I was buying groceries at my neighborhood Kroger Saturday when the cashier yawned, rolled his eyes and said something that caught me off guard.
“I can’t wait until my shift is over so I can go catch some Pokémon.”
He was, of course, talking about the new smartphone game, Pokémon Go. The man was easily in his late 20s – in every practical sense, he was an adult. But he was talking about catching Pokémon. You know, those cartoon creatures that kids loved in the '90s? Yeah, those.
And he wasn’t alone.
Word spread that Hyde Park Square and Kings Island were hot spots for rare Pokémon. I got a news tip that a group of people were trying to catch fictional Japanese animals at an East Price Hill cemetery. The castle outside WCPO is even a “gym,” or a place where you can train and battle your Pokémon.
The entire world was talking about this game. This was fantasy, but it was real. It’s something called augmented reality, and you’re about to see a lot more of it.
What the heck is this all about?
When I finally got home, I unpacked my groceries and downloaded the app. About three minutes later, I caught a Bulbasaur under my kitchen table. I was hooked.
If you weren’t a kid in the '90s (I was) or don’t have kids of your own, you’re probably asking yourself: What’s a Bulbasaur? What is this game? Why am I reading this?
Let me break it down for you:
Pokémon Go uses your smartphone’s GPS to convert where you’re standing and the neighborhood around you into a fictional world filled with Pokémon. If you move around in real life while holding your phone in front of you, Pokémon will appear on your screen sitting and standing in your environment.
Here are some of the funnier examples:
Playing Pokemon Go outside wondering if my neighbors think I'm a creepy girl taking photos of their house. pic.twitter.com/XIbSsyoDZW
— Jamaica dela Cruz (@jamaicadelacruz) July 6, 2016
— Thuy Ong (@ThuyOng) July 6, 2016
— (@Shironeki) July 6, 2016
If you see me in the middle of the ocean tonight, just know I am catching a Lugia. #PokemonGO
— Jesimein (@Jesimein) July 7, 2016
You can catch, upgrade and train these Pokémon to do battle with other app users. The more you explore the world around you (and I’m talking about the actual world around you, not a fake one) the better your odds will be of finding rarer, more powerful Pokémon to add to your repertoire. The game basically encourages you to leave your house and to travel around your neighborhood to become a “Pokémon master.”
All those people you see walking around your neighborhood staring at their phones – yeah, they’re catching Pokémon. According to Forbes, the game is so popular, it’s on the verge of overtaking Twitter in terms of daily active users on Android.
How on earth could this go wrong?
Catching more than just Pokémon
As you can imagine, staring at a phone while exploring the outdoors can get risky. These are just a few highlights (or low points):
Thieves in Missouri robbed 11 people between the ages of 16 and 18 at gunpoint Sunday using the Pokémon Go app. Sergeant Bill Stringer of the O’Fallon Police Department told news outlets the criminals set up a beacon at a “Pokéstop” within the game to lure players to secluded areas where they would then rob them of their personal belongings.
- Buzzfeed News reported car crashes caused by people attempting to catch Pokémon while driving. If you thought texting and driving was bad, here’s a guy who posted online about playing the game while behind the wheel:
On Friday, a Wyoming woman found a dead body while playing the game. Shayla Wiggins, 19, found a man’s body in Big Wind River. She called 911 and detectives arrived.
"I was walking towards the bridge along the shore when I saw something in the water," she told County 10. "I had to take a second look and I realized it was a body."
- Police in Australia sent out a warning to Pokémon Go players last Wednesday, telling them to look “away from your phone and both ways before crossing the street.” People also continued to walk into a police station there in an effort to gain “Poké balls” in the game. The department had to tell followers on social media to stop entering the building.
Now look, it’s not all bad
We talked to Cincinnati police, who said they hadn’t experienced any problems associated with Pokémon Go. They were even interested in trying the game for themselves.
"I was not sure what it was until this morning,” Cincinnati Police Lt. Steve Saunders said Monday. “I may download it to see what it looks like."
In an effort to keep people safe (and make a little money), some members of the community have been creating side businesses known as “Pokémon Go Taxis.”
It’s exactly what you think. Justin Fox Addington posted in a Northern Kentucky Facebook group that he would drive up to four people wherever they wanted for $30 an hour so they could "catch Pokémon."
“After the time is up, I’ll drive them home,” Addington wrote. “Be safe! Don’t play while driving.”
There’s also the whole "going outdoors" thing. Catching these digital monsters puts more people in touch with nature. It forces shut-ins to explore the communities they live in.
As one of our web editors, Pat LaFleur, puts it: “You can't deny that this thing, in a single weekend, got thousands of people (in this city alone) up off their butts, out into the streets, walking around, exploring their neighborhoods and meeting new neighbors.”
That’s pretty cool.
So if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna’ go check the newsroom to see if there’s a Charizard hiding around here.