| The gym at HLOM
See the people walking around town staring at their phones? You may have seen more of them these past few days. It's easy to assume they're checking a social media account or texting. That assumption is likely incorrect in each and every case.
Actually, nearly every one of those people you see, usually in twos or threes, with noses down, eyes locked on their smartphone screens, are playing a game, a game that gets people off the couch, out of the house, onto the street and doing something Luddites often complain people don't do in the always-connect age: talking with each other.
The game is Pokemon Go, a version of the iconic Pokemon game updated for the era of smartphones.
What all these people are looking at is a virtual world superimposed on the real world, a world you can't see unless you download the app and create an account. They are seeing a world populated by the likes of wartortles, butterfrees and caterpie, hunting for pokespots and gyms, building their strength and resources for their team to battle for control of those gyms.
"I've had it since Friday night," said Michael Snyder, of Batavia. "I saw my brother running to get a Pokemon over by Kelsey Road and he said, 'you gotta get this game.' He said, 'It's so much fun,' and it is. It motivates me to get outside and it's so much fun."
Pokemon started in the 1990s as a card game and players traded cards much like baseball cards. In 2006, the first video game was made for GameBoy and the Pokemon franchise has been one of Nintendo's most popular games every since, but Nintendo had largely ignored the mobile market until the release of Pokemon Go.
Since then, Pokemon Go is the most downloaded app (more than 7.5 million downloads) in both the Google Play Store and the Apple Store. Nintendo's stock has gained $7.5 billion in market value in two days. Even though the game is a free download, in-app purchases have reportedly generated more than $14 million in revenue (Google and Nintendo reportedly invested $30 million in developing the game).
The game uses technology first built for another social playing game developed by a former Google employee and leverages data from Google Earth.
When you download the game, you design your avatar and then see your avatar standing on a map of your real-life community. The location of your avatar corresponds with your actual physical location. If you're at home, your avatar is on the map where your house should be (buildings are not shown). If you get out and walk about, then your avatar walks along the street and turns as you turn.
If you happen upon a Pokemon, then you try to flick a white and red ball at it to capture it. Sometimes you miss, sometimes you snare it and then it escapes, and sometimes you get to keep it.
The first goal of Pokemon is to "catch 'em all." (Link: How to play Pokemon Go.)
| Time to catch a Zubat.
The more you capture the more you can do with the game. You move up levels, your Pokemon can evolve and you incubate the eggs you acquire pokestops so you get more Pokemon. At level five, you can join a team. The teams are Instinct (yellow), Mystic (blue) and Valor (red). Once you're on a team, you can capture a gym for your team and train in a gym and defend your gym. The stronger and more evolved your Pokemon, the better your chances of capturing a gym and holding a gym from attacks by other teams.
"I've been playing Pokemon since I was a kid," said Luis Ortiz, of Batavia. "Even as a kid, you would wish something like this would come out and it finally has."
The game is popular, people say because it gets you outside and you meet people and make new friends.
Ortiz was at the Peace Garden Tuesday afternoon, as were about a dozen other people. That used to never happen on a typical day, even one as sunny and pleasant as Tuesday, but that crowd was nothing like the one several people said was there on Monday night (or we witnessed on Tuesday night). As many as 30 people were in the garden at one time.
The garden has become Batavia's Pokemon hotspot because it contains two pokespots and there is a gym at the Holland Land Office Museum.
Pokespots are locations where you can fill your satchel with balls to capture Pokemon with, perhaps get eggs, and they are also places where you will find lots of Pokemon to a capture. The pokespots act as lures for Pokemon.
"The game gets people closer," Ortiz said. "We came out here last night another were about 25 to 30 people here walking up and down, saying, ‘Hi', so it’s really cool. It gets you outside and you get to do stuff."
Maximus Mantrow, from Greece, was driving his girlfriend past the garden this afternoon and she had her app open. They spotted the pokespots, the gym and several people in the garden, so they decided to stop.
"It’s cool," Mantrow said. "You meet a lot of cool people, you start talking, you make friends. It's fun."
| St. Joe's
Montrow said he's always been a fan of Pokemon, but he wasn't planning on downloading the game until he did and now he's hooked.
"I was like 'I don’t know about this', but I was playing a little more and it’s got that addictive nature to it, you know," Montrow said. "You get this one and then you’re like, ‘oh, I can catch that one, too, and I can catch that’ and after that, you can evolve it into something else. It’s just a lot of fun."
Sarah and Sophie Matlow drove from Le Roy to Batavia this afternoon and were walking through Downtown (they didn't even know about the Peace Garden treasures yet) because there isn't that much Pokemon activity in Le Roy.
“I like Pokemon too much for a 17-year-old girl," said Sophie, a student at Le Roy High School, and Sarah, a student at Alfred State College, added, “and I just wanted to play it with her."
As we talked, a young man walked by and said, yes, he was playing, too, and added, "I just captured that gym," which is on East Main Street.
"Everyone is playing this game right now," Sarah said. "It’s crazy."
App user stats bear out the sense that Pokemon Go is wildly popular already. Besides being number one in the app stores, the average daily use of those who download it already exceeds all other social media, including Facebook and Twitter.
Besides the social benefits of Pokemon Go, users say they love the idea of going outside and actually walking around to play a video game. They recognize health benefits.
"I've read about people getting leg cramps because they’ve been playing Pokemon Go so much; so people, like, hate on it so much because it actually makes you move, but it’s great," Sophie said.
More of the story and more photos after the jump (click the headline or "read more" below):