Catching ‘Em All Over The Place

I caught my first Pokemon last night

I caught my first Pokemon last night.

This has been a weird week. People have been walking into traffic, trees and parked cars at an alarming rate while they compete to catch little animated beasties that are sort-of kind-of actually walking down the street next to us. I’m talking about Pokémon Go. The new augmented reality game that has you catching ’em all, all over the place.

The original Pokémon was a two player video game, which I am afraid to admit, I never actually played. Nevertheless, I was curious about the nature of the game: what sort of Pokémon strategies are there? And I found the most interesting thread on math overflow all about Pokémon research.

The basic strategy of the game is that each play picks 6 Pokémon from a stable of 718, and each Pokémon has 4 out of 609 possible moves. The opposing Pokémon face off against each other one by one and have various levels of strength and vulnerability to attack. So there truly are a finite number of strategies with two independent decision makers, meaning a Nash equilibrium does exist. Of course this is a relatively gigantic space of play, so it’s pretty difficult to actually model the possibilities, and it’s not a sure thing that the Nash equilibrium will be what plays out.

Another fun aspect that makes the Pokemon game hard to model and predict is that you are in a game with imperfect information. Your opponent may know that you’re holding Charmander, but your opponent has know way at face value to determine which moves you’ve chosen for him.

The new version, Pokémon Go, seems to be a bit less focused on an end point. Instead, it appears that you just like crazy catching Pokémon until you eventually level out and have a super powerful character that can do whatever he wants.  In which case you would be the baller of the Poke world…but that is about it.

Business are also having some fun with the Pokémon Go craze. Apparently you can use Pokecoins to buy lures which entice Pokémon Go players into your brick-and-mortar establishment for the bargain price of one dollar and 17 cents per hour.

For some poor souls, registering an account has already been an exercise in game theory. Pokémon Go is so out of control popular that the number of people trying to resister every minute of every day has overwhelmed their servers beyond their capability. The Pokémon Go people have asked users to wait an hour and try again, but this of course, will never work and is a perfect example of a Tragedy of the Commons.

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