Whole new ballgame: ‘Pokémon Go’ has players roaming Dover

 

From left, sisters Devin, 19, Allison, 13, and Katelyn Miller, 14, play PokemonGo in in the shade in front Legislative Hall on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

From left, sisters Devin, 19, Allison, 13, and Katelyn Miller, 14, play Pokémon Go in in the shade in front Legislative Hall on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Noticed lots of people walking around glued to their phones — at least more than normal?

Odds are good they’re catching Pokémon in a new mobile app that has taken the country by storm.

Pokémon Go, a free application that can be downloaded on most phones, allows players to capture Pokémon, creatures from the popular franchise of the same name. Generally based on real-life animals or things, Pokémon first appeared in Nintendo’s 1996 video games “Pokémon Red” and “Pokémon Green.”

Matthew Morey, 11, left, and his brother Aaron, 14, of Felton play “Pokemon Go” in front of the Hall of Records building near Legislative Mall on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Matthew Morey, 11, left, and his brother Aaron, 14, of Felton play Pokémon Go in front of the Hall of Records building near Legislative Mall on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The franchise has become one of the best-selling in video-game history.

While the video games, which are entering their seventh iteration later this year, are distinct from Pokémon Go, some of the basics are the same, chiefly catching Pokémon. The app uses GPS to generate a version of the real world based on where the player is, and participants roam around capturing virtual monsters that pop up on their screens.

Landmarks, dozens of which are in Dover, are special designated locations in the app where players can gain items and battle other Pokémon.

Downtown Dover is littered with plaques and monuments commemorating memorable people, places and events, and buildings like the Old State House and Legislative Hall are popular gathering points, with people flocking to the sites every day since the game’s release last week. Some avid fans have turned out past midnight to search for Pokémon.

The app has grabbed ahold of people of all age groups, including parents with young children and those in their mid-20s to early 30s who were kids when the first “Pokémon” games were released.

One of those players is Jason Johnston, who was enjoying the experience Wednesday evening. He was among the approximately two dozen people assembled on Legislative Mall around 7:30.

Mr. Johnston, 31, has been a fan of the franchise since he was a child.

“It’s always been fun, and it’s just nice to get out and see this many people on The Green. I don’t normally come down here,” he said.

Nearby, Jamie Leszczynski, took a lap around the mall in hopes of catching some rare Pokémon. Ms. Leszczynski’s fandom was quite apparent: the 22-year-old wore a shirt with Pikachu, the mascot of the franchise, on it.

Like Mr. Johnston, she has had a passion for “Pokémon” for years and quickly was caught up in the wave of excitement over the app.

“It’s really good because I’ve been starting to walk my dog recently,” she said. “I just got a brand-new dog. … It’s actually really helping me walk him, because I walk him and catch Pokémon at the same time.”

The game has been drawing many people outside, including some who are more inclined to stay indoors, she noted.

It brings benefits not only of exercise but spreading knowledge of history as well, with players visiting and congregating around markers indicating sites of past significance.

The popularity has even caused some organizations, businesses and universities across the country to join in on the fun.

In Dover, Dover International Speedway is opening its gates to allow players to walk around the track inside the venue today. The gathering will take place from 3 to 5.

Speedway spokesman Gary Camp said employees had noticed more foot traffic in the area than usual and thought players would savor a chance to search for Pokémon in the normally secured-off speedway.

Attendees will receive free trackside access passes that can be redeemed Oct. 2 before the NASCAR race.

As of about 1 p.m. Thursday, 100 people had indicated on the event’s Facebook page they planned to go today.

The Biggs Museum also had free admission for 30 minutes Thursday to allow fans to capture Pokémon inside the museum.

The game has caused a little consternation. Players in multiple states have been robbed while playing the game, and AAA Mid-Atlantic issued a notice Tuesday cautioning people not to play while driving.

“One quick text or glance to see the next Pokéstop could end up causing a crash or worse — costing you or someone else their life,” spokesman Jim Lardear said.

Although AAA has warned that both drivers and pedestrians should be extra cautious due to the app’s popularity, Dover Police Department spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said the agency is not aware of any game-related issues locally.

Officers have been dispatched on a few occasions due to possible suspicious people who were found to simply be playing the game, but Master Cpl. Hoffman said Pokémon Go has not caused any trouble for Dover police.

A Tuesday post by the Dover Police Department on its Facebook page with a picture of Pikachu inside the police station drew more than 2,600 likes.

The Dover Police Department posted this photo of Pikachu in a room inside the police station on its Facebook page Tuesday, drawing 2,600 likes. (Submitted photo/Dover Police Department)

The Dover Police Department posted this photo of Pikachu in a room inside the police station on its Facebook page Tuesday, drawing 2,600 likes. (Submitted photo/Dover Police Department)

In response to one person who commented the image was not from the game, the agency quipped, “Can you imagine if we went full professional PhotoShop? We’d have people line up down the block to get arrested to catch Pikachu!”

As long as players use common sense, such as not trespassing on private property, Master Cpl. Hoffman said he thinks it is good people are visiting areas in Dover they might not otherwise.

One of those participants who has already been throughout Dover playing the game is Trevor Webb, who was catching Pokémon on Legislative Mall Wednesday afternoon.

“I like the fact that it makes you actually get out and go places,” Mr. Webb, 24, said. “It’s pretty cool. You meet new people.”

How long the craze will last remains to be seen. “Pokémon” the franchise is 20 years old, but whether dozens of people will still be congregating in downtown Dover just to catch Pokémon in two months is a mystery.

Developers plan biweekly updates, which will eventually allow players to trade Pokémon.

Mr. Webb said he thinks many of the users will lose interest over time, but Ms. Leszczynski predicted the app will remain popular for a year or more.

Regardless of whether the large following dissipates, the game is connecting people.

Players, Mr. Johnston noted, are “pretty good-natured, just randomly talking to each other.”

“You know, out of everything in this world, something as simple as this is kind of making everybody in one place and not want to kill each other,” he said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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