Note: I’ve since updated this post to clarify the idea and the why behind using the #PokemonIRL.
#PokemonIRL: What is it?
The idea behind #PokemonIRL1 is to share natural history information on wildlife we’ve seen (or studied, for the scientists) via Pokédex form. Like so…
What is a Pokédex?
The Pokédex is essentially an in-game, automated notebook that records all the Pokémon you see during the game (much like keeping birdwatching lists). Pokédex entries typically list the Pokémon’s name, the Elemental Type(s) they are, their height and weight, and a few short “natural history” sentences.
There are 18 known elemental types, turing Pokémon battles into a convoluted game of Rock-Paper-Scissors (i.e., fire is weak against water, water is weak against electric, etc.). Fire-type Pokémon are typically red in color, or might live in or near a volcano. Ground-type Pokémon might live in the desert. Pokémon can be just one type, or two. Try to think creatively about the species you see or study when assigning their type(s). For example, a species that is only out at night could be a Dark-type.
#PokemonIRL: I’m not a scientist…how do I play?
It’s very simple! If you’re outside playing Pokémon Go and see an animal (or even a plant), take a picture! If you don’t know what the animal/plant is, make sure to tweet it out, tagging it with the hashtag #PokeBlitz2. Try to include location information and where you saw it. Actual scientists will help you identify what it is!
Next, make a Pokédex entry for what you’ve seen. Here is a dropbox with the blank Pokédex entry template, .png files for all the elements, and an example. Some good sources for natural history information for animals are: the IUCN Red List, iNaturalist, the Cornell Lab’s All About Birds site, Arkive.org, and Animal Diversity Web. The USDA has a good plant database. Try to use your own photos. If you can’t, make sure to ALWAYS ask permission to use photos, and credit the photographer.
#PokemonIRL: I’m a scientist…why would I want to play, and how do I play?
Pokémon is all the rage at the moment thanks to Pokemon Go, an app that was released last week and already is on trend to have more users than Twitter. If you aren’t familiar, Pokemon are fictional creatures (often based on real species) that trainers/game-players attempt to see, catch, and train to battle against the Pokémon of other trainers.
The neat thing about Pokémon Go is that it takes the game from handheld consoles to the user’s phone, encouraging people to go outside to catch Pokémon. Walk down the street to your favorite coffee shop and you could catch a Rattata. Go down to the beach for the weekend and you might see a Magikarp.
There is great science communication value in the popularity of this game. People are going outside and, while catching imaginary Pokemon, seeing real wildlife. This might be a way to get more people interested in Earth’s biodiversity and science in general.
Okay, you convinced me. How do I play?
First, if you have any identification skills, make sure to help out with the #PokeBlitz hashtag.
Next, make Pokédex entries for the animals/plants you study. Here is a dropbox with the blank Pokédex entry template, .png files for all the elements, and an example. Try to use your own photos. If you can’t, make sure to ALWAYS ask permission to use photos, and credit the photographer. Then, share your new Pokédex entry under the hashtag #PokemonIRL!
Note: not all Pokémon are animal/plant-based. There are chandelier Pokemon, statue Pokémon, and magnet Pokémon. There is even an ice-cream Pokémon. If you want to create entries that are geology-based (see #PokeGeo), fossil-based, or even ice-cream-based feel free! The sky’s the limit!