A Pokémon Go explainer for those who have no idea what is going on

So you woke up on Monday to find that a Pokémon game had taken over the internet. Don't worry, we'll catch you up.

Pokemon Go on an iPhone
(Image credit: AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Pokémon Go fever has taken over America, and if you haven't caught the bug, you might be left peering out of your front blinds in fear as hoards of people wander the streets at all hours of the night with their eyes glued to their phones. Maybe your house is even a Pokéstop and you don't even know it.

No matter the source of your curiosity, there's no denying that it's a Pokémon Go world now and we're all just living in it. So let's get caught up, shall we?

What is a Pokémon?

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Clearly you were not a child in the 1990s. Anyway, a Pokémon is a "pocket-monster." Just go with it.

Satoshi Tajiri invented Pokémon in 1995, and the original Pokémon game was on the Game Boy (Pokémon Blue FTW). The franchise also includes trading cards, a TV show, some movies, stuffed animals, etc. The catchphrase is "Gotta Catch 'Em All," which is a little creepy if you think about it for too long. But it tells you enough — you want to collect all the Pokémon you can, and you do this using Pokéballs.

There are now approximately a gazillion Pokémon species, but the original generation featured 150 characters, ranging from Bulbasaur to MewTwo (again, just go with it). If you are completely unfamiliar with Pokémon as a concept, chances are good you'll recognize the character Pikachu:

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So what do Pokémon do?

Pokémon "trainers" catch and train Pokémon to fight against each other. In the original games, you fight other trainers, and you can fight your friends, too.

And you do that in Pokémon Go?

Sort of. Pokémon Go is an "augmented reality" game that uses the GPS in your phone to create a virtual Pokémon world on top of — or interacting with — the actual world around you. So to move around in the game, you have to get off your couch and wander around in real life. At night, there are different Pokémon than during the day. Near water, you find water Pokémon. Near grass, grass Pokémon. At baseball games, pigeon Pokémon. They appear through the camera on your phone, like this:

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(There is a Golbat in The Week's office, we checked).

Pokémon Go is a Big Deal in part because it breaks Nintendo's staunch grip on its franchises being only published on Nintendo devices. There's a certain feeling of the floodgates being opened here — if Pokémon Go is on iPhones and Androids now, then surely other Pokémon games will follow? Could Mario or Zelda be next? Anyway, go buy some Nintendo stock (psych, you're too late).

This is really cool!

Well, it is when the servers are working. But for the most part, yes, it is, and the game has become a massive success almost overnight. Daily Pokémon Go users are on pace to overtake Twitter users on Android phones (and they've already surpassed the number of Tinder users).

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What does it cost?

The game is free — you can spend cash on in-app purchases, but you don't necessarily need to.

But wait, I heard something about dead bodies.

Right. Pokémon Go naturally puts a huge emphasis on physically exploring the world around you. Users have to get up and wander around their neighborhood to look for Pokémon (or Pokéstops or gyms — more on that later). For one unlucky player, that meant wandering down to a river and discovering an actual dead body. Listen, nobody ever said leaving your house was a good idea.

Are there specific places you need to go while playing the game?

Because different Pokémon inhabit different areas, it makes sense to explore widely if you want to catch a lot of Pokémon. But there are also Pokéstops and gyms, which are located at set "landmarks," like murals or subway stops. Apparently, the ones in my neighborhood are all mosques and churches.

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At Pokéstops, you can pick up items like Pokéballs, which are used to catch Pokémon. At gyms, you can battle with your Pokémon, although the battles are markedly different than they were in the Game Boy games of yore.

So people are walking around staring at their phones. Isn't this a bit dangerous?

Some think so. Four teens were reportedly arrested last week for up to 11 armed robberies after they were allegedly baiting victims by adding a beacon to a Pokéstop to lure players to the site.

But on the flip side, some people claim Pokémon Go is helping their mental health. Really! Because the game encourages you to go on long walks, people are motivated to leave their homes and get active. Plus, there is a growing camaraderie among players — some parks have been transformed into nerdy utopias of people searching for Pokémon together.

Is this... fun?

Sure! It might be a letdown to some older Pokémon fans who are wanting to build their Pokémon teams, trade with friends, and strategize for battle — a lot of that has been stripped out of the game. But for those craving a taste of the virtual reality world-of-tomorrow, Pokémon Go is a glitchy and glorious major first step.

Go ahead and try it for yourself — you can download Pokémon Go here.

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Jeva Lange

Jeva Lange was the executive editor at TheWeek.com. She formerly served as The Week's deputy editor and culture critic. She is also a contributor to Screen Slate, and her writing has appeared in The New York Daily News, The Awl, Vice, and Gothamist, among other publications. Jeva lives in New York City. Follow her on Twitter.