While we were getting ready for AALL 2016, Pokémon Go took over the USA. (The craze extends to several other countries, including Canada where the game isn't officially released yet.) According to SurveyMonkey, within one week Pokémon Go already had the most daily users of any U.S. mobile game ever. It also has more mobile users than Twitter.

On Sunday, the first day of AALL 2016, there will be a Pokémon Go meetup a few blocks from the conference hotel. It could easily draw more than 10,000 people.

A flurry of news reports and blog posts have addressed positive and negative impacts of Pokémon Go, including legal issues. (If you see me at AALL, feel free to ask about my own Pokémon Go anecdotes, which I call "Eevee and the Bagel Shop" and "The Pokémon and the Skunk.")

While the initial excitement is bound to fade, this game should have some staying power. It appears that many players are of traditional law school or new lawyer age, 20-30-year-olds who grew up with Pokémon.

So, what Is Pokémon Go?

Before getting to the game or its connection to legal research, let's briefly start with the original "Pokémon."  "Pokémon" is a cartoon--an anime from Japan--in which the hero, Ash Ketchum (Satoshi in Japanese) and other "Pokémon trainers" go on adventures to catch creatures called Pokémon and train them to battle other Pokémon. The ultimate goal of Ash and other trainers is to become a "Pokémon master."  Ash's companion is one of the most famous Pokémon, named Pikachu.

The "Pokémon" franchise, now 20 years old, also includes comic books (manga), movies, and video games. Until now, the video games have been on Nintendo consoles such as the Wii. 

"Pokémon Go" (or "Pokémon GO") is a game for iPhones and Android phones. In the game, you can be like Ash--catching and battling Pokémon. Pokémon Go's developer, Niantic, developed a database of real-world locations via its previous game, Ingress. (If you sign up for Ingress, you can search a world map to see if your location is highlighted.) In Pokémon Go, those locations are "PokéStops" where you can get items to help you catch Pokémon and "gyms" where you can battle Pokémon.

Even away from these locations, you may find Pokémon (often by walking around, phone in hand).  A Pokémon appears on your screen--superimposed on the real-world setting, if you wish--and is available to capture by throwing a "Poké Ball" at it. (Yes, the game uses the prefix "Poké" a lot. "Pokémon" is short for "pocket monster" in Japanese--and "pocket" are certainly appropriate for a smartphone game.) Once you capture enough Pokémon, you can join one of three teams and participate in gym battles to improve your team's status.

The fun of Pokémon Go is finding Pokémon--and other Pokémon Go players--in the real world, building your collection of Pokémon, and improving their ability, your ability, and your team's ability. You can buy items in the game to help in achieving these goals.

Why should legal information professionals care about Pokémon Go?

"Gotta catch 'em all" isn't just the catchphrase of Pokémon--it's also how a law librarian or lawyer may feel about covering all the bases in a legal research project. However, some law students and lawyers aren't interested in "catching 'em all" or never learn how.

What if legal research were as fun and viral as Pokémon Go? What if law students and lawyers wanted to find the law as much as Pokémon Go fans want to catch Pikachu? What if they wanted to improve their legal research skills as much as they might want to become a Pokémon master?

I imagine that Pokémon Go itself has more use in a law school library than a more strictly professional law library (law firm, courthouse, etc.). I've already heard from one law librarian who is thinking of using Pokémon Go for an orientation. I'm planning to make references to it in a first-year legal research video. (Points & Authorities & Pikachu? Wright, Miller & Wartortle?) :) I envision scavenger hunts for Pokémon merchandise in the stacks. I imagine some libraries are already or will become PokéStops and gyms in Pokémon Go. Pokémon should certainly grab some students' attention.

More generally, can law librarians learn from Pokémon Go how better to market law libraries and make legal research more enjoyable? It would be hard, if not impossible, to replicate exactly what Pokémon Go is doing. But gamification and rewards should have some place in the world of legal information. Lexis and Westlaw recognized that with their law school rewards programs; and many AALL exhibitors recognize that with games, prizes, and swag.

I want more law students and lawyers to associate legal research and libraries with fun. I'd welcome ideas (in comments, on Twitter, by email) on how we can do that.

Appendix: A glossary of Pokémon Go terms and their rough equivalents in law libraries or legal research
  • Pokémon = pertinent legal authorities (e.g., cases, statutes, regulations)
  • Poké Balls = tools that help you find pertinent legal authorities, such as other legal authorities, secondary sources, indexes, and citators 
  • Pokédex (a catalog of Pokémon or your collection of Pokémon) = a library catalog, a table of contents, a list or folder of pertinent research results
  • Egg Incubator (for growing Pokémon eggs into Pokémon) = any resource that allows a researcher to "grow" pertinent authorities by finding related authorities -- e.g., a citator
  • Camera = photocopier, printer, scanner, file download or email, camera -- i.e., whatever provides a copy of research material to the patron
  • Professor Willow (a character who guides players in Pokemon Go) = a reference librarian
  • PokéStops, Gyms = law libraries
  • Incense (which attracts Pokémon and thus people who want to catch Pokémon) = successful marketing of law libraries
  • Potion, Revive (medicines for restoring energy to or reviving Pokémon) = caffeinated beverages, sleep, a break (for restoring or reviving legal researchers)
  • Levelling Up, Powering Up, Evolving = improving legal research skills; finding more useful legal research resources and results

Update (July 28, 2016): Please see Part II for more Mews, ahem, musings about Pokémon and legal research.