If you’ve noticed groups of people walking around, staring at their phones and wandering aimlessly, it’s more than likely they’re playing Pokemon Go.
The virtual reality game for mobile devices was released less than two weeks ago and has taken the nation and community by storm.
The smartphone app has been downloaded millions of times and now has millions of daily users.
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Pokemon, Japanese for pocket monsters, was released as a Gameboy game in the 1990s. It featured 150 virtual animals, and the goal of the game was for the player to catch, train and battle virtual animals against other players.
The Pokémon franchise has been re-incarnated in many forms since the original release, including in board games, cartoons, collector cards and action figures.
Pokemon Go, based upon the original game, is just the latest, but it takes the Pokemon experience and player interaction to a whole new level.
The game, developed by Niantic and published by The Pokemon Co., is not the first Pokemon game to incorporate walking, as some of the earlier incarnations included a pedometer that affected the game.
It might, however, be the most successful considering the growing number of active users.
“This game is a movement,” said Garan Terrell of Scottsburg.
“It is helping the socially awkward get out and meet people, and it is helping obese people get exercise,” said Terrell, a Brownstown native who often plays the game in Seymour. “It brings friends and family together, and for a video game, that’s pretty admirable.”
The game presents a map of the player’s area in real time. To move, the player must physically walk in search of any of the 151 known Pokemon characters in the game. All but six of the Pokemon creatures have been found by players.
By walking further, players can hatch eggs, which contain a random Pokemon character of varied rarity depending on the distance needed to open that egg. That can be around a mile to more than six miles.
Although Pokemon Go promotes physical activity as players have to get out and explore their community, there are some safety issues related to the game that are causing some concern.
The activity has led to a rash of distracted participants becoming involved in accidents. There have been reports of people walking into street lamps, signs and even traffic. There was even a recent news account of two players walking off a cliff in California.
Locally, law enforcement have checked out at least one incident involving Pokemon Go.
“We did have one call about a suspicious person pulling into driveways then backing out and leaving. When we checked, that’s what he said he was doing, but that’s been the only one so far,” said Lt. Andy Wayman with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department. “So far, it’s not become a problem.”
Nancy Franke of Seymour plays Pokemon Go with her children and said if people aren’t careful and aren’t paying attention, the game can be a dangerous distraction.
She said she has seen people walking into other people or objects along the sidewalk and said it’s not hard to imagine people walking into traffic.
The game also can make players vulnerable to pickpockets or people looking to assault individuals who are distracted. There have been national news reports of players being lured to isolated places and being robbed.
Some local companies have even taken steps to address such safety issues.
Jackson County REMC recently released a news bulletin asking players to stay away from power lines, transformer substations and all electrical equipment.
Those concerns, however, haven’t kept people from playing.
“I love seeing people come together no matter the reason. I love that it encourages people to get out and explore,” said Shawn Malone, a member of the Seymour City Council.
Once a Pokemon is found, a three-dimensional version of it is projected on the player’s smartphone, making it look as if the creature has crossed into the real world.
Captured Pokemon are added to the player’s collection and can be trained to make them stronger, renamed and used to battle other Pokémons at designated stations or gyms.
Players are divided into three teams — Mystic (blue), Instinct (Yellow) and Valor (Red) — and the teams try to protect their own gyms.
The worst outcome of a battle is that the Pokemon will “faint,” but it then can be brought back using an in-game item.
Items can be found at Pokestops, which are virtual stops set up on the map. These often take the form of markers for historical events, businesses, social gathering spots or churches. Pokestops are where the social aspect of the game comes in.
It’s not uncommon to see people wandering around or gathered in cemeteries, around churches or at a park.
Certain items, such as Pokeballs, can be used to “lure” Pokemon to the stops, attracting more people to those areas.
“I think it’s a phenomenal game,” Terrell said of players meeting and conversing. “It brings people from every culture together. It is good, clean fun.”
The game is allowing players to meet new people whom they may have never met without Pokemon Go.
Malone, who plays the game with his wife, Jennifer, said they recently met some people at the downtown pocket park.
“During one of our excursions, we discovered about a dozen people in the pocket park,” Malone said. “I mentioned I was looking to update my web info and hired a young man on the spot. We met the next day. Networking at its finest.”
Malone also has used Pokémon Go to attract customers to his business, The Brooklyn Pizza Co., on the city’s west side.
Franke, a Seymour Community School Corp. board member, also has met some new people while playing.
“What was truly enjoyable is kicking up conversations with complete strangers who are all on the hunt and helping each other out,” Franke said.
Chelsie York of Seymour said the game has brought her family together.
“Both of our boys love it,” York said. “When we drive anywhere, we give them the phone and let them hit up Pokestops.”