‘Pokemon Go’ takes over in Southwest Michigan

The mobile phone app “Pokemon Go,” based on the popular trading card game, made its digital debut late last week. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

The mobile phone app “Pokemon Go,” based on the popular trading card game, made its digital debut late last week. (Don Campbell | HP Staff)

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

ST. JOSEPH — A new mobile phone app has people around the world hunting for Pokemon.

The Nintendo-owned franchise, which became popular as a trading card game in the 1990s, is again taking the U.S. by storm. This time through “Pokemon Go,” a mobile app that allows players to throw virtual balls to capture “pocket monsters.”

“Pokemon Go” uses a phone’s GPS and clock to detect where and when a player is in the game. Using the GPS, the app makes Pokemon appear around the player on their phone screen, so they can go and “catch” them.

Chris Newland and Casey Ross were searching for new Pokemon on Monday in downtown St. Joseph along the bluff.

The St. Joseph residents downloaded the app and began playing when it became available last week. In his first three days playing the game, Newland captured 28 different Pokemon.

“This is our first time adventuring out here, but we did go to a boat launch and there’s a station there that had a lot of Pokemon,” Newland said. “The best part about this is getting people out of their house. Especially with these younger kids who are addicted to their iPad.”

Ross said he’s had luck at Riverview Park and at Lions Park Beach.

As a person moves around, different and more types of Pokemon will appear in a virtual realty mobile game.

Players can walk to local landmarks, known as “Pokestops” in the game, to gather supplies. Newland and Ross were using the Curious Kids’ Museum as a Pokestop on Monday. Other locations can be used as gyms, where Pokemon train or battle one another.

The app is free, but many have cited safety problems.

Because the game uses established buildings and landmarks as gathering sites for players, some have asked Indiana Michigan Power Co. to see if they can catch “electric type” Pokemon near substations and transformers. I&M released as statement advising against doing so.

“Please be advised that electrical substations and transformers are very dangerous and not to be considered as gaming locations,” the release stated. “You should never climb the fence or enter a substation. Stay away from all power lines and transformers on utility poles or located on the ground in green boxes. Don’t climb company poles to try and reach transformers.”

A return to the ’90s

Like the card game, players can trade their Pokemon or level up. The mobile game includes the original Pokemon Red and Blue versions, before the next generations were introduced.

Newland and Ross said the game is nostalgic for them and others who grew up in the 1990s. What got them addicted was their first Pokemon they captured through the game called Charmander.

“A lot of people love Pokemon,” Ross said. “This is their first app for a phone. You have all the old Game Boy games, but this can actually be played on phones. There is endless amount of game play. So many people are good already. It’s hard to keep up.”

It’s not hard to recognize someone playing the mobile app. Most can be spotted walking or standing with a phone held up to eye level.

Mitchell DeBoer heard about the game through a group chat. The LaGrange, Ill., resident said he kept yelling at his friend to stop the car so he could get out and find Pokemon close by.

“I play it on my Game Boy on road trips and on planes,” he said. “All the teenagers remember it from their childhood so they want that newer version of it. The game is kind of confusing, but it’s still fun.”

Jordan Makela of St. Joseph first heard the app was in development a year ago. He said he’s been patiently awaiting its release when he was finally able to download it during a trip in Colorado last week.

He said he loves how the app gets a person mobile, but fears a lot of people won’t pay attention to where they’re going. One of the app’s biggest draws for Makela was his love of the trading card game. He admitted he still has a few cards left.

“I’ve been a fan since it first came out,” Makela said. “I felt obligated to try it. You’re actually catching them now.”

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on July 14, 2016)

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