Pokémon Go captures Orange County

Published 11:48 am Wednesday, July 13, 2016

By Trevier Gonzalez

The Orange Leader

It’s a phenomenon that’s recently crept into the newsfeed of many Facebook users, practically taking over the United States — and the Orange area is no exception.

For those who may be puzzled by seeing groups of middle-aged adults with smartphones in-hand wandering about the streets, passing through areas like the Stark House or even local churches, they’re probably not touring the area or considering to attend Sunday’s service. Odds are, they’re playing Pokémon Go.

Pokémon itself, or “Pocket Monsters” is a series that originated in 1996, published by Nintendo for the 8-bit handheld device, the Game Boy, featuring a total of 151 Pokémon to catch, train and battle in its first generation.

Today, the Nintendo title is now 20 years old, with over 700 different types of Pokémon, and even more to come as the seventh generation approaches with the upcoming release of “Pokémon Sun and Moon.”

According to a Google Trends search, however, within the past ten years, the series’ popularity with the overall public could be best-described as stagnant.

That is, until this month.

Released in the U.S. just last week for iPhone and Android devices, the “Real World Adventure” app, “Pokémon Go” is currently topping the charts for both the Google Play Store and the iTunes App Store. Utilizing augmented reality as well as a mobile device’s GPS settings, players are able to capture Pokémon in real-world locations noticeable similar to how it was decades ago.

Winters Crook, of Bride City, recalls Pokémon as one of the very first games she played on the Game Boy Color. She would also watch the television show religiously.

“The addiction started early,” Crook said. “Seeing it now makes me feel like that eight-year-old kid again.”

Although it may not play exactly like its predecessors from the past, Crook said it still maintains the heart of what Pokémon is truly about.

“It feels different and the same,” she said. “It feels the same because it gives me that really excited feeling when I catch something, (but) it’s different because I actually feel like a Pokémon trainer.”

Alex Kolar, of Orangefield, also enjoyed the Pokémon series at the age of eight. He too recalls playing the original game, as well as participating in the trading card game.

With “Pokémon Go” being designed for mobile devices, Kolar said this game sets itself apart from every title before it.

“It incorporates the world around you instead of just the world within your handheld device,” he said. “It’s definitely an interesting way to spend time as long as you manage it well.”

While the original games didn’t require movement, the company that developed the application, Niantic, designed “Pokémon Go” with the intentions of changing the way in which people interact with the world and socialize.

“Movement is a great addition,” Kolar said. “Not only does it promote exercise in a fun and immersive way, it keeps you feeling as if you’re part of the game.”

Pokéstops are real-life locations that provide items within the game that act as an incentive for players to progress. However, Pokémon are not the only thing trainers can end up discovering.

“I’m learning more about my town from this app than I have from living here 23 years,” Crook said. “I have seen the Stark House a million times, but have never really stopped to look at it.

“The app led me to the house. I collected my items then began to research the Starks. I knew they had a large impact on our community but I had no idea how huge the impact was.”

Crook said exercise is an unexpected benefit that came out of playing the game.

“Today alone, I have already walked two-and-a-half miles,” Crook said. “Any app that can make me want to do that is worth the free download.”

On top of learning about her city and having a healthier lifestyle, Crook said she loves that fact that she’s been meeting other trainers along the way.

“I’ve already met so many people,” Crook said. “It’s nice to see so many people coming together — outside.”

Crook said she’s also seen 40 and 50-year-olds catching Pokémon during her adventures. Even though some trainers may not share the same relationship that she does with Pokémon, it makes her happy seeing how it’s still capable of bringing enjoyment to others.

Towards the beginning of the game, there are three separate groups to choose from. Despite the petty rivalries that form from choosing between Team Mystic, Team Valor or Team Instinct, Crook said “Pokémon Go” provides an atmosphere for everyone to be a part of.

“It’s very nice to see people of all ages and ethnicities just having a good time, especially with all the violence lately in the world,” Crook said. “I love when people can come together and just laugh and smile. It’s something we all take for granted sometimes, and as cheesy as it sounds — this app brings joy to people. I adore that.”