Every since the Nintendo video game Pokemon Go because available on July 6, local players have been traveling to specific spots around the county designated as “Pokestops” where they can virtually grab “Pokeballs” to throw at virtual Pokemon creatures to catch them.
The Pokemon creatures exist only in the imaginary world of phone gaming, but the locations are real. Users walk around with their phones until they see virtual grass shaking and spewing up sparkly blue bubbles, indicating where a Pokemon is hiding. A few taps on the shaking grass reveals a little monster on your screen, ready to catch.
The game has incurred some backlash, particularly because people are throwing caution to the wind as they stumble around in pursuit. In Missouri, police said, a group of robbers lured victims with the promise of a “Pikachu.” In addition, last week, a teenage girl in Wyoming came across a dead body on her search for a “Squirtle.” A kid in the Jersey City Heights walking through Pershing Field recently said a strange man accidentally walked into his apartment looking for a “Charmander.”
Tweets from every town
The game, now in its third week, has inspired Tweets from players around the county.
“I have an hour layover in Secaucus so I’ve literally just been walking around the station catching Pokemon and I’m not entirely complaining,” Tweeted Emily @Em-Tirado on July 17. Another young woman, @Jaye_Rose13, posted a photo of a Meadowlands sunset she noticed while Pokemon-catching in the town.
@PrettyBoy_DG posted last week, “Just seen about 50+ kids around Hudson County parks playing Pokemon Go. [Expletive] is nuts lol.”
@mscarzafava12 reported an abundance of Pokemon at the Bayonne Cruise Terminal. @lmaotab tweeted, “I just caught 8 Pokemon in a row walking down Bayonne,” and posted pictures of her and a friend posing with Pokemon in augmented reality.
Meanwhile, @LukeNozicka even overheard a shouting match at Hudson Street dock at Paulus Hook in Jersey City between two people fighting over the same Pokemon. “Don’t you take my Pokemon…don’t [expletive] with me!”
@Sam_Tuero seemed like he enjoyed the social element to the game. He tweeted, “Went to go play Pokemon Go in North Bergen and ran into 3 groups of people playing #ComeTogether #CatchEmAll.”
Not everyone is thrilled with the game. It can be distracting. @xOjesliee tweeted, “When you come to Hoboken to eat but the guys are worrying more about Pokemon.” @YankeeClipper09 may agree. He lamented gamers not enjoying the weather. “Just went for a walk outside on the pier in Hoboken. Gorgeous day,” he tweeted. “Tons outside playing Pokemon. I hate humanity sometimes!”
The best way to catch Pokemon is in city traffic, stopping long enough to catch one, and moving on to a different spot. @Painismybeautymua was in Union City with her son, Tweeting, “Driving my son around so that he can find Pokemon. #yeahimthatmom #pokemongo.”
Sometimes there aren’t enough Pokemon to go around, something @BravesOwner lamented while on the hunt in Weehawken. “Whoever is catching all the Pokemon in Weehawken can you plz stop I still have zero in my squad,” he Tweeted.
Pokemon, short for “pocket monsters,” exploded in popularity in the 1990s with the advent of the Gameboy handheld system.
Pokethusiasts in Hudson County are fairly identifiable when walking past local buildings or through local parks. They look as if they’re distracted by a really, really long text message that gives them directions on where to go.
“It’s very competitive,” said Yan, a Japanese-born Bayonne resident, with his friend, Yue, Pokecatching outside Bayonne City Hall on Avenue C last week. They were meandering a across a lawn, behavior typical of Pokemon gamers.
“We like to keep challenging other people,” said Yue.
When asked what kind of Pokemon they were catching, they pointed their phone at a vacant stretch of grass. Their screens showed the scene just as it looked to the naked eye, but with what looked like a two-headed ostrich just waiting to be caught. It’s known in the game as a “Dodo Bird.”
Yan flicked a Pokeball on the screen toward the cartoonish fowl and caught it with ease.
After catching Pokemon, gamers travel to Pokegyms to battle them against other gamers’ Pokemon. The more you battle, the stronger your Pokemon get, and when they get strong enough, they evolve into bigger, better versions of their juvenile forms and get different names and powers.
In the process, users increase in level, with each level more challenging than the last. Pokemon become harder to find and harder to catch. Pokeballs become more scarce, and players need more visits to Pokestops.
“I feel like I’m going out and experiencing my community in a different way.” –Martino Gomez
Across the street, St. Henry’s Church was serving, in the game, as a Pokegym. On screen, gyms look more like flying saucers than gyms, but are uniquely identifiable. To do battle, gamers would have to walk close to the church to get in range of the gym.
Another group of kids was exhibiting similar behavior at Riverview-Fisk Park in Jersey City Heights last week. “It’s the coolest game. There’s no other like it,” said Martino Gomez. “I feel like I’m going out and experiencing my community in a different way. I meet other people catching Pokemon, and it’s just a lot of fun.”
The future is coming
Some look down on players like Martino, Yan, and Yue.
“I don’t get it,” said Mike Hernandez, 45, of Union City, who was strolling through Memorial Park noticing kids staring at their phone screens. “It’s just another fad. The kids will come back to reality.”
Hernandez may be right. But maybe not. Augmented-reality games are only the tip of the technological iceberg of virtual and augmented gaming. Virtual reality (VR) gaming is entering the gaming market with headsets that allow users to experience a game as if it were their own reality, as opposed to the augmented reality of Pokemon Go.
And once the Pokemon Go “fad” fades, watch out for cyborgs.
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org