Pokémon Go craze comes to Hastings

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In 1996, the world met what would become one of the most successful video games in the industry. Although sales had declined over the years, in July of 2016, the franchise made a comeback. What game “lured” people of all ages from all parts of the world to walk for miles with their eyes hypnotized by their smart phone screens? Pokémon Go, of course.
Pokémon Go, the descendant of the widely popular (for some) childhood game Pokémon, has seemingly everyone, everywhere wanting more. And Hastings has definitely not been immune to the recent craze.
“Anecdotally, I have seen quite a few kids/teens/adults out and about throughout the community here lately, and I’m sure some of those have been playing the game,” Director of Hastings Parks and Recreation Chris Jenkins said in an email. “I’m all (for seeing) people using the parks and trails in town for positive recreation!”
The new mobile augmented reality game, released July 6, sends players out into the “real world” to catch imaginary creatures called Pokémon. Players must walk around to locate and catch new Pokémon, collect items to use in the game and battle other players.
According to the iMore Pokémon 101 guide, the steps to this game are simple. After downloading the app onto any smart phone and signing up, players create an avatar. Then, would-be “trainers” enter the main space of the game: the map.
The app uses your phone’s GPS and online map data to track where you are located and reflects your location in real time.
“You’ll see (unmarked) roads, rustling grass (marking Pokémon in the area), and local landmarks disguised as PokéStops and Pokémon Gyms,” iMore suggests on the site. “As you move in the real world, your avatar does too. Pokémon will pop up on the map with a small vibration as you walk along, and if you tap on them, you can try to capture them.”
Aside from allowing players to catch Pokémon, the app also tracks how many kilometers you have traveled.
Hastings resident Shane Krahn said that he grew up playing Pokémon and since the game is very progressive, it causes you to want the “bigger, badder” Pokémon.
“We all grew up with the Game Boys and then it came back on the phone … it’s an excuse to get out and about and kind of go do stuff,” Krahn said.
While spending an enormous time outside since the game’s release, Krahn chuckled as he said that one of the game’s benefits is the ability to walk a lot and get “a suntan.”
“I’ve walked over 60 miles since the game came out. I’ve lost 10 pounds and that was pretty special,” Krahn said as he laughed.
Drew Gredzens, a Hastings resident, stopped by the Anderson Center in Red Wing on his break from work at the BIC Factory. Pokémon motivated Gredzens’ first visit to the sculpture garden.
“It’s nice to get outside,” he said. “I haven’t really explored Red Wing so much, and it’s kind of dead where I’m at in Hastings, so it’s kind of nice to come here. I haven’t gone exploring too far yet.”
He said he planned to go on more extensive Poke Ventures over the weekend.
Arloa Bach, executive director at the Red Wing Visitors and Convention Bureau, said she has noticed Pokémon Go has gotten more people outdoors.
“It definitely seems like residents and visitors are getting out and searching so they could be exposed to areas they don’t normally go while getting a little exercise,” she said. “Hopefully, they look up from their phones and enjoy their environment. I think this could be a great thing, as long as people remain aware of their surroundings and respectful of the areas in which they hunt.”
David Anderson, county coordinator at Live Well Goodhue County, said the app could help curb a trend of decreased physical activity among kids and adolescents, which he attributed to increased access to computers, television and automobiles as a mode of transport.
“It’s a modern-day version of a scavenger hunt, and from what I’ve read it really is getting people out and moving, walking, biking,” he said. “When you look at it that way, it is a good thing because people, especially young kids, have been spending a lot of time on their computers and phones, sitting. So, now they’re moving at the same time and it’s bringing families together doing activities.”
Staying safe
While the app promotes fun over anything else, there are some dangers associated with the game.
Since the game requires one to look down at their phones in order to identify different stops and Pokémon, the ability to pay attention to your surroundings automatically decreases.
“The dangers, however, of watching your phone and not watching where you’re walking … that’s pretty much the only drawback,” Hancock said.
Different Pokémon can be found just about anywhere, including the middle of roads, bodies of water and other places that could be dangerous, especially for younger players.
In addition to dangerous locations, trespassing has become an issue for some players as some Pokémon exist on private properties.
In Hastings, Chief of Police Bryan Schafer has noticed kids all around playing the game and while he thinks it’s a great way to get kids out and about, he has noticed them not being aware of their surroundings.
Schafer said that kids need to watch out for traffic as there are risks of getting hit by cars or bicycles or evening just running into traffic.
Amongst other concerns are theft. Schafer said it isn’t a problem in the Hastings community, but seeing so many kids with smart phones out could be a trigger for potential thieves.
“I know in other communities, cell phones are a target for theft,” he said. “Makes it an easy target for someone to steal a phone.”
Aside from danger, Schafer said that the game has done something really great thus far: increase crime prevention.
He said that having groups of kids all interacting and spending time outside is one of the best principles of “crime prevention 101.”
In the meantime, he said that his officers are also asking seasoned players more about the game in order to understand more about the trend.
Jenkins said that thus far, the game has not caused any trouble at local parks.
“To date, (there have been) no issues with park users participating in this game, and I’m very hopeful that trend continues,” Jenkins said in an email. “To me, and for park use, this game is along the same lines as geocaching, both of which are fairly un-intrusive to parks and other park users.”
A social experience
People of all ages are playing the game; even parents who watched their kids play Pokémon growing up are getting a hold of the game.
Karen Hancock of Hastings is one of those parents. Although she never payed much attention to the game while her kids played it on other gaming devices, she said, she loves how this version is much more interactive.
“It’s a much more sociable game. Again, you’re not behind a screen by yourself or sitting in front of your TV, you’re out and about with other people, so it’s a conversation starter for people … so many different people and you see people that are young kids, all the way up until grandparents ages and so it cuts across all kinds of demographics,” Hancock said, smiling.
While she just got a smart phone a few weeks ago and has only been playing the game for a few days, she said she loves how the game gives her a chance to come to downtown Hastings more often.
“I’m working on hatching my first egg, so I’m kind of excited about that, so small goals are nice to have, but I do find it does get me out and about considerably more often than I would … the fact that there’s so much associated with the game down here on the (Hastings) RiverWalk is really cool,” she said.
Hancock is not alone; the Hastings RiverWalk is a location of choice for many players.
PokéStops and Pokémon gyms can be found in several locations. In Levee Park between the Highway 61 bridge and Tyler Street, you can find eight PokéStops and one Gym.
Spread out around the rest of downtown Hastings are another three Gyms and 18 additional PokéStops.
PokéStops bring players to features like information signs along the riverfront trail, the mural at Oliver’s Grove Park, buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, City Hall and more.
How popular is the game?
While Nintendo hasn’t yet released any official numbers on the game’s usage, a few sources have done their own research on estimated values.
USA Today claims that downloads of the game have reached around 15 million while Survey Monkey reports 21 million downloads since the game’s launch this month.
To top it all off, according to CNBC, Nintendo’s shares have skyrocketed by 60 percent year-to-date due to the game’s release.
With popularity rising, one thing stays the same: Hastings residents interacting with each other while playing the game.
“The game is kind of secondary, it’s the whole idea that everybody’s kind of doing something at the same time and everybody’s sort of getting into it at the same time,” Hancock said.
Maureen McMullen, (mmcmullen@rivertowns.net) contributed to this article.