ILION – Three years ago it was common to see groups of people, phones in hand, gathered in front of the Ilion Library, the Church of Annunciation and roaming the village playing Pokemon Go, an augmented reality app that makes it appear Pokemon characters are standing next to you, which you then battle or catch.
The game’s popularity peaked in 2016. Then, as quickly as it flared up, the craze waned, and so did the roving groups of players. But now, groups of phone-wielding Pokemon fans are appearing here and there playing the game once more.
The mobile game is enjoying a comeback, thanks in part to some recent updates and improvements, according to a group of avid players gathered in front of the Ilion post office Saturday afternoon.
Among the updates implemented about six months ago are “trading and raiding,” players said, which turned the game from a solo venture into a team effort.
“I started playing from day one,” said Rich Clotz II, of Ilion. “But I lost interest after a while. It wasn’t fun playing by yourself. But now that it’s a group effort I’m back into it.”
Instead of wandering around town finding Pokemon and battling others one-on-one in “gyms,” Pokemon Go, players now make friends with one another in the game, can trade Pokemon characters back and forth, and attend group events with tasks that must be completed by a number of players working together.
“Some tasks take at least five or six players, for others you need more,” explained Clotz. “On Saturdays, when we do raids, we’ll get lots of people. Remember that one Saturday?” Clotz looked to fellow player Richard Rose. “How many did we have that time?”
“We had over 60 people that time,” said Rose, also of Ilion.
With so many people coming together, players often use social media to plan the times and places they meet up, said Pokemon Go enthusiast Matt Cobane. Players at the post office Saturday used a private Facebook group to coordinate the day’s gaming efforts.
And the friendships made via the game, sometimes result in real-life friendships.
“Heck, the place I’m living now is because I met people through this and now I’m renting from one of them,” said Cobane.
“It’s a good way to socialize,” Clotz said. “Better than sitting in my house playing video games.”
To be successful in the game, players do a lot of walking, tracking Pokemon as they pop up throughout the area. Avid players, like Cobane, have walked literally hundreds of miles. The game app keeps track of just how far players travel on foot.
“My wife has lost 100 pounds since she started playing,” Rose said. “It’s great exercise.”
Pokemon Go, developed and published by Niantic, is available in Google Play on android phones and the App Store on iOS, and is free to download with optional in-app purchases.