Pokémon GO takes historic neighborhoods by storm

Pokémon GO takes historic neighborhoods by storm
Members of the Pokémon summer camp search for Pokémon on the Episcopal campus. From left, Kristian Tucker of Riverside, Michael Teal of Riverside, Coach John Dwyer, Michael Visali of Mandarin, and Lily Shields of Atlantic Beach.

They can be seen in Riverside Park, Whatley Park in San Marco or wandering the streets of St. Nicholas or Murray Hill. Teens, undeterred by summer heat, trek along the sidewalks in 5 Points or San Marco Square or along St. Johns bulkhead in Riverfront Park, heads down, smartphones in hand, as they search for the imaginary animals in their real world surroundings.

Although many players are kids there really isn’t any age limit to the people found playing Pokémon GO, an augmented reality game that challenges users to find and catch Pokémon characters in their real world surroundings.

The video game, which is a new take on the Pokémon phenomenon celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is doing something that parents, physical education instructors and even Michelle Obama have not been able to accomplish – encouraging couch potatoes, who are addicted to electronic devices, to head outside and walk around.

“It’s just a fun game,” said Parker Joyce of San Marco. “I played the other Pokémon games, but this is not like the traditional games. It’s definitely a game changer. It’s taken indoor gaming outdoors.”

Joyce’s mother, Patti, agreed. She said Parker has walked at least 20 miles since he started playing the game a week or two ago. “When he first got it we went out and did a two-hour walk together,” she said. “It was so nice to spend the time with him. It used to be a rare moment when I’d have to say, it’s dark outside, you have to come in, but not anymore,” she said.

After downloading the free app on their cellphones, players walk around allowing their smartphones to alert them, vibrating when a Pokémon is near. Once they encounter one, they stop, take aim by touching the screen, which throws a PokeBall at the character in order to catch it. PokeStops are established at certain points along the way, often in parks, restaurants or near bodies of water. Parker said they can be found at Beach Road Chicken, the San Marco Duck Pond, Greenridge Park, Granada Park, and throughout 5 Points. At PokeStops players are able to collect items they need to use such as PokeBalls, potions, etc.

As players visit PokeStops and catch Pokémon, they gain experience points which enable them to upgrade to higher levels. Leveling up grants them new items and the chance to meet up with rarer Pokémon. The imaginary characters can also be found by hatching eggs, which require players to walk certain distances. The longer the distance, the rarer the Pokémon.

Once players attain a Level 5, they are able to choose one of three teams – Blue Team Mystic, Yellow Team Instinct or Red Team Valor. Once a player has reached a team they can visit Pokémon Gyms, which serve as “competitive sports banks,” said Josh Milon, a student at Episcopal High School. Playing with friends at a Pokémon gym is “sort of like playing King of the Hill,” said Joyce, who often utilizes the “gym” at Greenridge Park in San Marco.

Although the game is new, it has clearly taken Jacksonville by storm. In late July, 15,000 people attended a Jaguars’ sponsored Pokémon GO event at EverBank Field, making it the largest Pokémon adventure in the United States so far. Once the game came out, The Episcopal School quickly added it to its summer camp program, allowing campers to spend each day for a week traveling to neighborhood parks and venues such as Adventure Landing, Regency Mall, the Town Center and the Baseball Grounds searching for the illusive creatures.

Neighborhood businesses such as Community First Credit Union in Riverside dropped “lures” to draw players to their location July 25 and neighboring M Shack offered a half-off milkshake special during the lure drop.

“Our public relations marketing team planned a Pokémon GO special to take advantage of the PokeStop designation at our M Shack Riverside location,” said Matthew Medure, owner of M Hospitality Restaurant and Catering Group. “Pokémon mania ensued and lots of folks dropped in to catch Pokémon. Milkshakes weren’t the only menu item they purchased. It’s driving revenue for us and exposure to our brand while leaving a good taste in the mouth of our consumer. We are excited to embrace this craze.”

Coach John Dwyer, counselor to Episcopal’s Pokémon campers, said he downloaded the game and plays it with his six-year-old daughter Kiera. “From a fitness standpoint it’s a great thing to get them moving around,” he said.

“Pokémon GO brings people together,” said Kristian Tucker of Riverside, adding that one time he walked at least five miles through Riverside. “It brings people to the same locations.”

“I like the game,” said Michael Teal of Riverside. “When I was little I played all the games of Pokémon. Now this has come out and it gets you to go outside and play video games. If it was not for this camp, I’d be inside all week.”

“I like the game because it brings you outside and gives you cool stuff,” said Lily Shields, a student at Episcopal. “You can crack an egg if you walk a certain distance. The maximum I’ve walked is 12 kilometers.”

“It’s really fun and I get a lot of exercise doing it,” agreed Richard Harbison of Ortega, a student at Bishop Kenny.

And Pokémon GO is not reserved just for kids. Adults have fun playing the game too. Michael Visali, a student at San Jose Episcopal School plays the game daily with his mom.

“My mom said it is the first time she and I have been walking outside our house for that length of time in the last four years,” he said.

Like all Pokémon players, Visali, age 10, said his goal is to capture all 151 Pokémon. “It’s a thrill to walk around and find a super rare thing,” he said, noting there is one element of the game he does not care for. “The guy (Avatar) it made for me has curly hair, and I don’t have curly hair,” he said.

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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