By now, you’ve probably noticed friends, neighbors and total strangers walking through your front yard or at a snail’s pace through popular Fresno gathering spots with their eyes glued to their smartphones. They’re yelling strange things like “I just caught a Rhyhorn!” and “look, a Pikachu!” as they stumble through shopping centers and parks.
This strange phenomenon entrancing millions across the country is called “Pokémon Go,” a free mobile game released last week in the Android and Apple stores. Forbes reported that 7.5 million people have downloaded the app in the United States in the last five days, already giving it a daily user base nearly as large as decade-old social media website Twitter.
“Everywhere I go, I’ve seen people playing,” said Jeremy Daniel, who created the Pokémon Go Fresno Twitter account to gather local players together safely. “We wanted to keep everyone in the Valley in touch about possible events. I’ve seen personal stories of people meeting and bonding over this mobile app.”
If you’ve grown into adolescence in the past 20 years, you probably heard of Pokémon. The video game franchise started in 1996 with the Japanese release of “Pokémon Red” and “Pokémon Green” for the Nintendo GameBoy. The franchise soon moved west in a big way, spawning dozens of sequel games, an extremely popular trading card franchise and a handful of movies and TV shows.
The craze has swept through Fresno with hundreds of people hitting the streets day and night in search of rare Pokémon, adorable cartoon monsters that appear in real-life locations via the “Pokémon Go” app working with a cellphone camera. The app is also similar to Geocaching in that it uses a phone’s GPS system to spread the 151 different Pokémon across the country.
Everywhere I go, I’ve seen people playing.
Jeremy Daniel, who created the
However, this does create safety issues. The game warns players to stay aware of their surroundings while searching for Pokémon, but that can sometimes be difficult.
The Clovis Police Department reported via the social media website Facebook the it has received several calls for service and at least one confirmed robbery related to people playing the game. It reminded residents to stay vigilant and noted that players must follow all laws, including not staying out past 10 p.m. if they are under 18 years old.
The local Caltrans district on Monday via Twitter warned against playing the game while driving.
The Associated Press also reported that several people have been injured while playing the game.
Regardless, a fever is clearly spreading across the country.
The latest Pokémon game distinguishes itself from its predecessors in that it is free, widely available on common devices and uses augmented reality, the melding of fictional game elements with real-world settings. Players can find Pokémon inside their living room or standing on the River Park sign in northeast Fresno.
A few popular meeting spots have emerged. Fresno City College and Fresno State have reportedly attracted roving bands of PokéManiacs every night since the game went live on July 6. Dozens of people circled the lakes at Woodward Park during the early evening hours of July 10, as these areas are some of the few places in Fresno that attract water-type Pokémon.
“Pokémon Go” isn’t just about catching the tiny monsters. It also includes training – raising a player’s Pokémon through battles with rival players. Training and moving through a central story line is the main focus of the Pokémon video games. Some of the creatures can even evolve into larger, stronger versions after winning enough of these battles.
As the latest installment in a much more open-ended experience without a plot, “Pokémon Go” developer Niantic Inc. created a new system in which popular local landmarks also serve as Pokémon gyms. Players can take control of these gyms by defeating the Pokémon left to defend them. Once you defeat a gym, you can leave one of your own Pokémon there to defend it from rivals. Catching and training Pokémon increases your trainer’s level, which allows the player to find stronger Pokémon.
There are dozens of gyms scattered throughout Fresno in obvious and not-so-obvious locations. The Fresno County Courthouse and the neighboring Fresno County Sheriff’s Office are both gyms. Hospitals like Community Regional Medical Center each have two gyms. The Carl’s Jr. restaurant on First Street and Herndon Avenue is also a gym.
The Fresno Zombie Society will host a “Go”-themed pub crawl in the Tower District at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Some seemingly obvious locations like Edwards Fresno Stadium 22 or Fresno City Hall did not make Niantic’s gym list. Instead, these landmarks are PokéStops – lesser locations where trainers can gather important items that help them along their journeys. Hundreds of PokéStops dot the Fresno landscape. Some are art pieces, like the murals found throughout downtown Fresno. Some are simply grocery stores or other blips on the map.
Because they contain several PokéStops, places like Courthouse Park and Fresno Pacific University attract the most players.
This system is noticeably dated. For example, “Pokémon Go” lists the World Sports Café in River Park as a PokéStop. The restaurant closed in January of 2014.
Although it is clearly a mobile game, “Pokémon Go” also markets itself as a fitness app. It is designed to get players out of the house in search of different Pokémon and gyms.
Former Bee copy editor Lisa Boyles tweeted that she reached level four by walking a 1.5-mile loop around her home. Fresno State, where Boyles works as a communications specialist, also tweeted out stories from several students doing the same and even offered tips Monday afternoon via its Snapchat account on where to find specific Pokémon.
The movement surrounding “Pokémon Go” has spawned at least one event. The Fresno Zombie Society will host a “Go”-themed pub crawl in the Tower District at 8 p.m. Saturday. The event invites players to catch Pokémon while visiting the various bars along the Tower District. As of Monday afternoon, nearly 500 people planned to attend and more than 1,500 said they were interested in going.
Daniel, the Pokémon Go Fresno Twitter architect, said his followers are also planning to meet at Woodward Park on Saturday afternoon to hang out and catch Pokémon.
“We saw other cities doing that – meeting at a central place and walking together,” Daniel said. “This gets people to go outside and get a little more exercise.”