From overnight sensation to the latest installation in the Pokémon franchise, Pokémon GO has proven its staying power, with more than 50 million downloads across Android devices and countless more running on Apple devices.
Released to the public on July 6, the popular mobile game allows players to use their smartphone’s GPS and camera to track down and collect the franchise’s “pocket monsters” in the real world. Approach one of the digitally-rendered creatures on your map and it will materialize into view, allowing the player to search the environment with the phone’s camera to locate and capture it.
The capturing process is similar to the original games from 20 years ago, involving throwing high-tech balls that serve as cages at the creatures until a player is able to hit the mark.
The game is appealing for a variety of reasons. It encourages exercise, as players have to get out and walk in order to complete their collections. Additionally, the game features community points of interest where players can collect helpful items and drop lures that pull in Pokémon. Acting as a virtual “water cooler,” these “PokéStops” lead players to congregate and socialize.
In downtown Urbana, a group often meets outside Carmazzi’s late at night to play together and enjoy idle chat. The war monument also serves as a PokéStop, allowing downtown players to have two points of interest within a single block.
“I live out in the middle of nowhere, so the only time I come in is late at night,” Lisa, 20, said.
The group is ever-changing, with players coming and going as they please. There is no set schedule or organization. Sometimes there are two players; sometimes there are two dozen.
“I work during the day,” said Sarah, 23. “Everyone meets here and we set a lure.”
It started kind of like an awkward middle school dance, with everyone mingling and getting to know one another – even without knowing each other’s names.
“I know (Sarah), and that’s about it. But I’ve met a lot of great people through here,” Brooke, 19, said. “We’ve got a little bit of everything. It shows how diverse this group is.”
Blake, 21, said he didn’t know anyone when he started coming into Urbana to play the game.
But the game is inherently social, taking players to the same spots and doing it while creating a fun way to get active.
“I’ve lost like eight pounds,” Elisha, 20, said.
“You’re looking at your friend and you’ll look down and you’ve walked two miles,” Brooke added.
The game’s host servers aren’t always fully-operational, and the programmers are constantly tinkering with updates to improve playability.
“I’ve been playing since day one, but it didn’t work for like the first week,” Tyler, 18, said. “And I play on iPod, so I can only play on Wi-Fi.”
While casual players are likely losing interest at this point, the franchise’s popularity and the game’s accessibility ensures that former and current Pokémon fans have another itch to scratch for a while.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.