(ROCKWALL, TX — Aug. 17, 2016) Rockwall residents gotta catch ‘em all, and they aren’t afraid to go outside to do it. Since the July 6 release of the new smartphone game Pokémon GO, approximately 20 million people in the U.S. have downloaded and played. What makes the game so special, aside from 90s nostalgia and unprecedented augmented reality gaming, is the impact it is having on communities everywhere.
Pokémon GO uses location services on a smartphone to pinpoint each player’s position and movement on a map, just like a GPS. As players walk around in reality, their position on the map changes and they can seek out specific locations or track down Pokémon monsters to earn in-game rewards.
These locations, called Pokestops, can be found in parks, churches, cemeteries, public artwork, and (if they’re lucky) businesses. With the increasing number of players seeking out Pokestops in their free time, businesses that capitalize on their virtual location are seeing profits increase. According to a Fox News report, one New York pizzeria with a lure module (a beacon in the game that attracts Pokémon monsters to a location) saw sales increase by 75 percent. Businesses like Trophy Ranch in Fort Worth are hosting Pokémon GO bar crawls with drink specials and lure modules at each Pokestop along the way. Pokémon attire is encouraged. Some stores and restaurants are offering discounts for players who show their virtual monsters to the cashier, or rewarding members of specific Pokémon teams (Red, Blue and Yellow).
Suzie Bell, a resident of Fate, said she appreciates Pokémon GO as a game she and her family can enjoy together, and as a benefit for local businesses.
“My kids are teenagers, and it’s something we can do together,” Bell said. “I know they’re safe when they have an adult with them and we have a great time. The laughter is non-stop. It gets us outside and helps me get my steps for my Fitbit. It gets you to think strategically and to be social instead of just tweeting or posting selfies. It is competitive. It has brought back actual communication and interaction. ”
Some frequented Pokémon GO locations in Rockwall include Pokestops at Culver’s, Shenaniganz, and The Harbor, a Pokémon gym at Mellow Mushroom, and countless locations surrounding the historic downtown area. Bell said the possibilities for utilizing the game are endless, but she has specific suggestions for Rockwall businesses that want to get in on the Pokémon action.
“Get a free drink by showing your Pokedex; free coffee for members of a certain team; a selfie of a business with the most rare Pokémon caught there with a hashtag including the business’ name,” Bell said. “Animal shelters can use this to their advantage and find people to walk dogs. They always need volunteers.”
In addition to being an economic asset, the game has encouraged people of all ages to spend more time outside. Rockwall Parks and Recreation Superintendent Andrew Ainsworth said Rockwall parks are seeing an influx of visitors since the game’s release.
“In my opinion, one of the best parts about the game is that it’s causing people to explore parts of their town they’ve never seen before,” Ainsworth said.
Ainsworth said Harry Myers Park has numerous Pokestops, but one of the best locations for Rockwall Pokémon players is the smaller Lofland Park. Tucked away between houses near Dobbs Elementary and The Londoner, the park has four Pokestops within a few feet of each other. Ainsworth said prior to Pokémon GO, the park wasn’t very well known. Now it sees hundreds of visitors per day.
To encourage more Pokémon recreation in Rockwall, Ainsworth mapped out a trail on playrockwall.com that spans 1.5 miles from Lofland Park to Harry Myers and hits 10 different Pokestops and one gym along the way.
However, Ainsworth acknowledged that players should be careful as they hunt down virtual objects. There are dangers that accompany an application that encourages users to follow their surroundings using a screen. Already there have been reports of car accidents and even poisonous snakebites in situations where players did not pay close enough attention to the reality of their surroundings.
Ainsworth said the easiest way to avoid danger is simply to be responsible.
“When you play the game, you’ve got to use common sense,” Ainsworth said. “When you’re (walking) in a high traffic area, turn off augmented reality. Absolutely don’t play while you’re driving.”
Ainsworth said he isn’t much of a gamer, but even he has enjoyed tracking down Pokémon monsters.
“I’m a big believer in ‘don’t be afraid to play,’” Ainsworth said. “Most of the things I’ve learned about the game I read online. I was nerding out reading this stuff, which was unique for me.”
Ainsworth said the College Station Parks and Recreation Department hosted a Pokémon Go event in one of their parks with live music and lure modules funded by the city. He hopes to plan a similar event in Rockwall.
“It’s pretty low key,” Ainsworth said. “We could just drop lures in the park from my account, and then we wouldn’t have to do anything. It is user-generated creation.”
The moral of the story: whether you’re a parent, child, business, video game enthusiast, lover of the outdoors, or even if you’re simply curious, you just might enjoy Pokémon GO.
By Julie Anne White, Blue Ribbon News reporter. Photos by Blue Ribbon News.
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