Two decades after starting as a simple Game Boy video game, Pokémon continues to capture widespread interest, never more so than with the release of the latest smartphone-based game app, Pokémon Go.
“I’ve never seen an app bring so many people together,” said Bailey Atkins, a player from Mount Airy.
The Pokémon game, a Japanese creation, originated in 1996 and has been a popular video game franchise since that time. This latest smartphone-based incarnation of the game involves players using their phone to track and locate Pokémon, small monsters, who can be trained to compete in battles. Various cultural, historical and even business locations in towns are deemed Pokéstops, places where players can access additional tools for the game.
“It’s fun and it engages the community,” said Annie O’Brien, administrative coordinator at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center, a Pokestop in Yadkinville.
O’Brien said since the game was released earlier this month, folks have been coming by the arts center to play the game. O’Brien, as well as several other employees at the arts center, also are playing. She said there is a lot of nostalgia for the characters, especially for those who have been playing the Pokémon games since their inception. The connection to local landmarks was a feature from another smartphone game called Ingress that O’Brien said she used to play several years ago. O’Brien lives in Winston-Salem and said the game is also a great way to explore new places right in one’s own town. She and her boyfriend recently went to a park in Winston-Salem where there were around 70 other players enjoying the game.
Locations in Mount Airy are reporting the same results.
Amy Snyder, from the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, said museum visitors and staff have noticed increased activity in the museum’s courtyard.
“We’ve definitely heard it’s a (Poke)stop,” said Snyder.
Snyder said recently a museum visitor came through the doors and told staff there were about 20 people in the courtyard playing the game.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t found a way to entice them into the museum yet,” noted Snyder.
The new game is not without some controversy. O’Brien said she and her friends have laughed about some of the jabs being made at the game.
“I know there have been a lot of memes online making fun of it and the fact that there’s so much political strife right now and people are just caught up playing this game,” she said. The game can serve as a nice break from real world challenges, O’Brien said. Not only that, but she said she sees the interactive nature of the game as a way to connect others and mobilize people in a positive direction, or at the very least give them a way to interact with others in the real world to discuss current events.
Safety has been another concern with Pokémon Go. There have been multiple news reports since the game’s release of people being injured because they were walking near traffic or other hazards and paying more attention to the phone than their surroundings.
There have also been reports of drivers crashing their vehicles while playing the game, though there don’t seem to have been any local instances of this.
Yet city Police Chief Dale Watson said Friday that the increasingly popularity of the game highlights the need for players to “exercise caution and pay attention to where they’re at, their environment” — being alert at all times.
“And as always, there’s safety in numbers,” he said.
City officers are definitely seeing an influx of people playing the mobile game, especially later in the evenings downtown, which is benefiting that part of town, Watson said.
He added that from his point of view, Pokémon Go is luring more people outside for a wholesome pastime.
“It’s getting them moving,” the police chief said, “and having a more active lifestyle, which is a good thing.”
The game itself issues a warning at start-up for players to be aware of their surroundings. As Chief Watston said, playing as a group is another way to safely enjoy the game, said Atkins.
“Me and my friends always go out and play together,” she said. “We meet up in the afternoon and it’s always a ton of fun. You need people to look out for you while you’re playing. I have seen people playing alone, but mostly during the day. Many of my friends who play Pokémon Go have noticed a few creeps out messing with other players, but the community is so tight that other players will come to your defense and stand up for you.”
Public places like parks are a nice option for players. Yadkin County native Anna Thomas said she has been playing the game with her children. They reside in Davie County now and she said Rich Park is a favorite playing spot for her family.
“They have several Pokéstops at the park and you can walk the nature trails while looking for new Pokémon,” Thomas said.
The walking aspect of the game has been praised as a way to encourage physical activity. Most popular smartphone games only require small movements of the fingers to play, while the Pokémon Go app requires physical movement from one place to another.
“I like the fact that it is so interactive. It really feels like you are hunting the Pokémon and you don’t even realize it requires all of the walking that it does because you’re having such a fun time playing the game,” Thomas said. “My favorite part is playing the game with my children and other friends and coworkers that play the game. It is so much fun to play in a group. Especially if you go out and play with your friends and their kids. My youngest son likes it the most.”
The Elkin Municipal Park and downtown areas of Mount Airy, Yadkinville, Elkin and Boonville also have been among the popular areas for local players.
The Boonville and Yadkin County Library in Yadkinville are both Pokéstops and librarians in the area said they are hoping the new game could be a way to drive traffic to the library.
Yadkin County Branch Librarian Malinda Sells said once their summer reading program has concluded, they hope to come up with ways to encourage Pokémon Go players to come in to check out books while they are visiting downtown Yadkinville. Angie Walker, branch librarian in Boonville, said they have added a sign to the front and back doors of the building to let players know they are a Pokestop and inviting them inside to check out a book.
Businesses and towns also are seeing the new game craze as a way to drive tourism.
“Pokémon Go is a new and exciting way to appeal to multiple generations to attract them to a location,” said Boonville Town Administrator Sarah Harris. “Boonville has started to see some foot traffic downtown in search of Pokéstops, Gyms, and Pokémon. Some of the Pokéstops include the Boonville Community Public Library, Boonville Fire Department, and the Information Kiosk at the corner of Hwy. 67 and U.S. 601. We are currently in the process of adding some more Pokéstops in downtown Boonville. The app is a great way to get out and be active. So lace up your sneakers, grab your phone and explore Boonville.”
Kitsey Burns Harrison may be reached at 336-679-2341 or on Twitter and Instagram @RippleReporterK.