As the Wednesday Farmers’ Market in Downtown Hollister came to a close, many of the locals still milled around the streets in search of something that cannot be found at one of the artisanal booths: Pokémon.
Pokémon are virtual creatures, each with a signature strength used for battling. Using a mobile phone with the Pokémon Go app, gamers can find these creatures using the phone’s GPS and camera features. These “wild” Pokémon can be found in their preferred habitats, which are environments that the creature would be likely to live in. For example, a water Pokémon would likely be near a water feature (like Hollister’s Whale Park, hint). These creatures are captured and trained for battle.
The mobile game Pokémon Go has become a global obsession almost overnight. It was released July 6, and is offered in 15 regions across three continents, according to the Pokémon Go website.
It has become the most popular mobile game in U.S. history, surpassing Candy Crush, according to Survey Monkey.
The game has found its way to San Benito County, attracting crowds of people, or trainers as they scour the streets on a mission to “catch ‘em all.”
Pokémon can be found all over town, but Hollister’s downtown area seems to be where most of the creatures congregate.
Hollister resident Latoya Pires, age 23, was searching for Pokémon downtown in the grassy field of the 400 block after the Farmers’ Market. “This is the Pokémon hangout,” she said. She explained that this is a popular place to search because a lot of people plant lures, which are devices that attract Pokémon.
Just steps from the grass, a group of around 20 people had formed. They were searching for Pokémon, increasing their trainer experience (XP), and discussing the strengths and battle tactics of their captured creatures.
The game takes a certain amount of dedication. Trainers (the players) must train their creatures at gyms that are strewn throughout town. Eventually, trainers who reach a certain level will be asked to join a team, comprised of other trainers, as they battle opposing teams.
“I was here till 2 a.m. the other night,” said Scott McVicar, demonstrating how involved the game can become.
This unplanned group now seems to form regularly each night as a result of their mutual mission. Many people are connecting with old friends, or meeting new ones. The game is making people get up and go outside, but it also bringing people together. “I haven’t seen this guy in years!” someone from the big group called out.
Whle the game brings people together, it can also put overly-dedicated gamers in danger. One of the most common offenses is using the GPS while driving, which has led to several car accidents across the country. A study conducted by Qualtrics estimated that up to 85 percent of trainers have played the game while driving a car.
Another safety concern is trespassing. Ambitious trainers are willing to cross the physical line to reach a Pokémon in the virtual world. Gamers can be charged for trespassing and can put themselves in danger as they wander onto private property. Up to 10 percent of trainers admit to trespassing, according to Qualtrics.
In some cases, Pokémon have been strategically placed in isolated areas in order to draw players into a vulnerable situation. According to a story by The Guardian, unsuspecting Pokémon Go gamers were led into a trap and robbed in O’Fallon, Missouri.
Hollister Police Chief David Westrick noted the safety concerns in a lighthearted way recently, encouraging his Twitter followers to stay safe while playing Pokémon Go, posting “Pikachu … wants you to play safe,” referring to one of the characters in the game. The Tweet included images of a wrecked car.