ITHACA, N.Y. — By 8:30 p.m. Monday, more than 40 people gathered at the Ithaca Commons, milling around and staring at their phones to play the new augmented reality game Pokémon Go, released last Thursday as a free smartphone app.
“Someone place a lure!”
“Let’s head to a gym!”
The shouts may have been confusing to those on the Commons yet to join the latest gaming craze, but to players of Pokémon Go, they illustrated the rise of a new and quickly growing community in Ithaca and around the world. Since the game was released this weekend, it’s been downloaded in the United States more than 7.5 million times.
Among the gamers crowded at the West End of the Commons was Ithaca’s Mayor Svante Myrick.
When asked about the game, Myrick provided a long backstory about his love for Pokémon, which began when he watched the original anime television series released in 1998.
“It’s hard to remember when I first fell in love,” said Myrick.
He downloaded the app Monday morning but is already worried about how glued to the game he is becoming.
“Not only do I have to level them up, but I have to level them up again!” he said about his Pokémon.
He said he plans to play on his daily bus commute to work, and maybe even from his office due to the existence of a PokéGym at the Horse mural on the Green Street Parking Garage — right outside his office.
After much deliberation and input from the crowd, Myrick announced that he would be joining Team Mystic, the blue team the values strategic play and the appreciates the wisdom of the Pokémon.
He passed up on the chance to be part of the red Team Valor, which emphasizes training and strength, and the yellow Team Instinct, which values natural intuition.
For people late to catch on the the worldwide craze, Pokémon Go uses a smartphone’s GPS to detect a player’s location, generating Pokémon that appear in “real life” on players’ phone screens.
The types of Pokémon that appear vary depending on a player’s distance from their home location, as well as the weather, terrain, and time of day.
Players meet up to train at designated PokéGym locations around town, and can walk the streets catching Pokémon, which appear to inhabit the world around them while playing.
In Ithaca, the Commons is a hot spot for Pokémon Go players, with most murals and sculptures marking PokéStops, where new items can be found. Notable Ithaca landmarks turned PokéStops include the 21 painted electrical boxes and the Sagan Planet Walk statues.
Yesterday evening, local players placed special items that function as lures at the West end of the Commons to attract extra Pokémon, and in turn, bring everyone together in one spot.
One player, Alex Dennis, has been heading to the Commons each night since the release of Pokémon Go last week.
For Dennis, the game has drastically changed his day-to- day routine. He said that it’s provided a way for him to get out of the house, interact with others, and see things he wouldn’t otherwise— specifically, some baby ducks he ran into while catching Pokémon, a highlight of his Pokémon Go experiences thus far.
“My favorite parts of the game are not the game itself, it’s everything the game has brought,” said Dennis about the Pokémon community.
Dennis is not alone in his feeling that Pokémon Go has been a positive force in the Ithaca community thus far. Another player chimed in, sharing that if he wasn’t on the Commons with other Pokémon Go players, he would likely be at the bar alone spending money.
Instead, he was playing the game for free and meeting new people.
Ithaca player Stasi Mehne shared a similar sentiment regarding his own experiences.
“You can just talk to random people you don’t know, past Pokémon. Why are you in Ithaca? What are you doing? What brings you here? That’s the mentality,” said Mehne.
By 8:30 p.m., the crowd at the West end of the Ithaca Commons had grown close to 40 players. Families, couples, and friends all joined together in a flurry of social activity.
Ithacan RJ Isley first began playing Pokémon years ago on Game Boy, and as of yesterday reached Level 16 in Pokémon Go. He recently walked 10 kilometers in a day playing the game around town.
“I walk a lot anyway, but that’s a lot more than my usual,” said Isley.
The Facebook group “Pokémon Go Ithaca” now has close to 150 members, and is continuing to grow.
In the group local players share tips, memes, screenshots of rare Pokémon they’ve caught, and make plans to meet up around town. Many Ithaca players believe the reason the local community has grown so quickly is largely due to the app’s accessibility.
“You don’t need to have a long back history with the game,” said Isley.
Many players also referenced the feeling of childhood nostalgia the game creates as another reason for its popularity.
Although one player noted that it’s tempting to pick up items while you’re at red lights driving around town, the consensus among those playing on the Ithaca Commons last night seemed to be that Pokémon Go poses no serious safety concerns to players in Ithaca.
For the most part, local players only had positive comments to make about the community the game has created in Ithaca.
“It’s very apparent lately that there are a lot of horrible things that are always going to happen. So I think that anything that brings people together and helps them experience talking to each other, and interacting in positive ways, is really great and especially important now,” said Isley.
All photos by Anna Kucher/ The Ithaca Voice