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The Pokémon phenomenon

Do you know your Shinx from your Sudowoodo? What’s the evolved form of Minccino? And what’s Jumpluff’s hidden ability?

Welcome to the world of Pokémon. Since the augmented reality game Pokémon Go was released in July, there’s no getting away from it if you possess, as I do, a ten-year-old boy. Pokémon – pocket monsters – are Japanese anime characters.

Each bears a resemblance to a living thing or an inanimate object often reflected by their name. Players collect and train Pokémon and then battle them in gyms. Pokémon have different fighting strengths and weaknesses. If they grow in power they can evolve – so Lickitung (the licking Pokémon) evolves into a Lickilicky.

With Pokémon Go, you use your smartphone to play. First you download the app. Then you walk around staring at your screen, where you’ll see your surroundings in real time thanks to GPS and your phone’s camera. A Pokémon appears on your screen. You fire a Poké Ball (flicking your finger on screen) to catch it. You train your captured Pokémon and eventually you can battle other Pokémon at a gym.

My son caught his best Pokémon so far – a Poliwhirl – outside Bexhill’s De la Warr Pavilion which is now a PokéStop: basically a place where Pokémon hang out. So far Luke has caught 37. He has a new-found interest in walking: several of his Pokémon eggs will only hatch if he walks five kilometres.

But it’s not just for kids. In August, a 28-year-old American Nick Johnson was the first to catch all 147 Pokémon in the game. It involved a trip to Australia to catch a Kangaskhan.

At least Johnson didn’t end up in trouble collecting Pokémon, unlike other (adult) players. There are reports of cars crashing while drivers play and of enthusiasts walking into the sea in pursuit of Pokémon.

And there’s a lawsuit pending over players trespassing onto private property where PokéStops or gyms have been placed. The anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church in the United States is the location of a gym (another Pokémon hangout) – and players planted a Clefairy Pokémon there. The church responded by calling the Clefairy (the fairy Pokémon) a sodomite. We have a Clefairy. I think we picked it up in Eastbourne.

Since its launch, the app has been downloaded 100 million times and, according to research from App Annie, it is making $10 million a day because, while the game is free to download, you can spend cash on in-game items such as Pokeballs (we don’t: I’m not that indulgent).

The Nintendo share price peaked at $38.25 (up from a 12 month low of $15.34) when the game was launched although the share price fell 17 per cent in one day when Nintendo pointed out that it doesn’t make Pokémon Go: rather, it’s made by Niantic, an American software company spun off from Google last year. Google and Nintendo both have stakes in Niantic.

Nintendo owns 32 per cent of the voting power of the Pokémon Company (a consortium of Nintendo, Game Freak and Creatures) which does make money from licensing fees.

When Pokémon was created in 1995 it was on the Game Boy consoles. Since then it’s expanded to a TV series, films and trading cards.

We have a Pokédex, a book which lists more than 700 Pokémon: strictly something for the true Pokénerd. Given the huge number of the little critters out there – and there seems to be no limit to the imagination of the creators to make new ones – there are plenty of opportunities for Pokémon Go to grow.

I’m looking forward to capturing a rubbish: we stand a good chance on bin day, I reckon.

This article first appeared in issue 108