The Pokemon Go phenomenon is gaining steam with every new update. Since it was introduced less than two weeks ago, there are millions of users. And people have formed strong opinions for, and against, the interactive, mobile game. One clan in Haines is touting family, fun, and fitness as its biggest motivators for playing the increasingly-popular pastime.
It’s a sunny Saturday in Haines and residents and visitors are out in droves enjoying the warm weather. If you look closely, it’s easy to spot those simply wandering around taking in the sights. And then there are those on the hunt.
“We’re going to find Pokemons.”
“I’m trying to catch as many as possible.”
“I’m only Level 7.”
“I am Level 16 right now.”
That’s 71-year-old Pam Randles, her grandchildren Gina Randles and Riyan Stossel, and family friend Anthony Wilson. We meet at Tlingit Park in the early afternoon. Pam’s family is running late. But she’s got her backpack, her iPad and an ice cream cone – because, why not? – and she’s ready for another Pokemon Go session.
“I still am learning it,” Randles says. “My grandkids are much better at it then I am. For me, it’s like geocaching. It’s walking around and finding things and then I’m out walking around, and that’s cool. The little monster things are really cute. And I can get in the number of steps I need every day, and it’s fun!”
The rest of the gang is all really in to Pokemon, and have been since the trend started as a card game back in the ‘90s. There are plenty to catch, enhance and battle in the Adventure Capital of Alaska. And despite sometimes slow or sketchy internet connections in Haines, especially on Wednesdays, there are dozens of players in town. At least. Here’s Wilson, Gina Randles, and Stossel.
“You can’t do anything with cruise ship days, it takes up all the cell service and it just blocks. Unless you have your own personal wifi and can stay near it.”
Gina: “Another thing is that this was such an unexpected popularity-type deal. The Pokemon Go app came out and it was so popular, everyone got it, and the servers weren’t prepared for that kind of …”
Stossel: “They weren’t expecting that kind of exposure.”
We head out across the park and toward the closest Pokestop, where players can re-up supplies needed in the game.
It’s the totem pole at Lookout Park. There are also Pokestops and Pokegyms scattered throughout downtown, including one at the Hammer Museum.
So, before we go any further, the basic object of the game is to “capture” Pokemon. You get points and other goodies that all aid in climbing to higher levels of the game. The game plops you, or, rather, your avatar, into a world that’s based on your actual environment. It’s called augmented reality and it uses Google Maps and GPS. Pokemon can pop up wherever and you catch them by throwing Pokeballs until they get trapped inside. Now it’s yours. Once you’ve captured your pocket monster, you can train them, enhance them and pit them against others. All of this, of course, happens on the screen of your mobile device. There are around 150 different Pokemon to catch – Weedles, Squirtles, and, of course, Pikachu. They’re all worth a certain amount of points.
Jillian: “If any of these Pokemon were real things and you could keep it in your house, which one would you want?” Pam: “I think Eevees are really cute.”
Wilson: “She hasn’t found the Volpix yet.”
Pam: “There’s a lot I haven’t found.”
Stossel: “That’s a really hard choice. Eevees are usually my favorite, but everyone is picking Eevees, so I don’t want to pick an Eevee … A Squirtle! I would pick a Squirtle, which are a turtle Pokemon.”
Eevees are cute. They look kind of like a cartoon fox and a rabbit combined.
Not surprisingly, this sudden collision of reality and fantasy has sparked concern. Elsewhere, the game has caused traffic jams, facilitated robberies and prompted trespassing charges. One woman reportedly fell off a cliff playing Pokemon Go. Another found a dead body. And more still have been asked to stay out of sensitive historical sites like the Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington.
Haines police Sgt. Josh Dryden said, thankfully, there have been no issues with Go players in Haines.
Still, the game draws as much negative attention as it does players. But, Gina says, there are much worse things people could be doing with their time.
“I’ve been catching a lot of negativity online too, and it’s just a bunch of people saying ‘you should grow up, and you should move on and get a job,’” she says. “That just completely baffles me because last summer I was working five jobs, this summer I’m only working one, but I work really hard. For me to have something like this that connects me back to my childhood, and is fun, and gets me out and moving, I don’t understand why anyone would think of it as negative.”
The mantra of the game is ‘Gotta catch ‘em all,’ which might prove more challenging here, but you really never know where the next Jigglypuff or Diglett will pop up.