Now, three weeks after the game launched in the U.S., everyone from local merchants to city police is getting in on the action.
For those who don’t know (and may be wondering why people are wandering the streets in packs staring at their phones in a shuffling gait dubbed “The Poképace”) Pokémon Go is a mobile device-based game that incorporates GPS technology to direct players to real-world locations to “catch” virtual characters from the popular ’90s card game turned entertainment franchise. By making the rounds at virtual Pokéstops scattered around real-world locations, setting Pokélures and catching Pokémon, players can level up and join one of three teams (Valor, Mystic and Instinct). Higher-level players can battle other teams for control of Pokégyms. The game effectively creates a virtual landscape superimposed on city streets, rural roads and landmarks.
Since its release on July 9, the game has garnered more downloads than the ubiquitous social media platform Twitter and, for a time, became more popular that Facebook. It has also become a pop-culture phenomenon, generating news stories ranging from the heartwarming (people of diverse cultural backgrounds meeting and bonding over the game) to the ugly (gangs of armed robbers using isolated Pokéstops as ambush points).
Here in Kingston, husband-and-wife creative team Alex Panagiotopoulos and Gabrielle Green recognized the Pokémon Go craze as an opportunity for their digital and creative services agency Kingston Creative. With help from graphic designer Brittney Scott, the pair created an interactive map of the city’s Pokégeography.
“It’s right at the intersection of between data, usefulness and creativity,” said Green. “And that’s where we see ourselves.”
The interactive map, available at kingstoncreative.net, lists 89 Pokéstops and 19 gyms that read like a virtual tourist map of the city’s cultural attractions. There’s a gym at Uptown Kingston’s Peace Park and another at the Old Dutch Church. Midtown features Pokéstops as diverse as the divey Broadway Joe’s tavern and the storefront evangelical church Iglesia De Dios. Downtown players can snag Pokémon at a stop in front of Kingston Police Headquarters and send them into battle at a gym next to the Hudson River Maritime Museum.
Panagiotopoulos and Green say they’ve explored new areas of the city and made new friends while using the map and the game to take a break from their otherwise round-the-clock creative collaboration.
“We walk around the strand or Uptown at night and there’s dozens of people out walking around playing,” said Panagiotopoulos. “We’ve talked to so many random people that we would otherwise never have met.”
Scott traveled to every known Pokéstop and gym in Kingston to develop the map and designed the interactive graphic. She explained that the virtual geography of the game piggybacked on an earlier effort by Pokémon Go developer Niantic. The 2014 game Ingress used player input and photographs in conjunction with Google Maps to lay out “portals” and other game features. Those coordinates would become the template for Pokémon Go’s virtual world.
“Basically it’s taking you to landmarks and interesting places in the city,” said Scott whose Pokémon fandom dates back to the original craze of 1998, when she was 10. “I’m spending a lot more time outside, walking.”
She’s not alone. While the game has enthralled players, it has left the uninitiated bewildered. Lt. Thierry Croizer of the Kingston Police Department said that there had been a rash of Pokémon Go-related “suspicious person” calls. Players hanging around gas stations, walking around outside historic buildings and strolling through residential neighborhoods late at night have been mistaken for potential burglars, drug dealers or those otherwise up to no good.
“When I see a bunch of people walking around at night looking at their phone, I know they’re playing Pokémon Go,” said Croizer who downloaded the app after learning about it from young relatives. “But for somebody who doesn’t know what that is, it can look suspicious.”
In response to the craze, Croizer drafted a post to the KPDs Facebook Page. Addressed “Attention all Pokémon Go Trainers” and accompanied by an illustration of some Pokémon cavorting on a city police cruiser, Croizer’s post reminds readers not to trespass while playing or play while driving. Croizer also asks players to be aware of their surroundings and stay out of city parks after they close at dusk.
The post also reminds players that walking around at night may draw police attention. “Ever-watchful non-Pokémon playing citizens may report ‘suspicious person’ (or people!) to the police department,” Croizer wrote. “Please don’t get scared, run away or get angry with us — we are just doing our job.”
In a measure of the game’s explosion in popularity, Croizer’s posting has gone virtually viral, garnering 2,300 “likes” and nearly as many shares in just a few days. Croizer also posted a link to Kingston Creative’s map on the department’s Facebook Page. “The response kind of amazed me,” said Croizer. “I was just trying to do something fun.”
For the city’s business sector, the Pokémon Go phenomena has created some new opportunities as hundreds of player’s take to Kingston’s streets in search of an elusive Pikachu. At the Kingston Candy Bar on Wall Street, owner Diane Reeder turned the ice cream and sweetshop’s location between two Pokéstops as a marketing opportunity. Players who spot one of the virtual “Wheedles” or “Pidgies” that infest the store can earn a free ice cream cone by taking a screenshot and uploading it to social media with the hashtag #kingstoncandybar.
“It has absolutely been good for business,” said Reeder. “There’s more foot traffic, more groups. I hope it lasts.”