cross over which I'm honestly a bit shocked about."
Enthusiasm for the game has already put Nintendo's servers under serious stress, and a number of restaurants have suddenly found themselves suddenly being invaded by Pokémon seekers.
In New York City, operator Danny Meyer's Italian restaurant Maialino does double duty as a Pokémon gym — and the digital creatures are running amok in there, as some players/patrons have discovered:
excuse me ma'am there's something in my $6 americano pic.twitter.com/aiq5JkLW8v— Alanna Okun (@alanna) July 11, 2016
For some, that's apparently translating into welcome sales boosts:
Had an interesting chat at a bar/restaurant sitting between two Pokestops how their business increased by 10% since Pokemon GO came out.— Sarah Anne Williams (@SarahAnneWillia) July 11, 2016
In Chicago, Japanese street food spot/ramen house Yusho also functions as a gym, and the restaurant is capitalizing on it by hosting a Pokémon party complete with food specials (including the raw fish dish poke, obviously).
Others are making the best of the situation by requiring people to make a purchase if they want to come inside to capture Pokémon: One Dairy Queen location supposedly posted a "Pokémon are for paying customers only" sign (okay, that may have been a Photoshop job).
Not everyone is loving it, though: Palmer's Fresh Grill in Lexington, Kentucky posted a "No Pokémon Go Players" sign after a number of users wandered into the restaurant in search of Pokémon: "We had somebody try to walk in the kitchen. We've had people standing right in front of people eating and in places that really are making it difficult for us to get through," staffer Megan Martin told local news station WKYT.
Restaurants that aren't lucky enough to wind up as gyms can also pay a nominal fee to set bait for Pokémon Go players: As Forbes explains, "Pokémon Go has a purchasable in-game item called a 'Lure Module' which attracts Pokémon to a particular PokeStop for 30 minutes. Those Pokémon it attracts? They’re visible to and attainable by everyone in the nearby vicinity." For just a few bucks a day, restaurants could potentially boost foot traffic by luring in nearby players and (hopefully) turning them into paying customers.
If you run a bar/restaurant and aren't spending $10/day on lures and advertising the fact what are you even thinking. #PokemonGO— Eric Neustadter (e) (@thevowel) July 10, 2016
The game is widely being heralded for its ability to not only get people off their asses and out into the world, but also for encouraging face-to-face socialization between people who might never otherwise interact, with crowds of people converging in public parks and other spaces on their respective quests to capture Pokémon.
But, much like texting, Snapchat, and Candy Crush, it's also creating a new distraction: One Florida restaurant worker took to Facebook to complain about Pokémon Go users' manners, writing, "When you go to a restaurant and the bartender/server asks you how you're doing, don't put up your 'please hold' finger and make them wait for you so you can try to 'catch em all.' ... Put your phones down, and hang out with the person next to you. Stop being engulfed by technology."
Of course, a game that encourages users to explore their real-life surroundings while largely keeping their eyes tethered to a tiny screen can also be fraught with dangers: Criminals have already used Pokémon Go to target victims for armed robberies, and one player stumbled upon a dead body while in search of Squirtles. Be safe out there, kids (and grown-ups).