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Pokémon Go makes a big splash in Claremont

Scores of mostly young people were out and about in the Village this week as the wildly popular Pokémon Go game took hold here—and across the globe.

The game was released July 6 and has quickly become a sensation. Edmond Emami, 23, of Pomona, was playing Pokémon Go in the Village Monday evening.

“When I was 10 years old, it was the rage to play Pokémon,” Mr. Emami said. “It was super cool. It’s really nostalgic for my childhood, and so when this came out I was like, ‘Oh snap!’ I remember when I was really young I wanted to be a Pokémon master, I mean, a lot of us did. I know this sounds really cheesy, but now we can go outside to different places and catch Pokémon, and I think that’s really cool.”

Pokémon Go is a free “augmented reality” game for iOS and Android smart devices in which players must physically move around the real world in order to capture Pokémon (short for pocket monsters), which are fantastical creatures from the ever-popular anime franchise of the same name.

To play Pokémon Go, users must download and open the app and create an account. They are then greeted by an avatar standing in the middle of a map of wherever the players are located. The app tracks player locations via GPS as they walk around the city looking for Pokémon characters like Pidgey, Rattata, Drowzee and Pikachu.

When players are in the vicinity of a Pokémon, their phone will vibrate and the Pokémon appears on the map. When players touch the map, the device switches to camera mode, showing the Pokémon standing wherever it happens to be.

To catch a Pokémon, users obtain Pokéballs by checking in at Pokéstops [po-kee-stops]. Pokéstops are attached to local landmarks or areas of interest such as churches, street art, fountains and parks. When players get within range of these spots and select them on the app map, the game produces an assortment of items, including the coveted Pokéballs, which are used to capture the Pokémon.

The game has multiple levels, depending on the strength of the player’s Pokémon, with the opportunity to “level up” and joining teams to fight in Pokémon gyms where players’ Pokémon fight other gamers’ characters.

Tafari Richards, 18, from Fontana, said he was having a great time playing in the Village on Monday.

“I didn’t play Pokémon in my childhood, and I don’t really know a lot about it. But what drew me to it is the fact that all my friends were super happy,” he said. “They were in touch with their childhood again, and I was like ‘You know, I’ll try it.’”

For local moms and dads, the app has been an answer to previously unheeded prayers.

“The kids are walking with their computers instead of staying inside the house!” observed mother Kristy Williams, 45, from Pomona. Indeed, Ms. Williams’ family, including her husband Mark Williams, 51, sons Cory Welsh, 23, and Zackary Williams, 8, were all out walking together Monday capturing Pokémon near the Claremont Colleges.

The family plays video games together often and Cory Welsh played the original Pokémon game as a child. He said the new version is much different.

“It was very simple then,” he said. “This one is much more complicated, [because of] the fact that you’re walking around playing the game and not just sitting at a computer or with just your device.”

Claremont’s Dylan Bender, 17, agreed.

“I love the fact that I can actually go outside and catch all kinds of Pokémon,” he said. “It was cool to see the old Pokémon from the original games. I think it’s very cool to relive playing the old games but with a new perspective.”

Pizza ‘N Such General Manager Laura Verbal was a first-hand witness to the game’s sudden popularity. Ms. Verbal began seeing kids congregate near the restaurant at Second Street and Yale Avenue on Monday. Apparently, the Village eatery was designated a Pokéstop.

“It seems everyone playing is having fun with it,” Ms. Verbal said. “The customers are playing in the restaurant, my employees are interacting with the customers playing and the groups of people outside. I’ve even seen a few employees run outside on their breaks trying to catch Pokémon on Second Street. It’s definitely creating an energetic buzz in the Village—plus we are benefiting with new customers dining in.”

Indeed, it did seem this week that most everyone was talking about, if not playing, Pokémon Go. As of Tuesday, the game had been downloaded a staggering 7.5 million times. The game’s daily usage popularity at press time was eclipsing that of Facebook, was nearing the numbers for the ubiquitous Twitter, and was far outdistancing the popular adult site Tinder, according to Forbes.

Early reports of the game’s potential negative impacts—robberies, injuries, etc.—seem to have been exaggerated, based on the sheer number of players.

In St. Louis this week, four teens used the game’s “lure” module, which allows gamers to entice both Pokémon and fellow players to a location, to stage up to 11 robberies in the area before finally getting caught. Another Pokémon-related robbery was reported by police in Omaha, and in Baltimore three people were robbed at gunpoint while playing the game, although authorities said they weren’t certain whether the victims were lured through the game or were simply targeted due to their distraction and openly-displayed smartphones.

At the least, it is feasible playing Pokémon Go while walking the streets could cause persons to become less aware of their surroundings.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department this week issued the following somewhat playful guidelines for players:

• Don’t play while driving. The last thing we need is a dead Pokémon. 

• Stay vigilant as you play. Distraction can cause injuries, especially when you walk into traffic.

• Play in well-lit areas. As far as we know, there are no glow-in-the-dark Pokémon.

• If you suspect you are being followed, yell for help and use your phone to call 911. 

• Gamers are strangers, too. Just because they like Pokémon does not mean they will be nice to you. Be cautious of being lured into a bad situation.

• Pokémon have homes too … just not yours. So if you are not invited, stay out of private property. We can guarantee you won’t find Pokémon in a jail.

• Although you may not be able to battle your real-life BFF, you can definitely teach him some things. So have him walk with you.

Though at press time the game had been released for just a few days, and only in the US, New Zealand, the UK, Germany and Australia, its financial impact was nonetheless stunning.

Nintendo Co., which co-owns Pokémon Go with game developer Niantic, producer Pokémon Co. and Google, saw its shares climb 13 percent on Tuesday to $222.16 in Tokyo trading following a 25 percent surge on Monday. The surge pushed the video game maker’s market capitalization above $30 billion. In all, Nintendo added $12 billion to its value in just a week, and that figure is based on Tuesday’s numbers. Forbes estimated this week the game was generating $1.6 million per day in US revenue alone, just at Apple’s iOS store. Those figures are bound to go up as new data emerges. Not a bad return on a reported $30 million investment to bring the game to market, according to the Wall Street Journal.

While Pokémon Go is a free download, and the game is free to play, the source of its revenue stream lies in add-ons. According to the Pokémon Company website, certain items and features can be accessed via in-app purchases. Players can spend real money on PokéCoins, the in-game currency of Pokémon Go, to purchase power-ups, extra items and other enhancements.

Thus far, the local impact of the craze has been only fun, for players and observers alike.

“It’s totally different,” said Mr. Richards. “It’s not something that you sit down and play for hours in one spot, and that’s the cool thing. I appreciate how everyone’s outside kind of getting to know each other and interacting with each other in a different way.”

—Mick Rhodes

mickrhodes@claremont-courier.com

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