Pokémon. Pokémon Go. Poke Balls. Poke Stops. Gyms! You’ve probably seen these words flying around for a few weeks and wondered what they meant and what the excitement is all about. Well, if you couldn’t be bothered to find out more about the latest technology craze, here’s a breakdown on the world of Pokémon.

First of all, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way. Pokémon is a media franchise owned by Nintendo, Game Freak and Creatures, who make up The Pokémon Company, a consortium. Pokémon is a contraction of ‘Pocket Monsters’. It was created in 1995 by Satoshi Tajiri. Got it? Good.

So, what are these Pokémon? They are creatures that inhabit a fictional universe. They come in all shapes and sizes, types and have various abilities. There are fire, water, ghost, normal, electric, grass Pokémon…the list goes on and on and on. This thing has been a growing franchise for almost two decades, so at some point in time, we’re sure you’ve heard the word Pokémon.

Pokémon Go is the latest technology craze in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa

Screenshot of a Pokémon Gameboy Game


The Phenomenon That Is Pokémon Go

Generally speaking, we could probably write a 20-page essay explaining the world of Pokémon and the current Pokémon Go craze. However, in this article, we’re just going to give you the basics; enough information to not look at the next person standing idly on the sidewalk furiously swiping their phone, like they are completely bonkers. We’re only partially crazy.

“So grown men are going gaga over virtual monsters? Wow. So mature.” If you’ve uttered these words or words that bear any semblance to this, please shut up :). We now-grown men grew up with Pokémon. They were in our gaming livelihoods, our anime, our blood. It’s deep. It’s like Harry Potter deep, except multiplied over several years. And yes, sure, overtime we outgrew playing Pokémon on our GameBoys and GameBoy Advances and what not, because, life. We outgrew watching Pokémon anime (there’s a difference between cartoons and anime, go look it up), because life. But now Pokémon has been brought to us, on a silver platter, an extension of ourselves, our phones, and we’re not letting it go. Why? Because we get to relive our childhood memories and experiences, and nobody dare say no. We dare you. Say no. We are a legion! Plus, we’re adults now so nobody can tell us otherwise.


How Are Pokémon Games Played?

Pokémon Go is the latest technology craze in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa

Screenshot of a Pokémon Go Game

In the old games, you traveled in whatever region you were, as a Pokémon Trainer, catching Pokémon, battling Pokémon against other Pokémon and trainers, and defeating Pokémon gyms in order to gain “gym badges” which increased your prestige and experience level. The rarer the Pokémon you were able to catch, the better. Your ultimate goal? To be the ‘best there ever was’. All this was done from the comfort of your living room on a Gameboy.

Fast forward to present day; Pokémon Go! The biggest, most conspicuous, mind-blowing difference between this video game and most other video games is you actually have to move around in the real world physically. This isn’t the first game of this kind. Niantic, the company that developed Pokémon Go, released a similar game in 2012 called Ingress. They practically used the data from Ingress to develop Pokémon Go. The reason Pokémon Go is a roaring success is the fact that it tapped into the 25-year old global phenomenon that is Pokémon. Plus the fact that mobile phones got powerful for the game to be possible for most users.


How Does Pokémon Go Work?

Well since you ask, the game populates the virtual world with pokémon using real world GPS coordinates. When you have the app open on your phone, it takes your GPS coordinates and shows you pokémon that are nearby. If one is really close, it pops up near your avatar on the app. Tapping on the pokémon will then allow you to attempt to catch it by flicking (throwing) a poke Ball at it. It is not as straightforward as we have put it. Your chances of capturing the Pokémon depends on a variety of factors and require perfecting your pokémon capture technique. The pokémon are not concentrated in one area and so in order to catch all of them you have to move round your city, or if you can afford it, your country or if you can really afford it: the world!

Poke balls are needed to capture pokémon. As a trainer however, you have a limited number of poke balls. There have also been occasions where we have found pokémon we wanted to catch but had no poke balls. Very sad situation, we know. You could buy poke balls with real money in the in-game shop (along with other items; lucky eggs, incense, lure modules etc). What most people do however is go to a poke stop; a real world location that can be accessed in the app only when the trainer is close to it in real life. The player can then get a few in-game items from it after which it is disabled for about five minutes. The in-game items include poke balls, pokémon eggs (we’ll get to this soon), potions and a whole bunch of others.

Pokémon Go is the latest technology craze in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa

Screenshots of Poke stops in Accra (A church in East Legon, a mosque in Madina and the Accra Mall)


Poke stops are usually important cultural or religious spots such as statutes, churches, mosques, temples, museums and public buildings. In Ghana these are few and far between. The highest concentration of Poke stops we have seen is at the University of Ghana, Legon. However, Niantic is rolling out a feature that allows people to request new poke stops so hopefully we will see more in a few weeks.

Pokémon Eggs. As we mentioned earlier, you can sometimes obtain pokémon eggs from poke stops. These Pokémon eggs contain an unspecified pokémon. Now, this is the fun part. In order to hatch it, you have to walk (or cycle) a certain number of kilometers after you place them in an incubator. The game uses the speed over the distance at which you are moving to determine whether or not you are walking/cycling. It only counts if you are moving below a certain speed; 15km/h if we’re not mistaken. Ergo, if you are in a car moving slowly enough it will be counted. Thank God for rush hour traffic, right? There are three types of Pokémon eggs: 2km eggs (usually common, weak pokémon), 5km eggs (average pokémon) and 10km eggs (rare, strong pokémon). This is precisely why most people call Pokémon Go a ‘fitness app in disguise’, if you want those rare pokémon, you literally have to walk the walk!


How Can You Get Pokémon Go?

If you are interested in getting Pokémon Go now, we’re sorry to burst your bubble: officially, you cannot get it  in Ghana yet. It’s being rolled out worldwide over some time and at the moment is only available in about 30 countries. There are some loopholes though. If your Appstore/PlayStore is linked to one of the countries in which it is available, you can download it from there officially. If you are however, firmly rooted in Ghana here there are ways and means to get it (If you know what we mean ).

It is not just Ghana that is on the long waiting list, all of Africa and Asia are too. A quick Google search with the words “Pokémon Go [African Country]” will reveal communities of people playing in different African countries. We found a South African Facebook group with more than 5000 members, a Kenyan Reddit and the #PokémonGoAccra hashtag on Ghana Twitter. So yeah, we are far from being left out. How are people playing it then, you ask. Well, the architecture for the game is ready all over the world. The pokémon, the poke stops, the gyms. All that is already in place. There are a few places where the architecture is not available – South Korea for one – but other than that, all you need is the phone app and you’re good to go. Imagine: it’s an alternate reality which can only be seen through the app. You could be walking by Pokémon everyday and you wouldn’t even know :).

In essence, that’s what augmented reality is. Yes, augmented reality, not virtual reality. There is a difference. Virtual reality (VR) is when the computer replicates a whole new immersive environment for the user and makes the user feel like he/she is actually there. Augmented reality (AR), on the other hand, is when the real world is overlaid /supplemented with computer generated imagery, sounds or pictures. Augmented reality in the game serves to reinforce the point that the pokémon are actually there. In real life. A few feet away from you. Plus it is fun to put them in weird places. That said, It is not every game that uses AR in such a way that it will be functional. We have a feeling we’re going to see a plethora of AR apps and games hitting our app stores in the very near future.

Pokémon Go is the latest technology craze in Ghana, Kenya and South Africa

Augmented reality: A wild duodo captured on Pokémon Go in an office in Accra, Ghana

Article and photos by Mohammed-Hanif Abdulai and Nii Apa Abbey

The views expressed are solely those of the authors.