‘Pokemon Go’ fever grips Ephrata area

By on July 13, 2016
Johnny and Neang Bounna
Out hunting in Ephrata for Pokemon creatures are (from left) Ryan McKim, Ephrata, Alexandra Szymanski, Lititz; Zach Rodgers, Ephrata; and Mike Martin, Ephrata. Photo by Matthew Stauffer

Out hunting in Ephrata for Pokemon creatures are (from left) Ryan McKim, Ephrata, Alexandra Szymanski, Lititz; Zach Rodgers, Ephrata; and Mike Martin, Ephrata. Photo by Matthew Stauffer

No, it’s not just a kids game.

People of all ages have been gathering around historic landmarks, churches, memorials, parks, beaches, and pretty much everywhere with their eyes glued to their phones over the past week.

Anyone that has been outside over the past few days is sure to have seen more people than usual out and about, and they aren’t exercising. At least that may not be their main goal. They are actually out trying to catch an icon from years ago — Pokemon — in the real world.

The local, national and worldwide phenomenon, whose popularity has soared in the last week, is all thanks to the famous video game company Nintendo partnering up with new age Niantic (famous for their original game, Ingress) and bringing the little pocket monsters so many remember and love from the 90’s to life. This time however, it’s causing gamers to do something the electronic and digital world has never really had them do before — get out and get moving.

The game is called Pokemon Go and within 24 hours it surged to the top of the charts with hundreds of thousands of downloads through both iOS and Android devices. The game is designed for use through smartphones and requires the user to physically leave their house and go out into the world to catch Pokemon. There are “Pokestops” placed virtually in the game that exist at real life locations. Players must then physically walk to them in order to collect items that help them on their quest to “Catch ‘Em All.”

Pokemon appear on the user’s phone screen, through the camera, on the ground in front of the player.

In fact, this reporter actually found a Rattata (a small Pokemon that resembles a mouse) on the kitchen counter top next to a fruit bowl, and a Pidgey (cleverly named, resembling a bird) under a tree near my house.

The game, inspired no doubt by scavenger hunting geo cachers, is this summer’s viral phenomenon that’s swept over Lititz Springs Park.

As phenomenon’s go it’s drawn mixed reviews; labeled everything from a government conspiracy and CIA data collecting device to a harmless virtual reality game that’s inspired children to get out of the house and exercise.

Players such as Gage St. Pierre, of Lititz, tried to explain the game Tuesday, which may sound like a foreign language to those unfamiliar with Pokémon.

“You get the better Pokémons by hatching eggs which you get by walking a certain distance,” advised Gage, who sat on benches at Lititz Springs Park with his brother Luke and their schoolmate Declan McCarthy

Johnny and Neang Bounna

Johnny and Neang Bounna

The game has become incredibly popular as well with college students such as Warwick High School grads Caleb Stork and Derek Fry.

“I caught a Psyduck near that bench over there and a lot of Rattatas,” Stork announced.

“They’re all over the place,” said Fry, referring to the virtual reality creatures that appear randomly on a smartphone when positioned in a precise location.

Fry noted the game has helped inspire people with mental health issues and depression “to get up and out of bed in the morning,”

“That’s a side-effect that (developers) didn’t see coming,”he said.

 

The game is an exciting, adventurous and sociable experience that is catching on like wildfire as this new nostalgic tech trip to one’s childhood seems to be extremely emotional, powerful and addictive.

The effects of that feeling are now showing. According to CNBC, Nintendo’s stock surged 33 percent, adding $7.5 billion to its market in two days. Reuters reports that “within the first two days of its release more than five percent of Android devices in the United States had download the app. It is now on more Android phones than the dating app Tinder and its rate of daily active users was neck-and-neck with social network Twitter. The game is also being played an average of 43 minutes a day, more time spent than on WhatsApp or Instagram.

TechCrunch said Monday that Pokemon Go has an estimated 7.5 million US downloads and approximately $1.6 million in daily revenue. Huffington Post is reporting that by some metrics, the new Pokemon Go game is more popular than Instagram, Twitter and Tinder. Whether it’s a passing fad, or a long-running hit remains to be seen, but with Niantic releasing statements of upcoming updates for the game, most don’t see the craze slowing down. At least not anytime soon.

On the other hand, when thousands are wandering around the streets, parks, woods and everywhere else searching for the rarest Pokemon of them all on a game that requires eyes on the phone during travel, there are some safety issues that arise.

When the user logs on the game they are immediately prompted with a warning that reads:

“Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.”

Others remind players to stay hydrated by bringing a bottle of water on adventures, and an extra battery pack to keep the phone charged in case of an emergency. The app is already known for draining the life of the common phone battery from a full charge to dead in approximately 43 minutes of continuous use. Players are also reminded to always respect trespassing laws and private property. Gamers can always wait for that Pokemon to come their way if it is in someone else’s back yard.

Many were comforted to see the local police department present during the late night hunts taking place in downtown Ephrata over the weekend, with players going for the nocturnal Pokemon.

But not everyone has been so careful as multiple reports have surfaced of distracted players injured while walking.

Waves of players cropping up in public have spawned public confusion and suspicion.

Lititz Police Chief Kerry Nye admitted his department knew nothing of the Pokémon phenomenon until this past weekend when players had to be coaxed to leave Lititz Springs Park at closing.

“We actually had an incident at 2 a.m. (Tuesday) where three guys were walking on somebody’s private property doing this Pokémon game and an officer just came upon them,” Nye said.

He said it’s important to alert players of the danger of venturing on private property any time.

“The repercussions could be trespassing or even more than that if the homeowner sees someone in his backyard in the middle of the night,” he said. “Who know what will happen.”

Nearby Ephrata Police have responded to calls of Pokémon Go crowds gathering since the app has appeared.

“We had calls on two separate gatherings/locations,” said Ephrata Chief William Harvey said. “None required police intervention and the callers were briefed on what was going on.”

There are no known/reported issues or criminality at this time, he said. But there’s been at least one incidents of players robbed after being lured to a bogus “Poke Stop.”

Harvey said both instances in Ephrata were citizens calling in who were curious about a small group of teenagers gathered at a location.

“It appeared suspicious to the callers, (but) there was no criminality or crimes committed, he said.

Harvey said many of his officers are parents of teens, and along with their social media presence, they were familiar with the app from the start.

He cautions the public that this is only a game.

“Just as long as there are no crimes, ordinance violations and apply safety at all times, remember this is only a game,” he said. The biggest point that needs to be made is that participants need to be mindful and respect others property (residential and businesses) and not trespass or damage other’s property.”

“I expects our citizens, when they observe suspicious activity, to call it in,” he said. “One might not be able to distinguish between a virtual scavenger hunting game and criminality.”

Parents may want to know what route their kids are taking when they go out hunting. Players around the area have been heard reinforcing the game’s number one rule, which has become somewhat of a motto: “Don’t Pokemon Go and Drive.”

During different adventures around the Lancaster County area, one can encounter Pokemon Go players in nearly every town, city, or suburb that they come across. The Ephrata area already has Facebook pages for different teams where they make public announcements of future team meetings and gym battles. The Ephrata park is a popular place to catch water Pokemon with its location next to a creek and the public pool. The park also contains many Pokestops and even more excited youngsters collecting all they can to have the edge on their peers.

“I think the coolest thing about Pokemon Go is that I’ve seen SO many people outside, walking around, talking to each other and laughing and being friendly towards each other. It’s getting people up, out, and active and I’ve already met a few people doing it. But don’t be mistaken, I will catch them all. before you,” one Ephrata resident, Corey VanScyoc, wrote on Facebook .

“I don’t know how anyone expects me to focus on school when this game is so much fun!” Ali Franklin of Ephrata said.

Lititz Springs Park is an extremely friendly player location with a Pokestop every 100 feet or so. The park has been a host to players of all ages, gathering at locations like the Tomato Pie Cafe, where a Pokestop resides nearby that players can access as they refuel during their hunt. The Wilbur Chocolate factory is home to a Pokestop where players can be seen coming out the front doors with recently purchased chocolate in their hands. One young player was overheard saying, “I wish Pokemon were real. I think they would like chocolate.”

Pokemon Go has taken over the attention of millions of the population. Legs are sore from distances walked. The ‘90s phenomenon making one of the biggest comebacks in history may not be a bad thing. Social interaction in public settings seems to be skyrocketing.

So the next time you see some players with their phones out cheering the words, “Gotchya!” wish them some happy hunting.

Matthew Stauffer is a correspondent for The Ephrata Review.

Review staff Pat Burns and Dena Reedy contributed to this story.

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