Can you catch them all?
That’s the question millennials around the world have been asking each other for the past week following the launch of Pokémon Go, a smartphone app version of the popular 1990s video game series that has revived the glory days of video gaming for thousands of them.
The purpose of Pokémon Go is the same as it was 21 years ago when the original game was released in 1995 — catch as many Pokémon as possible.
But when gamers download the Pokémon Go app, they are no longer limited to catching the alien-like creatures indoors. The app hides the Pokémon inside local restaurants, on city streets and even inside bathrooms — sometimes in other people’s homes — allowing players to explore the world around them and meet new people as they pursue the 250 hidden creatures.
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“It’s been a dream for this to be a reality,” said Logan Miller, a 25-year-old Columbus resident and avid Pokémon Go player.
In the days since its July 6 launch, Pokémon Go has swept the country like a tidal wave.
The extent of the pop culture phenomenon is also evident in Columbus, where a quick stroll down Washington Street on a sunny afternoon will uncover at least a dozen players using the app’s simulated map of the city to search out the best Pokéstops, where the most Pokémon are hiding.
Perched last week on the fountain outside of the Bartholomew County Courthouse, 22-year-old Abby Green kept her eyes trained to the screen of her phone as she persistently focused on her latest Pokémon Go challenge — catching a Pikachu, the game’s most well-known character and one of the more difficult characters to find.
As she swiped up to launch a Pokéball and catch the little yellow creature, Pikachu, ever so sly, kept breaking free of the grip of the Pokéball.
But finally, after at least five minutes of trying to wear him down, Green was successful in her efforts to catch Pikachu, bringing her total catch count up to 59 out of 250.
Most of the Pokémon that Green has caught in Columbus have been hiding downtown, she said.
“That’s why you see all these people out here,” she said, gesturing to the handful of other players she could see from her spot outside the Courthouse.
But Miller said all corners of Columbus are filled with the virtual creatures, from the shops along Merchant’s Mile to the city cemetery and beyond.
Josh Seeley, a 27-year-old player, said he found a Pokémon hiding in his bathroom.
Before the launch of the augmented reality app, Miller said he rarely left his house. But now, he said he’s outside all day every day in search of his next capture, having caught 68 Pokémon as of Wednesday. A mileage tracker app showed that in the seven days following the launch of Pokemon Go, Miller had walked 49.8 miles looking for the hidden creatures.
“That’s the most I’ve ever walked,” he said.
But even if the extensive list of potential Pokémon hiding places is allowing gamers to get outside and exercise more, it’s also leading to an increase in safety risks.
Jackson County REMC sent out a press release urging Pokémon Go players to avoid playing the game near power lines, transformers, substations and other electrical utilities.
According to the release, online gamers are reporting that Electric Pokémon are more likely to be hidden near electrical sites.
However, the Jackson County power supplier urged players to think twice before attempting to catch a Pokémon near a power line and also encouraged parents to discuss electrical safety protocols with their children.
Marty Lasure, spokeswoman for Bartholomew County REMC, said the utility is taking a proactive approach and reminding their customers that substations are not safe, so gamers should maintain a distance of at least 10 feet when playing.
Justin Black, spokesman for the Columbus Police Department, said the local police station received several calls about people playing Pokémon Go in inappropriate places, particularly the Garland Brook Cemetery on Gladstone Avenue.
Amanda Klei, the cemetery director, said hundreds of people have begun driving through the cemetery each day in pursuit of Pokémon characters.
While that type of action is technically legal during the property’s regular business hours, Black said that no one is allowed in the cemetery during the hours between sunset and sunrise.
Black said when officers have been dispatched to the cemetery in the evenings, most Pokémon Go players willingly leave after speaking with an officer about the rules of being on the property.
Other than the cemetery, Black said most complaints CPD has received related to Pokémon Go have been about a sudden increase in foot traffic in the downtown area.
Despite the potential risks and inconveniences of wandering the city in search of Pokémon, Miller said the game has had a positive impact on his life by helping him build a stronger sense of community.
Many Pokémon Go players in Columbus have connected with each other on Facebook, Miller said, and the players had even planned to meet each other in person at a pizza party in Mill Race Park last week.
“It’s got me out, and it’s helped me to meet new people,” Miller said.
Following the release of Pokemon Go, police departments in some of the country’s largest cities, including New York, Miami, Austin, Texas and Los Angeles, released safety tips for players to follow:
- Be alert at all times.
- Stay aware of your surroundings.
- Play in groups of at least two people and stay in well-lit areas.
- Don’t drive, ride your bike or skateboard or use any other motorized or self-powered transportation device while playing.
- Don’t trespass onto private property or go anywhere that you wouldn’t normally go if you weren’t playing Pokemon Go.
- Be cautious of being lured into a dangerous situation.