A smartphone app that launched less than a week ago has Augustans joining the rest of the country playing a game where their phone can “capture” virtual monsters called Pokémon.
While millennials are one of the target audiences, the app is pulling in all ages as they hunt through the real world for Pokémon, or “pocket monsters.” An Augusta Facebook group created for “trainers” already has about 500 members.
Many remember Pokémon, the popular video game launched in the 1990s by Nintendo. The new game Pokémon Go launched in app stores last week and is already is the top grossing app in the iPhone store and shares of Nintendo Co. stock have jumped 12.5 percent.
“Since I’ve downloaded it, I’ve met so many new people,” said Jeffrey Edwards, who went to Augusta University on Tuesday to collect a few more monsters.
On a normal night, Edwards said he might be hanging out at home watching Netflix, but Monday night he was in a local park playing the game. And he wasn’t alone. A crowd of people were there doing the same thing.
Walking is encouraged in the game, and sometimes mandatory. Certain Pokémon items are only visible or obtainable under a certain speed.
The game uses smartphone GPS to guide players to the hidden Pokémon. When they are spotted, the player, or “trainer” whose goal is to “catch ’em all,” can use his phone screen to toss Pokéballs toward the Pokémon.
If they are hit, they are captured. But players, beware: some might try to escape. Other supplies for gameplay can be picked up at Pokéstops, which are typically located at city landmarks and recreational areas.
On Tuesday, Augusta University released a list of about 20 Pokéstops on its three campuses and encouraged players to use them.
Edwards, who is not a student, learned of the university’s Pokéstops on the Pokémon Go Facebook page and came to the campus to play. He said he found a large crowd interacting with one another while they continued their monster-nabbing quest.
“It’s cool to really meet people on campus I’ve never met before,” said Keyanna Arnett, an AU student who has been playing Pokémon since she was a child.
Using a university account, the AU staff put out “lures” to help draw in the creatures.
“I think we’re kind of hoping that it is going to continue to grow because it is a wonderful community engagement tool, just to be able to bring people on campus who maybe don’t have a chance to come that often or who otherwise wouldn’t have a reason to see the campus,” said Nick Garrett, who is on the internal communications staff at AU. “I can say we’ve never seen anything like this before, this kind of drawing in people, facilitating and making it easier for people to form bonds with the people around them.”
Garrett and other members of the staff were at a conference in Milwaukee last week when the game debuted and noticed huge groups of people getting together to play. When they came back to Augusta, they knew they would have to do something to respond.
The nationwide excitement has come with some concerns.
Over the weekend police across the country issued warnings for gamers after reports of people trespassing on private property to collect Pokémon or being involved in accidents. Some reported increased reports of suspicious people, only to learn they were players seeking creatures, not trouble.
AAA released a warning Tuesday asking players to avoid trying to catch Pokémon while driving.
North Augusta Department of Public Safety also issued a weekend warning on its Facebook page.
Public Safety Officer Glenn Nichols said the department has not received any issues, but wanted to remind people to be safe while playing. He said he has heard people are using designated drivers while playing and trying to be safe.
As the game gains momentum, he said, he wouldn’t be surprised to hear more calls about suspicious activity.
Local law enforcement said there have been few problems, but Aiken Department of Public Safety Lt. Jake Mahoney said officers are definitely “seeing the effects of the app.”
People, sometimes dressed as main character Ash Ketchum, have been gathering at the Odell Weeks Activity Center to play, but have caused no problems.
Mahoney, himself, has says he has seen the positive effects at home where he plays with his sons. One of his sons recently asked to walk home just to be able to catch Pokémon.
Players are asked to be respectful of private property and never enter uninvited no matter how rare the monster is.
“Have fun, enjoy the app, enjoy the exercise, but don’t lose sight of your surroundings,” Mahoney said.
Staff writer Tom Corwin contributed to this article.