pokemongo-1517819_1280Pokémon Go has a lot of teachers shaking their heads in bewilderment (at least, those teachers who are not playing the game themselves). Available statistics so far suggest that the game is now close to twenty-four-million daily users, surpassing Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat, in popularity and traffic. And this weekend just gone (31st July), the game hit 100-million downloads. One. Hundred. MILLION.

The game has captured the imagination of players across all demographics, from the elderly gentleman I was chatting to in the theatre foyer during intermission of Wicked who told me he’d just hatched a Pikachu, to the kids down the road I see dragging their parents out the door to go for a walk to catch Pokemon the minute they get home from work. It has drawn people across the world who may not have previously been tempted to invest time and effort into the mobile gaming context in unprecedented numbers.

But why? What is its draw? Well, there a few things that factor into the current phenomenon.

Perhaps most importantly, is that it has a long history. Pokemon, or as they were originally known – pocket monsters, were first introduced in Japan 1996 as a game for the Nintendo Gameboy. This was followed in 1997 by a suite of trading cards, an Anime cartoon series for TV, and in 1999 a feature length animated movie that debuted at number one in the box office, following which a new movie was released every year, including this year (2016).

The premise of the story is that protagonist, Satoshi – or as he is better known in the United States, Ash – is on a mission to catch all the Pokemon to train, battle, and trade with friends, hence the now familiar catch-cry, ‘Gotta catch ‘em all!’ A rich and diverse story-world has evolved around Ash and his adventures, that includes video games, movies, television shows, trading cards, toys, books, clothes and other merchandise. This type of horizontal integration of story is not unusual, but what is surprising is that way in which it continues to engage new and diverse audiences from all walks of life. If the plethora of online fan-fic sites (one fan-fic database has 87,509 reader contributed stories) is any indication, story contributions will continue to flow drawing on this new convergence of the story-world and real-world in a collective creativity that has the potential to continue to take it in new directions. It’s not surprising then, that the story has carried with it generations of children, some of whom are now parents playing with their own children.

pokemon-1521104_1280cathy w pokemonThe Pokemon Go app-based game is the latest, and most successful iteration of the story. It uses Augmented Reality to overlay the story world with the real world, so that the Pokemon appear in your day-to-day life.  It uses GPS locators to triangulate player position in the quest for creatures so that when the App is open, players need to walk until they find a Pokemon. When one does appear, anyone at that location can catch it. And the pokestops (locations where players can find resources such as potions and pokeballs to assist them in the game), that are scattered around public spaces, can often have lures that attract Pokemon to them. That means, typically, where players find Pokemon – they also find other people, which, interestingly,  takes gaming out of its relative physical solitude and places back into a social context. Not only do players find themselves having to walk fair distances on the lookout for Pokemon and to hatch eggs (there are 2km, 5km, and 10km eggs that will only hatch when these distances have been walked as measured by the app), they often-times find themselves doing it with other people.

pokemon2Different Pokemon are suited to, and found in, different geographic locations. This means the water-based Pokemon (eg, Staryu, Goldeen) will more commonly be found in locations with rivers, lakes, or other such bodies of water, while rock-based creatures (eg, Geodude, Rhydon) can be found in locations where rocks abound. Typically, Rattata and Zubats, the pests of the real world as well as the Pokemon world, abound in all locations.pokemon1

So… how can teachers deal with this ‘distraction’ in the classroom? Harnessing student interest for the phenomenon is a great way to engage students in activities for which it might otherwise be difficult to generate a level of enthusiasm. The game lends itself very well to a variety of curriculum-related literacy and numeracy activities. Apart from the obvious art-based and writing activities (creative writing, recount writing, information report about the game itself) for younger kids, the possibilities are endless, and could be adapted for any year level.

There are more than 150 Pokemon in various forms and all can be classified against multiple characteristics. This lends itself well to a variety of maths-based activities that could include counting, matching, categorising, graphing, and for the older students; data analysis, creating databases and spreadsheets. They could track the commercial development via this tracking APP – which incidentally, during the 7.5 hours of my working day today, told us that Pokemon Go has been downloaded 108,000 times in Australia alone. Total downloads in the same time period – 2.2-million. Total gross earning in that same 7.5 hours – $4.95 million!

Students could research the Augmented Reality and GPS technology used in the game, or perhaps use Aurasma or Layar to create their own augmented reality projects. They could engage in cartography and typography exercises to map out likely habitats of the various types of Pokemon. They could explore adaptive characteristics of the various types of Pokemon, for example, water, flying, insect, etc, to predict what geographic locations they might find which Pokemon. They could trace the history of the Pokemon story development and create a documentary or other such multimodal text about it.

So far we’ve covered, English, Maths, CAPA, HSIE, Economics/Commerce, covering general capabilities of Literacy, Numeracy, Critical and Critical Thinking, ICT Capability, using pedagogies including visual learning, design thinking, computational thinking, among others. The potential is enormous, the possibilities endless for teachers to ride the current wave of enthusiasm and take the journey with their students, rather than detracting them from it.