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What is Pokémon Go? What is the Pokémon Go Fest?

Pokémon Go players line up during Pokémon GO Fest in Grant Park on July 22, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

The second Pokémon Go Fest is scheduled for this weekend in Chicago. Thousands of people are expected to arrive in Lincoln Park to play the augmented reality game. Last year’s Pokémon Go Fest — also in Chicago — was riddled with technical problems, but organizers say they’ve made changes to make this year’s fest go more smoothly.

At its peak in 2016, there were 28.5 million users playing Pokémon Go on a single day.

But if you’ve never played the game, here’s some more information on the game and the upcoming Fest in Chicago:

What is Pokémon?

Pokémon is a Japanese media franchise first developed by Nintendo in 1995 as a role-playing video game for the company’s line of Game Boy products. The consumer electronics and video game company has continued to develop the Pokémon series over the last two decades.

The Pokémon (short for “pocket monsters”) are fictional animals created within the franchise universe. Pikachu, the yellow electric-type Pokémon mouse, is the adorable ambassador for the brand and has appeared in Pokémon video games, animated television shows, films and trading cards.

On Thursday, June 14, 2018, Pikachu and Eevee stand at Nintendo booth during the Electronic Entertainment Expo E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

What is Pokémon Go?

Pokémon Go is an augmented-reality game developed by Niantic Inc. in collaboration with Nintendo, which continues to own the Pokémon trademark. Niantic was formerly a part of Google before it was spun out as an independent company in 2015.

The game takes advantage of modern smartphone features, such as geolocation and the camera, to insert a virtual game world between the player and the physical world via the smartphone’s screen. The mechanics of Pokémon Go are the same in the Nintendo-developed video games: Players act as “Trainers,” for the Pokémon, capturing wild Pokémon and battling other players to level up their Pokémon’s skills and abilities.

But Pokémon Go differents from previous Pokémon games because it requires players to move through the real world, rather than staying still and moving their in-game character. The game takes place within a virtual world mapped onto the real world around us.

Take your smartphone to a park, for example, and you’ll likely see more grass-type Pokémon to catch. Move to the lake and you’ll see more water-types. Pokéstop and Gyms — two in-game sites that help players to progress  — are usually located at places of significant historical and cultural interest, like museums, sculptures and monuments. This encourages players to explore the real world around them as they play the game.

Pokémon Go is displayed on a cell phone. | AP photo

What is the Pokémon Go Fest?

Simply put, it’s a live, real-world celebration of the game. The activities, tents, and 1.8-mile trek in Chicago’s Lincoln Park this weekend are only the physical manifestations of the Fest. Niantic, the game’s developer, has prepared special features in the game for players within the Lincoln Park boundaries, which may include either rarer or new Pokémon.

However, these activities aren’t exclusive or even limited to Lincoln Park. This weekend, the Pokémon featured in the Fest will appear more frequently to all players worldwide, even if they aren’t attending the Fest. The Fest can be described as a party, a meet-up of players, a developer-organized celebration and an in-game release milestone all at the same time.

The first Fest, which took place in Chicago’s Grant Park in 2017, was “disastrous,” as technical issues with the game and with cellular network providers meant that players weren’t able to play Pokémon Go at the event. Niantic has made changes to avoid those issues again this year.

Pokémon Go trainers gather in Grant Park for Pokémon Go Fest on July 22, 2017. | Max Herman/For the Sun-Times

What about safety?

Because Pokémon Go requires using your phone while outdoors, there’s always the danger of being outdoors while distracted. When the game launched in 2016, there were concerns that players would be distracted and unknowingly put themselves into dangerous situations. The Pokémon Go game was updated to include a safety warnings reminding players to pay attention to the world around them.

The smartphone features that Pokémon Go requires — geolocation, camera and the screen — as well as the data processing required to run the app means Pokémon Go is pretty battery-draining. While a phone that’s run out of battery isn’t dangerous by itself, it does mean that the cellphone is unusable, and not being able to call 911 for help in an emergency isn’t ideal.

Pokémon Go leads gamers to locations such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Chicago Riverwalk. | Pokémon GO

Why are so many people playing it?

Because it’s pretty fun. When the Pokémon Go craze hit in 2016, we at the Sun-Times reported players found the game was connecting them with people they otherwise wouldn’t have met. Pokémon Go doesn’t really have an targeted age or demographic, and encourages physical activity: Players have to walk around to hatch eggs in the game, and the game detects when you’re above a certain speed and stops counting movement, so you can’t cheat by driving.

The excitement of the game’s launch might have worn off, but the Pokémon Go still offers players a strong sense of community. Niantic has organized Community Days worldwide this year, encouraging players to visit their local parks and meet other players by offering special Pokémon within a limited time window. Vox Media Polygon’s Allegra Frank described the game as “about friendship with trainers and Pokémon, set in a world that emboldens players with a spirit of adventure.”

What can I expect this weekend?

Hey, we put together an entire separate guide just about that so please check it out.