They may be walking down the street or sitting on a bench, eyes fixed on their smartphone. Then comes the flick of a finger on the bottom of the screen, and you just know — that person is playing Pokémon Go.
The free mobile game that is all the rage was released July 6 and has 21 million daily active users, according to Survey Monkey. That makes it the biggest mobile game in history — topping Candy Crush’s 20 million daily active users at its peak.
Clovis residents have most definitely jumped on board. It’s obvious if you take a look around Old Town or pretty much any local shopping center or park.
There are nods and sometimes smiles exchanged when players cross one another’s path.
While I was searching for Pokémon with my kids, a new dad (his baby was maybe three months old) yelled the game’s familiar slogan, “Gotta catch ‘em all!” My 6-year-old daughter was really excited that someone else was playing the cool game that she had learned about an hour ago.
She’s not the only one.
“You meet a lot of people playing this game. I’ve already met like three or four new friends just off the street playing together and trying to catch the same Pokémon. We all flock to one area,” said Christian Nevarez, 21, while playing the game on the corner of Fourth Street and Pollasky Avenue on a Tuesday afternoon.
For him, the answer to “Why did you download Pokémon Go?” is simple.
“A childhood-long dream of become a Pokémon trainer, of course. I think everyone here will give you the same answer,” Nevarez said, motioning toward about a dozen hardcore Pokémon Go players gathered near a Pokéstop.
Pokémon is a video game franchise that started in 1996 on Nintendo GameBoy. Several more versions of the game came out on different platforms and it turned into a popular trading card game and eventually movies and TV shows.
Pokémon Go is just the latest version of the game, which uses a smartphone’s camera and GPS signal to help users find virtual cartoon monsters in real-life locations.
Even people who have never played a Pokémon video game before — like me — are simply downloading the app to see what all the hullabaloo is about.
The next thing you know, they’re stopping in the middle of the sidewalk and wildly flicking their phone’s screen, yelling, “I caught a Rattata!”
It doesn’t matter that they don’t know what a Rattata is. They’ve just become addicted to Pokémon Go — not that that’s a bad thing.
The app has gotten millions of people worldwide off of their bums and heading outdoors. The last time I saw so many people walking around, it was 2014 and @HiddenCash was hiding envelopes of money in major cities and leaving clues on Twitter as to their whereabouts.
Fear of heart disease and obesity won’t get people to walk three miles, but a scavenger hunt for cash or virtual monsters sure will. Pokémon Go just might be the answer to childhood obesity.
“There’s a lot of perks to this game: socializing, looking at the nice scenery, the older buildings, getting out of the house,” Nevarez said. “I leave my house way more. If I’m not at work, I’m outside walking. It’s great!”
Sheri Netto, 44, said her 17-year-old son downloaded Pokémon Go the day it was released and in three days had already walked 20 miles to search for Pokémon.
I found Sheri standing near the 500 Club in Old Town with three of her coworkers. All four of them were either capturing or searching for Pokémon on their smartphones.
“I was telling my coworkers that I want to write a thank-you note to the people at Pokémon for getting him off the couch,” Netto said of her son. She and her coworkers also got plenty of exercise on their lunch break visiting Pokéstops together.
As newbies, they needed a quick tutorial on how to play. They got their answers within minutes of walking around Old Town.
“I stopped a kid and said, ‘Hey, you look like you’re playing.’ And he said ‘I am absolutely playing Pokémon Go,’” said Netto’s coworker, John Rios, 35. “He gave us all these pointers. It was really sweet because he would not have talked to us otherwise, but he was the nicest guy in the world.”
“It’s a really neat social experiment Going on; it’s really cool.”
The basics of the game, coming from me, a casual Level 8 player, are as follows:
Players walk around town looking for nearby Pokémon, which can be seen in a pop-up window on the smartphone’s lower right corner. The number of feet next to a Pokémon’s picture indicates how far away it is; three feet is far, zero feet means you’re right on top of it.
Players who reach level 5 by collecting enough Pokémon choose between three teams: Mystic, Instinct or Valor. They can then use those creatures to battle at gyms, marked by yellow, blue or red twirling targets on the app and try to claim them for their team.
Good old Festus, the statue near the EECU branch in Old Town, is one of several gyms in Clovis. It happens to be the gym where I attempted my first battle and lost horribly within seconds.
Gyms are not to be confused with the game’s light blue markers, called Pokéstops.
Pokéstops are landmarks around town where players can collect extra Pokéballs (for catching Pokémon), potions (for healing Pokémon hurt in battle), eggs (for hatching new Pokémon) and more.
Those landmarks usually have some cultural significance; they’re statues, murals, places of worship, memorials and the like.
“The beauty of the game is that it really does focus on the older buildings. They become icons in the game,” explained Nevarez. “So it makes it easier to go explore the older parts of town that are more historic.”
I’m certainly discovering things I never noticed before.
I came to a Pokéstop in Old Town and saw on the app that it was called the Kiwanis fountain. I am proud member of the Kiwanis Club of Old Town Clovis — and I didn’t know this fountain existed. Thank you, Pokémon Go.
Players who find eggs at Pokéstops can place them in a virtual incubator. They are then required to walk 2, 5 or 10 kilometers to get the egg to hatch into a Pokémon.
As one Twitter user pointed out, Pokémon Go has done more to solve childhood obesity in 24 hours than Michelle Obama has done in 8 years. I absolutely adore the First Lady, but that Tweet seems pretty truthful when you look outside today.
But I digress.
If I’ve already lost you with Poké-this and Poké-that, don’t worry. Just step outside and find a Pokémon Go player. They’re quite easy to spot.
I found Angelica Pizana, 23 and Andrew Watkins, 19, capturing a Zubat near Kuppa Joy in Old Town. They said more Pokémon Go players seem to come out in the evening and night hours, when the temperature is cooler.
“There’s about 50 people out there on one corner in Old Town at night,” Pizana said. “There’s a lot more out in Woodward Park. And I work at Fresno State; over there it’s pretty popular.”
Nicolette Perri, 45, is a bartender at Old Town Saloon. She and friend Ann Couto, 40, were walking down Pollasky Avenue staring at Perri’s phone after eating lunch at House of Juju.
“My son (Jordan Knight, 25) plays and I kept seeing on Facebook how everyone was talking about it,” Perri said, “so we downloaded it right there and caught two Pokémon inside the restaurant.”
The two were already enjoying the game after just 10 minutes of playing.
“It’s a very good idea to get kids out of the house,” Perri said. “However, it’s also bad because they’re not paying attention to where they’re walking and who is near them. It’s probably a good idea to play in pairs, so one person could watch out while the other is looking at the phone.”
That’s just what Roselle Enriquez was doing with her 9-year-old son, Sean. She walked behind him and kept an eye out along Pollasky Avenue while he used her smartphone to find Pokémon.
Sean shares the game with his sister, he said, and they play while their mom runs errands.
The scavenger-hunt style game reminds Clovis resident Joseph Trevino of geocaching, which he does with his roommate. Caches, or containers, of various sizes are stashed all over the world and their GPS coordinates are shared on www.geocaching.com for others to find.
Pokémon are hidden all over the world as well. The 34-year-old travels for work, so he enjoys spotting the creatures in other cities.
“My coworkers will be ready to get back in the van and go, but I’ll be walking the other way, finding Pokémon,” he said.
I have to admit, that’s exactly what happened to me during a recent lunch outing with my coworkers.
The Clovis Police Department has received several calls for service regarding suspicious activity and trespassing since Pokémon Go was launched. The department would like to remind players to stay safe and obey the law. Officials also have advice for concerned residents.
For Pokémon Go players:
▪ Going onto private property without the owner’s permission is considered trespassing. This includes front yards and especially back or side yards, officials said.
▪ Curfew for those under the age of 18 is 10 p.m.
▪ Wear bright colored clothing and carry a flashlight if playing at night.
▪ Pay attention while walking, and look up from your phone to look both ways before entering a crosswalk.
▪ Always know which cross streets are closest to you so that you can alert authorities of where you need help in case of an emergency.
▪ Watch your surroundings. Confirmed cases of robberies have occurred where the suspect will approach and steal property you have on you, including your phone.
▪ Always play with at least one other person, preferably an adult.
▪ The department has received several calls from residents regarding unknown people walking around, acting suspicious.
▪ Players that we have had contact with always have a cell phone, usually in their hand, and are walking or running in the area trying to find their virtual character. Most players are with at least another person and are sometimes in small groups.
▪ Regardless if you believe someone is playing a game, or acting suspicious to possibly commit a crime, call the police if you would like an officer to respond to check the area. Have the location, description of the person(s), and what they are doing to make you think it’s suspicious, officials said.
▪ Call 911 for emergencies and (559) 324-2800 for non-emergencies.