Is that a Gastly at the Government Center? A Zubat near Zygi’s stadium? A Growlithe by Goldy Gopher’s school? Better catch ’em, quick!
"Pokémon Go," the new augmented reality mobile game that sends people from their couches and out on the streets in hopes of capturing creatures in their neighborhoods, has become a global phenomenon since it launched last week.
To appreciate the extent of the game’s social impact, all you have to do is look around at the vast number of people playing it. The game is more popular than Tinder and is poised to surpass Twitter in daily active users on Android. Pokémon-chasing investors sent Nintendo shares soaring Monday and added $9 billion worth of market value to Nintendo Co.
By Monday, thousands in the Twin Cities had downloaded the game and were traveling all over to play and collect the cartoon critters that first debuted in Japan in 1996.
Jack Bryan, a senior at Hamline University, said the game has sent him into the outdoors to explore his neighborhood for many hours of the day and night. Hopping from campus to campus, Bryan said he’s made new friends while searching for more Pokémon.
“It’s the summer of the geeks,” Bryan said via e-mail. “We are breaking out of the basement and into the world, feeling confident as we’re surrounded by other Pokéfans, exploring, training, energized by nostalgia, and eager to catch ’em all.”
While playing the game, office workers downtown have their heads buried in their phones as they walk through the skyways. Dozens of kids gather at parks to participate in real-time Pokémon battles. Parents and their young children spend hours walking together to “catch monsters” and “incubate eggs.”
Monica Wiant became “obsessed” with the game over the weekend and said it’s a family-friendly activity that promotes exploration and exercise. Along with her 9-year-old daughter, Wiant, 38, visited restaurants, a church, local landmarks, the beach and Life Time Fitness to collect new Pokémon and battle nearby “gyms.”
“We’re getting so much exercise,” Wiant said. “We went for several family walks this weekend, and I ran 5 miles in the humidity this morning, because … we had Pokémon eggs to hatch, and I heard there might be water Pokémon near the lake.”
Aj Mansour stayed up past midnight on Sunday night to play "Pokémon Go" while walking around Maple Grove with a friend. Despite some annoying network glitches and the safety factor of walking around in the dark, the 31-year-old father appreciates the social factor of the game. Mansour said he passed a few dozen people playing the game Sunday night in Maple Grove.
“Everyone stops and talks to each other and shares tips on how to play,” he said. “Instead of being alone in your basement playing video games with people you don’t know, this gets you outside chatting with your neighbors.”
Players share tips and strategies with one another through Facebook, Twitter and Reddit. A Reddit thread suggests: Mears Park is a great stop spot; Minnehaha Park was loaded with Pokémon Saturday night; and Pikachu are hard to come by, but somebody saw one in Dinkytown on Monday.
The game has even led to missed connections on Craigslist: “Bumped into you on Grand going to the gym at Dixie’s, I should have asked if I could tag along, but I thought maybe you’d be meeting up with people.”
But the onslaught of smartphone-wielding players in search of Pokémon hasn’t been entirely without incident. There have been reports of people getting robbed. One player came upon a body while playing the game in Wyoming. And people began flocking to a Massachusetts man’s home because his house — formerly a church — was showing up on the game as a gym.
Police in Willmar, Minn., got a call from a homeowner reporting a “suspicious” individual snooping through the backyard while looking at his phone “trying to locate something.” The interloper turned out to be looking for Pokémon.
While not all fun and games, "Pokémon Go" is proving to be good for business. The Mall of America kept players busy last weekend with more than 25 Pokéstops and two gyms.
An ice cream shop in Excelsior turned out to be a hotbed of Pokémon activity.
“I don’t know anything about the game, but apparently we have two Pokémon in the store,” said Jack Christianson, an ice cream scooper at Licks Unlimited in Excelsior. “Over the weekend, business spiked a bit when people kept coming in to play the game.”
Moto-i restaurant lured players inside with a sidewalk sign letting them know they could catch Pokémon characters in the restaurant.
Ashley Strohmayer, 28, of St. Paul, appreciates the nostalgia of playing a game she loved as a kid, but she also likes that it encourages her to take walks at times she wouldn’t normally do so.
Strohmayer, a flight attendant, said she’s excited to play the game in other cities with hopes of finding Pokémon that are harder to come by in the Twin Cities.
So far, the game has only been a positive experience.
“Except I gave a group of 12-year-olds in my neighborhood advice, which made me feel like a dork,” she said. “I walked away and realized what I’d just done.”
Are you playing Pokémon? Share your tips, tricks and screenshots with reporter Aimee Blanchette, firstname.lastname@example.org.