Hordes of youths, teens and even 20-somethings are stumbling along Island roadways staring at their phones. While it may seem like they’re enacting a zombie invasion, they’re just gamers taking part in a new experience sweeping the nation called Pokémon Go.
The game makes use of the powerful smartphones features, including GPS, that enable players to find and catch virtual Pokémon characters lurking in real places. Local users are raving about it.
“I love that it is interactive,” said Violet Denckla, 15, one of a quartet of Island summer residents who work at the Pridwin Hotel and were hunting Pokémon in the Center on Monday afternoon. “It gets you out to explore your neighborhood.”
The Pokémon Go app became available for free on July 6 to all iPhone and Android users and the popularity of the long-beloved game put the new way to play at the top of the list of most downloaded apps on iTunes.
First introduced in 1996 for Nintendo Game Boy, Pokémon began as a video game and branched off into numerous variations, including card-swapping and on-line games.
Because the new iteration takes users out to search for Pokémon characters on streets, in parks and at other public sites, the opening screen carries a warning: “Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.” It most certainly should not be played while riding a bicycle or skateboard, or worse, while driving.
Already Internet stories abound about players injuring themselves playing Pokémon Go, and, in one widely reported incident, being lured by robbers using it. On Shelter Island, teens who were roaming in the Center late Sunday had to explain to police that they were just playing a sort of treasure hunt.
“The technology is so cool,” said Ben Jenkins, 15, one of the Pridwin group who found a “Bulbasaur” on the driveway at police headquarters on Monday afternoon. He would’ve talked longer, but was distracted when another of the gang, Seneca Petry, 15, warned, “Hey! That’s my ‘Diglet.’”
To “catch” a Pokémon, gamers first have to find them, which they do by opening the app and then wandering around, eyes glued to their phone screen, watching for one to appear. When it does, players flick a “pokeball.” If they capture the Pokémon, they can train it and use it in battles with other players.
Stefan Kasowitz, 14, another of the Pridwin quartet, while rushing off to find more Pokemon, said what most amazes him is that it’s someone’s job to sit in an office somewhere and plant Pokémon in the real world.
“That’s really cool,” he said.