ILION – It’s just after 9 p.m. and the lawn in front of the Church of Annunciation on West Street is swarming with people. A half dozen more people sit in their vehicles, pulled over to the side of the road. People are laughing, talking and looking at their mobile phones.
It’s a scene that plays out across the village, the country and the world on a nightly (and daily) basis these days. What is it? It is people playing Pokémon Go, a new mobile phone app that has taken the world by storm.
The app, launched exactly two weeks ago on July 6, uses a phone’s GPS to make Pokémon appear near the player’s physical location. Using the phone’s camera, the creature pops up on a player’s screen, integrated within the real world around them. Players then try to “catch” the cartoon characters on their screen. But it’s not as plain and simple as just that. Players must collect Poké Balls – the tools used to catch Pokémon – hatch eggs, evolve their creatures and battle for territory at “gyms.”
The free app has broken records by jumping straight to the top of the app charts. The game’s popularity has quickly surpassed that of Candy Crush Saga, the previous number one rank holder.
Why do people love it so?
“It really brings the community out and together,” said Jordon Brown, of Ilion. He and friend Steve Morrow attended a designated Pokémon gathering in Ilion’s Central Plaza, put on by Ilion Days Wednesday evening.
“And it brings you to places you never knew existed,” Brown continued. “Just the other day I went to this park in Little Falls that I’d never heard of and it was gorgeous. I loved it there.”
“I’m a huge gamer and usually you’ll find me at home in front of my computer,” said Morrow, of Newport. “But this gets me out of the house. I’ve walked 35 miles so far and lost 10 pounds.”
A Pokémon Go player hatches eggs by walking. The phone’s GPS tracks the distance walked and the game rewards the player correspondingly.
“And it brings people out for some friendly competition,” said Morrow, who recalled playing the original Pokémon card
game that became popular in the 1990s.
“It’s fun to get outside,” said 12-year-old Michael Shafer. “I started the day after it came out and I’m already a Level 9.”
“My favorite part is that you have to walk a certain distance to get eggs to hatch,” said 11-year-old Michael Conley.
Shafer and Conley attended Wednesday’s Pokémon gathering with Conley’s mother, who did a bit of Pokémoning herself.
“I like that you see 30 people outside at 11 at night on a Tuesday,” said Seamus Murray, of Utica. He and some friends came to Ilion for the gathering, then made a stop at The Ice Cream Station for refreshment before returning to the Utica area.
“You meet a lot of people you wouldn’t meet otherwise,” put in Dylan Kent, of New York Mills.
“And citizenship,” added Rachel Gordon, also of New York Mills. “All the Poké stops (where players collect Poké Balls and other Power-Ups) are at points of interest in the community. We’ve learned a lot more about the area than we would have otherwise.”
And thus far, these crowds of Pokémon players have proved themselves an amicable bunch.
“There haven’t been any problems so far,” said Ilion Police Officer John Brewer. “We see people out playing just about every night. It’s been a good thing so far,”
Brewer said he has seen players range in age from pre-teen to late forties. He also noted that local hotspots include Central Plaza and the area around the Ilion library and Methodist church.