Zubats, Goldeens and Starmies frolicked in Belmont Lake State Park on Sunday afternoon -- but no need to worry, tweens and teens and even adults were capturing the strange creatures on their cellphones as part of a video-game-turned-outdoor-scavenger hunt called Pokémon Go.
That hunting isn’t just going on in the park -- since Wednesday, it’s been happening all over Long Island and across the nation. Pokémon has until now been a traditional video game, television show and trading card franchise whose best-known character is probably the neon-yellow Pikachu. But game developer Niantic has launched a real-world smartphone application that requires users to go outdoors and search for the animated cartoon-like characters. The creatures are invisible unless users have the free Pokémon Go app downloaded -- but when they do, Pokémon lurk all around them.
“You can’t play the game in your house. You have to go outside,” says Gabrielle Anzalone, 16, of Lindenhurst, who spent several hours Sunday catching Pokémon at Belmont Lake and some time on the weekend tracking them in Babylon Village, and has captured about 30 so far. “It’s bringing the virtual stuff into real life. All my friends are playing this game.”
Pokémon Go made national news this week after a teenage girl playing the game happened upon a dead body, and police in Missouri are investigating the possibility that armed robbers have used the game to lure victims to specific game locations. On Facebook, a false rumor is making the rounds that a major car pileup was caused when a driver stopped to catch a Pokemon (pronounced POKEY-mon) on a highway.
Here’s how Pokemon Go works:
Download the app to an iOS or Android smartphone. Then, using the phone’s GPS, the game locates wherever the player happen to be -- in a park, in a town, just walking through his or her neighborhood. As a player walks, looking at their cartoon avatar on the phone, it will show them when they are coming upon a cartoon Pokemon.
Users then click on their camera and toss a virtual Pokemon ball at the character to capture it. They can also take a photograph of themselves in the real-world location with their Pokemon and post it on social media.
There’s more to the game -- for instance, users have to travel to a “Pokestop” to gather more Pokemon balls, and can visit a Pokemon “Gym” to battle other people’s captured characters.
The game promotes being social, players say. Nick and Emily Carlo of North Babylon, a brother and sister who are 21 and 15 respectively, say they bumped into a bunch of other players in the park. “It defies the stereotype of gaming, where people don’t go out,” says Nick Carlo. He works at the Tanger Outlet in Deer Park, and he says kids have been capturing Pokemon there as well.
Wayne Kendall, 49, a retired New York City police officer from North Babylon, has seen his sons Matthew, 13, and Sean, 14, become intrigued by the game, asking him, for instance, to stop at the local post office on the way to Belmont Lake on Sunday to see if any interesting Pokemon were there.
“I think it captures their imagination,” the elder Kendall says. And it helps kids get some exercise. “They won’t see it as that. They’ll just see it as something engaging enough to have them move to the next spot.” Kendall’s main concern as a parent is that kids will be so engrossed in their phones that they might forget to be alert to what’s going on around them in intersections or parking lots.
The craze is not likely to end until summer does, players predict. “Until it gets cold out,” Nick Carlo says.