For about a two weeks, Pokémon GO has been dominating the app store, the news cycle, and mobile devices of kids and adults alike. (In case you don’t know what Pokémon GO is, check out this quick summary.) The Augmented Reality (AR) scavenger hunt incorporates real-world elements like monuments, landmarks, and community centers, and encourages players to explore their surroundings while finding and collecting Pokémon. Since its release, we’ve seen the game bring people together, and bring people outside – key components of a successful summer program.
So how can you use Pokémon GO with your programs this summer? Since the game requires walking and interacting with your environment, we feel it is a perfect vehicle to combine with educational walking tours. Parks and nature centers can discuss habitats and wildlife, museums and libraries can teach local history, and community groups can bring attention to hidden landmarks and features in their neighborhood all while incorporating Pokémon GO. In order to help you take advantage of this opportunity, we tasked our resident Pokémon Master, Michael Mosin, to design an educational Pokémon GO walking tour of our own Federal Hill neighborhood. His “lessons learned” on how to build a Pokémon GO tour for your community are listed below.
Building the Tour
- GO and Play: Download Pokémon GO, and get to know the game. To understand most of the basics, you’ll only need to play for about 15-30 minutes. Be sure you’re walking around – the game is really boring unless you’re exploring!
- Take up Cartography: Grab a physical map and mark down Pokéstops (little blue pins where players can collect items) and other points of interest in order to create a local layout for your research and route-making.
- Venture Out, Take Notes: Take notes on which Pokéstops are landmarks and monuments that could be potential talking stops on your tour, and which Pokéstops are thematically irrelevant (ie: a street corner or restaurant.) If there is a landmark or feature that you want to highlight that’s not a Pokéstop, go right ahead! You’re making the tour – the Pokémon aspect just adds a little fun!
- Read Up: Some Pokéstops may be local artifacts that haven’t been used before as part of tours, so you may need to do a little digging to find out why they are there. For more well documented points, figure out the interesting facts that aren’t necessarily on the plaque that you’ll be able to share with your tour group. Talk to local historical societies, or community groups, or residents.
- Maximize Discovery: Once you’ve mapped out potential points of interest, design a route to hit as many different Pokéstops and educational points before returning to the starting point or ending the trip.
- Be Pragmatic: Some streets may have a bunch of stops in a row, and players would want to stop or pass through them. This may distract from the tour, especially if each stop is at an insignificant corner. You can design your route to avoid these stops.
- Walk and Hatch: The game has a component called “Eggs” which hatch Pokémon once the player has “incubated” them by walking a particular distance. To guarantee players at least one newly caught Pokémon by the end of the trip, design a trip that is at least a little over 2 km (1.25 miles) long, since that is the shortest distance needed for some Eggs to hatch.
- Pokémon Gyms: These are part of the competitive element of the game and are probably the least educational. Try and avoid them (or at least don’t stop at them) to maintain the continuity of the tour. Whereas catching Pokémon and collecting items from a Pokéstop will only take a few seconds, fighting at a gym can take up to a couple of minutes.
Prior to the Tour
- Getting Started: You may want to encourage participants to download the game beforehand, or show up 15 min early to get started. They will need to either create a Pokemon account, or sign in with their Google account.
- Become the Beacon: If you are starting the tour at a Pokéstop, you can activate a “Lure Module.” They are active for 30 minutes and lure Pokémon, and thus players, to a particular Pokéstop. You might be able to pick up a couple people who didn’t know that you were giving a tour and were just walking around playing the game. “Lure Modules” can be acquired through an in-app purchase.
- Charge Up!: In all your marketing, encourage people to come with a full battery. Although you’ll make efforts to conserve energy, the game has to be constantly running in order to work, and it sucks up juice. You may want to bring an external battery pack or two in case you or someone runs out of power.
At the beginning of the tour, ask players to
- Conserve Energy: Turn on the in-game Battery Saver Mode by tapping the red & white Pokéball at the bottom of the screen and then going to “Settings.” In Settings, also set the phone on “Vibration,” so that whenever there is a Pokémon nearby, the phone will vibrate. This way, participants don’t need to be constantly looking at their phones and instead can watch and listen to you. It will also turn off the screen when the phone is upside down so as not to waste battery while the game continues to run in the background.
- Outline Expectations: Promise that you will let them know when you are passing a Pokéstop so they can grab some items, and that the phone will vibrate when they pass a Pokémon so they can catch it. Explain that they should be grabbing items and catching Pokémon, but when they are not, they can leave their phones in their pockets and enjoy the tour. If they do need to stop to catch a Pokémon, encourage them to step to the side so others can pass them.
- Incubate: Begin incubating an egg before the tour leaves from the starting point. Tap the Pokéball, swipe left, select and egg and incubate. (They will need to have collected at least one egg from a Pokéstop.)
- Look and Listen: After giving some time for everyone to get ready, have everyone put their phones away and start the tour!
During the tour
- Stay On and In Sync: The app has to be open to work, so make sure they don’t turn off their screen or lock the phone. Since they are using the Battery Saver Mode, they should be able to place the phone upside down in their pocket to save energy without locking the phone.
- Incorporate the Monsters: Even though this is an education opportunity – you’re still catching Pokémon! If you’re discussing the natural habitat and the species that live there, ask kids what type of Pokémon they might find in that habitat. If you’re walking around a neighborhood, see who can get the coolest picture of a Pokémon with a building or landmark.
- Be Flexible: Notice and work with changes along your route, both in-game (active Lures, nearby rare Pokémon) and the real world (construction detours, traffic, building shadows if it’s hot out).
- Roll with the Punches: The game is incredibly popular and still a little glitchy. If it freezes, or has any issues, encourage players to quit the app and then reopen. This fixes most problems, but on occasion, people will be locked out of the game. Encourage them to continue to quit and reopen; persistence usually pays off.
After the tour
- Catch ‘em all: Ask people what type of Pokémon they caught. You can keep a list and use this info for future tours and to discuss what is commonly found on the route.
- Share it out: Have people share their pictures on social media and mention your organization. If they can get some Pokémon pictures – even better.
- Point out a Gym: Now that you don’t have to keep people moving – you may want to point out a couple gyms within walking distance where they can test their Pokémon mettle on their own time.
- Learn More: Have suggested reading materials where they can learn more about what you discussed on the tour. Recommended the books, websites, and museums you used to create the tour.
- Gift Bag: If you want to send everyone home with something as a souvenir, Pokémon cards can be found online at fairly reasonable prices.
The Digital Harbor Foundation is dedicated to fostering learning, creativity, productivity, and community through education. In 2013 we transformed a closed-down rec center in Baltimore City into a vibrant Tech Center for youth. In 2014 we launched the Center of Excellence to train others how to incorporate making into their own learning environments.
Michael Mosin is Baltimore native studying Sociology and Economics in Washington State. He likes to dance and juggle (not at the same time necessarily) and is a child of the Pokémon generation. If you’re interested in attending Michael’s Pokémon Tour in Federal Hill, email firstname.lastname@example.org