Pokémon have invaded once again, and they're everywhere. Since the Pokémon Go app launched on iOS and Android in America on July 6, people have been catching the creatures anywhere from the Empire State Building to the bathroom.
The Nintendo franchise, which first garnered massive popularity when it launched in the late 1990s, is making a comeback. Pokémon first became a cultural phenomenon at the turn of the millennium, producing multiple spin-off games, trading cards, movies and a television show.
Pokémon Go is the franchise's newest addition, and the free game has been sweeping the country since its launch. It became the most downloaded app in both Apple and Android app stores, surpassing Tinder, Twitter and Snapchat in downloads and active users.
All this happened before the game was a week old and had yet to launch globally.
How does the game work?
Pokémon Go can't be played stationary, or least very well. The augmented reality game uses your phone's GPS and camera to find virtual Pokémon creatures in your neighborhood. The app tracks user location and uses notable real-life landmarks as "Pokéstops" where players can collect Poké Balls and capture Pokémon. So instead of catching Pokémon in the traditional digital landscape, players are forced to get off their couches and explore the real world to capture Pokémon and engage in virtual battles. As players move around they encounter different Pokémon depending on the time and their location.
Once you reach level 5, you can join one of three "teams" and have your Pokémon battle other players' at "gyms." Here's a good explainer on how that works to start.
The game has sparked privacy concerns.
On the digital front, some users were concerned about the game's access to its player's Google information. Many Pokémon Go users sign in to the game with a Google account. Though using Google is not an uncommon login method, the app asked players to allow Nintendo full account access. This allows the company access to any user information on Google, including email, documents, photos and search history.
This poses a security risk for user information, especially if the game, which has millions of users, were to get hacked.
Niantic, the game's San Francisco-based developer, released a statement on its website Tuesday acknowledging the privacy concern, but said the app itself only accesses basic information, despite asking for full access.
The company said Google verified the game has not collected any additional information. Niantic released an update Tuesday to fix the error so that the app will only request the basic Google account information it needs.
Users can also opt to log onto the game with a Pokémon account, but the site to sign up has been so overwhelmed by the recent demand that it has been shut for maintenance.
The game's popularity has also prompted safety warnings from law enforcement across the country.
Though the app opens with a warning to players to be wary of their surroundings, players have reported accidents or injuries that occurred because they were not looking up from their phones when off wandering.
While some crazy stories about the game have proven to be hoaxes, players have nevertheless encountered trouble when trespassing or wandering into dangerous places in pursuit of Pokémon.
Two men in the San Diego area were hospitalized after falling down a cliff while playing.
Police in Oregon reported receiving a call that a man had been stabbed while walking and playing the game on his phone.
The Missouri police department also wrote in a Facebook post that they arrested three teens for armed robbery, writing that they believe the teens lured victims to their location through Pokémon Go. The game allows users to leave modules in the game that attract Pokémon, and subsequently players on the prowl to catch the creatures.
Some places designated as landmarks in the game are asking players to show respect and refrain from playing at their locations.
Though the game allows users to capture Pokémon all over the country, some places, like the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., have asked players to look up from their phones. The museum's communications director told The Washington Post the they are looking into getting the Holocaust Museum excluded from the game.
National Mall and Memorial Parks officials in D.C. also posted to their Facebook page asking players to be respectful of the memorials.