JONESBORO, Ark. – Michael Flores walked down Loberg Lane on Monday in Jonesboro with his eyes intently glued to his phone. His friend, Kyle Ford, walked by his side, also staring at the screen on his phone.
Both were hunting Pokémon.
Every once in awhile, a new video game will come out which everyone has to play. It has happened yet again, only this time, the game world which everyone plays in is Jonesboro. And Walnut Ridge. And Pocahontas, Cash, and every other town in Northeast Arkansas, along with every place in the world.
“In Walnut Ridge, there was a guy who caught a Snorlax,” Flores said.
The game is called Pokémon Go, and it’s a revolutionary type of game for mobile platforms like iPhone and Android. Created in part by Nintendo, the game functions in the real world using what is called “augmented reality” technology. In other words, your camera detects what is around you and the game projects virtual items onto the screen, like they’re really in front of you.
Flores is in the National Guard out of Walnut Ridge and he said everyone in his unit is hooked on the game.
“A lot of them when we’re not doing anything, we’ll put out our phones, look around and see if anyone is looking,” Flores said.
What makes the experience unique is, instead of becoming immersed in a game world in front of the couch or in a bedroom floor, players must physically get out of their house and walk, jog, or drive around town to unlock new monsters called “Pokémon.” The game focuses on making players walk and run to accomplish tasks in the game, giving health benefits to players in the real world who decide to pursue their favorite digital monsters.
“It gets a lot of people out and does a lot for exercise and energy,” Flores said.
Different areas also have different monsters, encouraging players to explore all over town and further away. Areas by lakes and water, for example, might feature a Poliwag – a water-based creature. However, live close to a field – as most do in NEA – and you’re bound to find a mouse.
“In this area alone, I used used incense and I don’t know how many Rattatas I got. Six or seven alone,” Ford said.
Word spreads fast when someone finds a rare Pokémon-type in an area and some are passionate enough about catching ’em all to call in sick to work.
“Over by Nestle in Jonesboro, they have a lot of Onyxs spawning,” Flores said. “One of the line leaders apparently almost called in sick to go and try to get it. ‘I can’t make it, I got to catch it.'”
While smaller communities feature several stops and gyms, Jonesboro is filled with locations for players to visit. Pokémon stops are areas of unique creativity or art where players get bonuses for visiting. In Downtown Jonesboro, there are over a dozen stops. Then, there are Pokémon gyms. These are where players battle for control of the gym on the actual map, in the actual world, with other actual players.
Many gyms are located in odd locations, depending on the population density in the area or what is nearby, but in Jonesboro, one of those gyms is at Creegan’s on Main Street. Monday afternoon, the front of the pub was filled with Pokémon Go players wrestling for control of the gym. One player planned to walk down the road to capture a gym from a church, while others discussed how to evolve their Eevees.
“I’ve played other games like these before but I guess there just not as fun,” Ford said.
Indeed, few other games would allow someone to visit locations in their own locale and the child-like simplicity to the game seems to be one of its most attractive features to players. It isn’t very serious, you can play the game with others, and it is free to download. There are premium purchasing options available.
The game has been such a smash hit worldwide, Nintendo’s shares surged up to 25 percent higher in a single day during Tokyo trading Monday. Pokémon Go is a joint project by The Pokémon Company, which is 32%-owned by Nintendo, and Niantic Inc., a spinout from Google parent Alphabet Inc.
The game was released July 6. It is currently the number one searched item in the Apple App Store, with 45,000 reviews as of this writing, and is the top free app in the App Store.