Pokemania makes a comeback
NEW CANAAN — Seated at a table at the Apple Cart in Mead Park, Mike Keshin and Ryan Walsh almost blended in. Like many of the people around them, the 22-year-old New Canaan residents had their phones out. Unlike the others, however, the pair sat tapping their screens and intermittent swiping up with a pointer finger, displaying dexterous movements consistent with the playing of “Pokemon Go,” the smash-hit app that, as of Tuesday, had more American users than Twitter.
Keshin and Walsh heard about the game from their college friends and swear they haven’t succumbed to the hysteria surrounding the game.
“I don’t really go around looking for Pokemon. It’s just like, if I’m walking the dog, then I’ll play,” Walsh said. Still, those swipes and taps gave them away as they ate.
The augmented reality, which combines virtual and real-world interaction, is a dream come true for people who grew up watching the TV show, collecting cards, playing the Nintendo game and studying the fictional creatures since Pokemon was released in the mid-1990s.
For those who aren’t Poke-experts, the game became the most popular in app stores seemingly overnight, with an estimated 7.5 million downloads generating $1.6 million in revenue daily since its launch late last week. Free to download and easy to play, the game has already garnered a substantial following in Fairfield County.
In pockets all over downtown New Canaan, players can be seen walking in packs, arms extended, phone ahead, eyes glued to the screen and fingers tapping and swiping eagerly.
In RadioShack on Park Street, a pair of Pokemon trainers, as players are sometimes called, talked excitedly about their experiences with the game while at work.
Back in the days of Gameboy, 19-year-old Tyler Mills, of New Canaan, used to compete in Pokemon tournaments and was ranked 46th fastest in the world after beating the entire “Red” version of the game in under two hours. Mills said he downloaded “Pokemon Go” about five minutes after he heard it came out.
“I was out till 3:30 a.m. two nights ago. I went to Westport and Norwalk just to catch Pokemon,” Mills said.
The game uses a player’s GPS and clock to detect where and when they are in the game and makes Pokemon “appear” around them on their phone screen. As users move around, different types of Pokemon will appear based on their setting — water Pokemon show up near ponds, lakes and rivers, fire Pokemon near gas stations, and nocturnal Pokemon after dark.
Developed by Niantic, the game draws on real-world maps generated for an earlier augmented-reality game created by the company, called Ingress. The company bestows the title “Pokestop” or “Pokegym” to public art, landmarks and locations where Pokemon and players tend to congregate. In New Canaan, players can congregate at Town Hall, near the ticket kiosk at the Metro-North train station, and at St. Aloysius School.
Playing on the nostalgia of the original game released in 1995, “Pokemon Go” allows players to catch the original Pokemon by encouraging them to physically move around the real world. The need to travel is the game’s key characteristic, creating a real-life need to “travel across the land, searching far and wide,” just like Ash Ketchum, the most famous — and fictional — Pokemon trainer of all.
Mills’ colleague, Kristin Holden, 28, of Bridgeport, is perhaps less dedicated than Mills, but still amused by the concept.
“My favorite joke about it is: Michelle Obama’s been trying to get people to be active and go outside, and now ‘Pokemon Go’ is getting them to do it in less than a week,” Holden said. “It’s instant gratification, so you get the dopamine. And it’s not a drug, which is good, and you’re out. Players will be walking around and they’ll see another pack of people and talk. It’s a positive influence to get people together.”
Away from the RadioShack, on South Avenue, one such group of 17-year-old trainers out for lunch ran into a group of 12-year-old players and struck up a conversation. Among the former group was Robert Sillo.
“It’s pretty much ubiquitous throughout the town. Everyone is playing. It’s simplistic for everyone to understand, and also it’s a little nostalgic,” said the New Canaan teen. “I know someone that was in the Hamptons and they met about 70 people, and now they’re just one big group going around.”
Walking around the Hamptons with a group of 70 may sound like a fun summer experience, but such group mentality, along with full absorption in one’s phone, can be trouble. Some cities have had problems, the game causing distracted Pokemon trainers to walk out into traffic. Some users have reportedly sustained minor injuries from falling while playing, and in one city, a handful of teenagers were lured into an armed robbery.
Locally, such problems have not yet manifested themselves. But, still, some trainers have noticed irresponsible playing.
“I think maybe the worst one I’ve seen is someone playing while they were driving. You can still get them if you’re going over 30 miles per hour. That’s a concern I have,” Sillo said.