The Inland Northwest has joined the hordes of people around the world playing Pokémon Go, an “augmented reality” free smartphone-based game where users catch Pokémon that appear on their screens as they wander around the real world.
The game, which was released last week, displays a basic map showing city blocks, roads and walking paths. Landmarks like statues, street art and historic homes function as Pokéstops – places where players can get balls to catch Pokémon and other supplies for free.
Many players who came out to the park Monday were in groups of friends, chatting and laughing as they searched together while giving knowing glances to other people holding up their phones.
Some said they’ve enjoyed the sense of community they’ve found while wandering around the city.
“When you go to different places, there’s a bunch of people all there trying to catch the same thing,” said Rebeca Robinson, 19, who was playing near the Riverfront Park cafe with her boyfriend, sister and friend.
“They’re all playing the game and it’s not weird to go up and talk to them,” said Elena Robinson, 21, her sister.
Because it constantly uses geolocation and the screen, the game is a serious drain on phone batteries. Ashley Anderson, who camped out at Canada Island to play, brought a power strip with her and was sharing an outlet with several strangers.
Places like Canada Island have become hotspots because players can use in-game “lures” to attract wild Pokémon to them. Once a player places a lure, it’s in effect for 30 minutes, drawing more Pokémon to anyone hanging out nearby.
Anderson said she and her husband, who live in Deer Park, have put a lot of time into the game. She played Pokémon Blue growing up and said she’s enjoyed having another way to connect with the franchise.
“It gives us a really good excuse to go out and go walking,” she said.
Heleen Dewey, who runs the active living program for the Spokane Regional Health District, compared the game to geocaching, an activity where players try to find hidden caches using a GPS. She said games like this can be good news for public health by encouraging people to be more active.
“You have an individual who’s all about technology outside,” she said.
Dewey encouraged people to review pedestrian safety suggestions at StickmanKnows.org and remain aware of their surroundings.
Though many of its fans are in their teens and 20s, Pokémon is attracting a multigenerational crowd.
Amber Sparks, 32, accompanied her 9-year-old son, Talyn, as he walked through the park playing on her phone. She said Talyn usually wants to sit inside and play video games, so she was enjoying the chance to be outside with him more.
“He’s kinda teaching me the ropes,” she said.
Sam Taylor, the deputy city administrator in Coeur d’Alene, said he started playing the game with his brother.
“We both have three kids, so we wanted to try it before we let them try it,” he said.
Taylor said he was searching for Pokémon in a Ziggy’s parking lot in Post Falls when he was approached by a police officer, who wanted to know what he was doing.
“Other people before us had been there and they started getting suspicious-persons calls about the Ziggy’s,” he said. Taylor had to explain the game to the officer and showed him a map of nearby stops where players were likely to be.
Taylor said he’s seen people all over Coeur d’Alene playing.
“Some of the folks don’t seem very tan, so it’s probably the first time they’ve been out in a while,” he said, laughing.
The game has led to problems elsewhere, including a woman finding a dead body in Wyoming’s Wind River while searching for water Pokémon. Multiple players in O’Fallon, Missouri, were targeted by armed robbers using in-game lures to find victims.
Officials with the Spokane Police Department and Spokane Fire Department said they haven’t yet had reports of problems or serious injuries from people playing the game. Public safety agencies across Washington have reminded people to remain aware of their surrounding and to refrain from trying to catch any Eevees while driving.
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