On July 6, Nintendo released a game app that has already become the most downloaded app in history. Pokemon Go is a game based on the card game popular in the 1990’s that allows players to “catch” Pokemon, or “pocket monsters,” while walking around. In addition, the game includes Pokestops, which are locations placed at certain locations like businesses, historic monument and tourist attractions, where players can obtain the Pokeballs needed to catch the creatures as well as other items they can use in the game. There are also Gyms placed in various areas that allow players to let their Pokemon challenge others in an effort to increase their power in the game.
There are many Pokestops and Gyms in downtown Milford. Many of the Augusta public art statues along the Riverwalk are Pokestops as is the Torbert statue in front of the Milford Museum and the Riverwalk Theater. Several downtown churches are Gyms as well. This has increased the number of people exploring the Riverwalk, some of them for the first time. Since players must be walking to play the game, it has increased the number of people who are getting out and enjoying the benefits of walking for fitness as well as allowing them to explore areas they have never visited before.
“The game has had a huge benefit for me and my family,” Cynthia Proetzel, Manager of the Milford Game Stop, said. “My two boys and I play. I have two kid who are huge gamers and this is the first game that has gotten them up off the sofa and willing to go outside and explore. We plan our route and then go hunting. It is a lot of fun.”
The game has many detractors, however. Some say that the game is unsafe as players are walking around looking at their phones and not paying attention to their surroundings. There have been reports in other areas of the country of people being injured when they stepped in front of cars or climbed fences in order to access a stop or catch a creature. Ms. Proetzel says none of that is necessary.
“You never have to access private property,” Ms. Proetzel said. “You have a 50-foot radius around you that appears in the app as a purple circle. That is a wide enough radius for you to catch anything that appears or to access a stop. If the stop or Pokemon is not in that radius, just a few steps towards it should move it into the circle, but if it is located somewhere unsafe, just don’t try to catch it or use the stop.”
Ms. Proetzel said that there is also no need to look at your phone the entire time you play. The app notifies you when a Pokemon is nearby with a vibration or a tone, depending on your phone setting. She said that you can plan your route before you start walking so you only have to look at your phone when you are close to a stop. She said that many people would not know she and her sons are playing the game as they carry their phones in their hands as they normally do when they are walking.
“Pokemon Go is a very social game,” Ms. Proetzel said. “People are actually going out and walking around. When they see people playing, they often stop to talk to them about the game. I belong to several closed Facebook groups. Sometimes a member will place a lure which is something in the game that lures Pokemon to a stop for 30 minutes. When someone places one, they will post in the group that a lure has been placed and we may go out and hangout with them at the stop. We’ve made many new friends that way.” Ms. Proetzel said that people need to use common sense, however. She says that if she goes to a place where a lure is supposed to be and there is only one person around, she does not stop.
Megan Marie says that she downloaded the app to see what the hype was and after she caught her first to Pokemon, she was hooked. She likes it because it is interactive and that she had not encountered anything negative since she began playing. She said that she played the Gameboy version of the game and Pokemon Go reminded her how much she enjoyed playing it.
“I love to take walks, especially during my lunch break, so I thought it might be a neat thing to do at the same time,” Lezlie Eustis said. “While on vacation, I had fun with the game and I like that there are Pokemon stops at certain places. There are several downtown which means people are going to discover things they may not have before.” Ms. Eustis said that she does not like that the game has to be on while playing and the game will disconnect if your phone goes to sleep. She said that the app can be a major battery killer. She reset the timeout on her phone to 10 minutes in order to keep the phone from shutting down.
Ms. Proetzel said that there is no need to be concerned about the accesses the game requests. She said that it will require access to your GPS and will ask for access to your camera. Although you must allow the game to access to your GPS in order to play, you do not have to allow access to the camera as the game can be played without it. The game only uses the camera on your phone to make it appear as if the Pokemon are really in the area. If you do not use the camera, the background is simply the cartoon version of the area seen in other sections of the game. Ms. Proetzel said that other apps, including Facebook, actually ask for more permissions and collects more data than Pokemon Go. In addition, she said that complaints about the game using data are exaggerated as well. She said that because she and her sons both play, she monitors her data usage. She has found that the game uses about the same data as the GPS on the phone.
“This is definitely benefitting businesses downtown,” Ms. Proetzel said. “People are walking all over town, stopping in at Dolce for a drink or getting lunch at Arena’s or Georgia House. I have contacted the company about placing a stop here as there are none in the area. I would like to hold events here for people playing the game, possibly bring in a food truck and place lures so people will come out to play. I know that one of the food trucks wants to do an event in Bicentennial Park because the war memorial by Fur-Baby is a stop. He wants to place lures and hold an event there to encourage more people to come downtown.”
Not all businesses are benefitting from the game, however. Although there have been no issues in Milford yet, a bar in Southern Maryland is complaining of teens trying to access the bar even though they are not 21. There have been homeowners who are dealing with people accessing their private property because a stop is located in or near their homes. Ms. Proetzel said that, just as she requested a stop be added, a business or individual can request that a stop be removed. She said that the company is very quick to respond to requests, although she does not know how long it takes for a stop to be added or removed.
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