MARYVILLE, Mo. — When the Pokémon craze had children battling for little monsters during recess 20 years ago, some of the game’s most loyal fans dreamed that one day they would actually find Pikachu or Charizard in the wild.
As of last week’s release of Pokémon Go, those dreams have come close to actualization.
“It’s s about as close as it gets,” said Iñaki Irisarri of Maryville.
Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game played on smartphones, blends technology from GPS and cameras to place the pocket monsters in real places. After players download the app, they can activate the cameras on their phones to find a map of their area and locate images of the monsters. To catch and collect them, players “throw” a Pokéball by sliding their fingers up the screen at the monsters.
Pokémon are sneaky, though. If players don’t catch them in time, they disappear from the screen. The chase continues, and players wander the streets with their phones out and cameras on to spy another critter to capture into their collection.
Since the game was released in the United States last week, downloads have sailed past 7.5 million. BBC News reported Thursday that shares for Nintendo, the parent company of the Pokémon Franchise, has increased 56 percent since the game’s release.
Effects of the game’s unexpected popularity have made headlines across the country.
People post photos on social media of the places they find Pokémon. These creatures have appeared on children, at the foot of a hospital bed when a woman is in labor, and in the middle of the road. Shayla Wiggins, 19, of Riverton, Wyoming, found a dead body in a river while playing.
Irisarri said his family in Peru has shared with him that people avoid playing in the streets because having their smart phones out makes them easy targets for robbery and assault.
On the positive side, the surprise element of the game has gotten some people out more than any aggressive fitness program ever could have.
Across Northwest Missouri State University’s campus at 7 p.m. Wednesday, more than 20 players ranging in age from 4 to mid-40s were walking and hunting Pokémon with their phones. At 9 p.m., even more people rode on their scooters and in their cars tracking the digital beasts.
Photo credit: Jennifer Ditlevson Haglund