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‘Pokemon Go’ has gamers chasing elusive virtual reality characters in real life environment

By Marlana Ward

It has been said that kids today spend too much time inside playing video games.  Recently, an app was introduced that brought the world of virtual reality away from the computer and into the great outdoors.  Pokemon Go has swept the nation and people of all ages can be seen throughout towns and countrysides chasing elusive pokemon characters.
Pokemon Go is available on many smart phone models through service providers’ app stores.  Once the app is downloaded, a user can customize an avatar, or online character, to represent themselves in the Pokemon world.  This on screen character responds and moves on screen as the player moves in real life.
What sets this game apart from other smart phone games is the coupling of online gaming in a real-life environment.  The phone’s gps system guides players to designated “Pokestops” where they can retrieve virtual items to be used within the game.  Also on the map are “Pokegyms”.  The gyms are where players can use their pokemon to battle the rival pokemon of other players.
The pokemon creatures themselves can appear anywhere.  When a pokemon appears within a player’s active radius, the player can attempt to capture the elusive creature.  A pokemon is captured within a poke-ball when the player swipes the ball toward the pokemon’s hitbox drawing the character inside.  Most low-level characters can be captured quite easily while higher ranked pokemon can take several attempts before they are tamed and added to a players “Pokedex“.
Pokemon Go has been extremely popular with the gaming community in Mountain City.  The game’s mapping system uses the GoogleMaps library of landmarks to determine the placing of pokestops and pokegyms.  Most area churches are recognized as pokestops and have seen an increase in visitors to their properties as people travel to see what items their stop contains.  Some churches have embraced this opportunity by placing signs welcoming players to visit and taking the chance to speak to them about church services and activities.
Downtown Mountain City has seen an increase in foot traffic as groups of friends and entire families set out to discover more stops and characters within the town’s perimeter.  Ralph Stout Park is a popular stop with Pokemon fans as it is a highly concentrated area for stops and the open areas make it easy to explore and play.
While most players recognize the need for caution while playing the game, news headlines have been filled with stories of players being hurt while playing Pokemon Go.  While a player’s attention is on their phone screen, they may not be paying attention to their surroundings.  The game itself warns players to always be aware of their surroundings though some ignore the warnings and fall into danger.
Some safety considerations to keep in mind while playing Pokemon Go are:
– Never play pokemon while driving.  Closing the app completely before driving makes sure you are not tempted to look at your phone while operating a motor vehicle.
–  If possible, travel with a friend or group of friends when setting out on a Pokemon finding adventure.  Having additional people will make it less likely you fail to see dangers or obstacles as you journey looking for stops and characters.
–  Never pass on to private property to retrieve a pokemon.  The game does not differentiate between public lands and private property.  Care must be taken to respect property laws as you play.
–  Be aware that opportunistic thieves or worse have the same ability to see Pokestops and gyms as game players. This makes it imperative that you monitor an area upon approach being observant of any other people or vehicles that are present.
–  If a situation feels unsafe, turn around and leave immediately.  No game character or item is worth your personal safety.
Potential players should also pay special attention to the terms and conditions of downloading the Pokemon Go app.  The game requires access to your phone’s gps and camera as well as some personal information used to log into the game’s server.  If you are uncomfortable giving certain access to the provider and developer of the game, you will not want to download the app.  The game will not function without these permissions.  It is important to take time to read and understand what any app requires before installing it on your phone or mobile device.
As long as players use common sense and observant eyes, Pokemon Go can be a great activity to get families and friends out and active together.  The game can also be a great way for Mountain City’s public areas to see renewed interest as players explore parks and landmarks that they may have never noticed before.  Pokemon Go has brought the video game world outside like never before as people of all ages head out because as every Pokemon fan knows, you “Gotta Catch ’Em All”.