The newest craze to hit iPhone and Android devices has enticed gamers of all ages outdoors to explore their communities in search of digital characters known as Pokémon.
The new hybrid adventure game takes players on a real-world adventure meshed with the virtual gaming world. The game has been credited with getting players on their feet for exercise while taking in the sights and sounds of their communities.
Tyler has many interesting PokéStops. T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza, Bergfeld Park and The University of Texas at Tyler campus and many other areas around town have collections of Poké Balls and other items to get players exploring.
Pokémon GO is free to download and free to play. Players use their smartphones on the real and virtual exploration of their city and local surroundings. Most PokéStops are interesting city destinations, such as public art installations, historical markers and monuments. When gamers reach these sites, they touch their screens to collect Poké Balls and other items.
"You have to go out and be active if you want to have any good Pokémon," said Aniekan Isong, a Pokémon player. "I have actually done more cardio in the one week the game has been out than I have in the first six months of this year."
As the game started to grow in popularity over the last week, Isong, 25, decided to host a gathering of his Pokémon-playing friends, so they could get together and play the new digital version of the game he and his friends once played as kids.
Details about the meetup quickly spread on Facebook, and drew an estimated 100 people to Rose Rudman Park on Monday afternoon for the informal meetup. Seventeen-year-old Parker Easterling, of Tyler, and three of his friends were among those who met up at the park to search for Pokémon.
“The last time I remember playing outside with my friends was when I was in junior high. My parents are really happy that I’m not sitting in the house,” Easterling said.
Easterling added that in addition to the increase exercise and getting people outside to enjoy their surroundings, the game also helps people socialize and connect with others while participating in a fun activity.
“Pokémon GO is for everyone. It’s not a shooter game, it’s not overly complicated and there’s a bond that is happening with the people playing it," he said.
The Pokémon GO game requires a fair amount of movement to catch a Pokémon egg. Martin Rodriguez had been playing the game for a couple hours Monday before getting to the meetup at Rose Rudman and said he'd walked more than 3.5 of the 5 kilometers required to catch the egg he was pursuing.
“I love Pokémon. I grew up playing it on Game Boy color,” Rodriguez said. “Now, I can catch them myself, and I couldn’t pass it up.”
The T.B. Butler Fountain Plaza is a popular destination for those in search of Pokémon, especially during evening hours.
“There’s four PokéStops downtown, and there was about 200 people down there (Sunday) night,” Kelly Kendrick said. “I’ve walked 29.3 miles since Wednesday. I never thought that was possible. I don’t exercise much.”
Ms. Kendrick is bartending this summer and will be starting her master’s degree in psychology at The University of Texas at Tyler this fall. She sees the game as a great way to meet and interact with new people.
“I think it is helping break a lot of social barriers,” Ms. Kendrick said. “The game allows people to do the things they want to do the most -- be outside with a group of other people, use their phones, play a game and actively socialize.”
The game is especially popular among millennials and teenagers, who are living out their childhood dreams of chasing and catching Pokémon characters. Game players aren’t worried about data usage on their cellular devices. Most said it hasn’t been a problem.
“I have a big enough data plan,” 21-year-old Emily Grissett said. “I’m not worried about the data usage.”
The game is not only getting people outside and moving, it’s also having an economic effect. According to the Washington Post, Nintendo’s share price has soared since the release of the game.
The stock was up 14 percent Friday. The company is valued at $28 billion, an increase of nearly 68 percent from its $17.1 billion closing two days prior, when the Pokémon GO first hit app stores.
Pokémon GO players are cautioned about being aware of their surroundings when they turn on the app. Tripping has been a common occurrence since the game became available.
There have also been reports of trespassing and reminders to avoid searching for the Pokémon creatures on private property. Since Pokéspots are located at business, church and some government buildings, going to those areas after business hours could be considered trespassing.