Catch ‘Em All in Bozeman!
On a warm Saturday evening in late July, I took a walk through the Bozeman Sculpture Park around the Public Library. Most of the benches were full and the lawn was dotted with groups of two or more, some had blankets spread out. A casual observer might think an event was soon to begin. A closer look revealed each person with a smart phone in hand, all displaying the same blue and green patterned screen. Once identified, the PokemonGo players became obvious. They appeared to range in age from eight to sixty, all chatting, laughing, discussing strategy and of course, catching Pokemon! A few bicyclists cruised by (but not too fast, then your eggs won’t hatch!) with phone holders on the handle bars. Players passing on the trails gave each other knowing smiles and nods. Occasionally they stop to chat and compare notes with others.
So what exactly is this weird game and why is it so wildly popular? PokemonGo is a location-based augmented reality game, developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. Contrary to the way it seems, this is not the first game of its type or even the first released by this company. A.R. technology uses the phone’s camera to display images (in this case Pokemon creatures) in your real world setting.
It would be easy to say I started playing PokemonGo after I got the idea to write this article, but that would not be true. I started playing out of sheer curiosity. Having grown up a child of the 80’s, I was not familiar with Pokemon before I downloaded the game. I’d heard of it and I thought Pikachu was super cute but I didn’t know anything else! After a few weeks of reading about the controversies surrounding the game and witnessing/experiencing it being played in my community, I thought it would be interesting to explore all sides of this new cultural phenomenon.
Most players I encounter admit to playing with a shrug and a smile. Many say they play because it’s fun and gives them something to do, and is a reason to gather with friends. Some played different versions of Pokemon games on consoles or the trading card version; some have been fans of the cartoon series.
People I spoke to around local Pokestops (places in Pokemon Go that allow you to collect items such as eggs and more Poke Balls to capture more Pokemon), gave different reasons for playing but they almost all had the same major motivator: it gets us outside and encourages us to move around. Many downloaded the game out of curiosity, like I did, and found that it encourages them to make a morning walk just a little bit longer. I’ve encountered several families out and about playing together. One teenager told me everyone in her family is playing, from young cousins all the way up to her grandmother! Some parents said they play as a way to get some “me time.”
Depending on where you start counting, there are 15-20 Pokestops in the vicinity of the Bozeman Public library plus two Pokegyms (places where players can gather to battle for supremacy using their newly-caught Pokémon). On the Eastern section of Main Street, there are one or two stops on every corner. Considering that after you grab your goodies (usually Pokeballs and/or recovery potions) a stop will refresh in about five minutes, one can walk a couple of miles in a short amount of time and make decent progress in the game. Players can also obtain “Lures” to set at a Pokestop, which will attract Pokemon to that location for 30 minutes. Many of the people stationed in the sculpture park were using them.
One local business owner I encountered initially downloaded the game to see if it could tie into her business but hasn’t yet figured out a way. A downtown Bozeman retail worker talked about players who came in tentatively asking permission to catch the Pikachu inside.
As with everything, while there are many positive attributes and stories related to PokemonGo, there are also negative aspects. Distracted driving and trespassing are major issues. And while players are finding dates, friendships and camaraderie at Pokestops, muggings and other crimes are occurring at some locations.
An update released in early August contained additional safety messages, reminding players not to trespass or enter unsafe areas. It also can detect when you’re traveling at high speeds and produces a pop up message discouraging playing while driving and forcing one to click “I’m a passenger” in order to continue playing.
I’ve been heckled by passing cars while standing along the road in my neighborhood fighting at a Pokegym. I’ve been asked by strangers how old I am while playing the game in public. Do I feel silly sometimes? Sure. Will I play forever? Most likely not. But it’s fun to be part of a cultural phenomenon and I’ve had some interesting conversations with nice people around local Pokestops.
The only people I’ve talked to who think the game is stupid are the people who have never played it! If you’re curious, I encourage you to give it a try. Pay attention to your surroundings, use common sense and go check out the Bozeman Sculpture Park!
You can learn all about PokemonGo at www.pokemongo.com You can find information on the amazing artwork at the Bozeman Sculpture Park at www.gallatinartcrossing.com