Rattatas and charizards and squirtles, oh my!
With a new app sweeping the nation, the Pokémon craze is back, and Manatee County is no exception to the rule.
Pokémon Go, a new “augmented reality” game, layers the game over a “real world” setting. It has became the top grossing app in the iPhone app store just days after its Wednesday release in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
The first Pokémon video games were released in 1998, and the player become a “trainer” in the alternate world, catching and training the make-believe creatures. In the original video games, the players can battle and trade with other users.
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Pokémon Go is based on the same universe, but incorporates some new and different aspects, which is exciting for those who remember the game from their childhood.
A lot of folks who may not come to our preserves are playing. People are really happy and friendly.
Melissa Nell, division manager for volunteer and education division in the parks and natural resources department
When Burke Hill was younger, he beat just about every Pokémon game available on his hand-held Nintendo Game Boy.
He was hooked on it, but eventually the game lost popularity and other interests prevailed. This weekend, Hill was able to renew his quest to “catch ’em all.”
“Pokémon Go opened my childhood back,” said Hill, an 18-year-old Bradenton resident and recent Bradenton Christian School graduate.
Burke and his friend, Cody Tsai, spent the weekend driving up and down Manatee Avenue, pulling over constantly to catch some Pokémon, finding a lot of luck in a cemetery nearby. They also ran into five or six other people in the downtown Bradenton area. The tell-tale sign those people were playing?
“You could tell they were playing,” he said. “They’d walk, then stop for a little bit, to catch the Pokémon.”
‘It brings people together’
At the Bradenton Riverwalk on Monday, users were wandering back and forth, stopping every now and then to catch a Pokémon, or to wipe the sweat from their brow.
The Malburg family — 28-year-old Kurt, 34-year-old Candi and their 6-year-old son Kaiden — had traipsed around the county before ending up at the Riverwalk. From Parrish, they headed to the Ringling, around University Parkway and then over to the Riverwalk. Kurt started playing Pokémon in the sixth grade and essentially hasn’t stopped since.
“I didn’t think it was going to be as big as it is,” he said.
A little further down the Riverwalk, seated on a park bench, Bradenton residents Hannah Maslin, 18, Hayley Burroughs, 20, and Stephanie Dent, 18, declared the game is a “childhood dream come true.”
“Now you have the opportunity, to some degree, to go out and catch Pokémon. This is the next level,” Maslin said.
The users had alredy caught quite a few Pokémon and were enjoying the new people they’ve met through their travels.
“The activeness, it brings people together,” Dent said.
And that’s part of the brilliance of the app, said Christopher Richter, a Ruskin resident who runs a website BoardGaming for the Win. On Saturday, Richter was playing at the Westfield Mall in Brandon and found many people congregating around the fountains in the mall, playing the app.
On Sunday, Richter joined his sister and brother-in-law in downtown Bradenton, and used the app there, too.
“Social activity is heightened, it’s forcing people to walk around town to meet different people,” Richter said.
“Morning! Playing #PokemonGO? Don't catch & drive!” read the agency’s tweet. “Wait, park & then #PokemonGo. #GottaCatchEmAll but safely!”
The tweet, posted at 7:50 a.m. Monday, was shared by @PokemonGoNews, a Twitter account that shares news surrounding the game. As of Monday afternoon, the tweet by Sarasota police had been retweeted more than 498 times.
Sarasota police spokeswoman Genevieve Judge said the agency wanted to share a message about Pokémon Go and have a little humor, but to also relay a serious message about the dangers of the game.
“We have not had any calls as of right now in the city, but we’ve heard about robberies and car crashes in other places,” she said Monday afternoon. “We also know that it’s becoming a problem in other places.”
Judge said those playing the game have to use a lot of concentration.
“If you’re doing that while you’re driving, you’re not concentrating on actually driving, which is what you should be doing,” she said, adding that the public should play it safely. “Don’t do it while you’re driving... we don’t want you to catch and drive. Remain vigilant. Know what’s going on around you.”
The Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources Department is urging users to make sure they follow park and preserve rules in their efforts to catch ’em all, and that includes staying on marked trails, said Melissa Nell, division manager for volunteer and education division in the parks and natural resources department.
“All the regular rules are still on,” she said.
Even with the warning, Nell said it was very exciting to see how many people are using the app in some of the county parks, including Emerson Point Preserve and GT Bray.
“A lot of folks who may not come to our preserves are playing. People are really happy and friendly,” she said. “People are talking to each other and they’re smiling and they’re laughing and they’re sharing this common thing.”
Bradenton Police Lt. James Racky said his agency hasn’t responded to any crimes related to Pokémon Go usage.
“Nothing’s been reported yet,” he said.
Over in the city of Palmetto, Palmetto Police Chief Scott Tyler said officers have not had any Pokémon Go-related cases as of Monday.
“But it’s like with everything else,” he said: “Avoid distracted driving.”
What is Pokémon?
Pokémon are creatures of all shapes and sizes who live in the wild or alongside humans. For the most part, Pokémon do not speak except to utter their names. Pokémon are raised and commanded by their owners (called “Trainers”). During their adventures, Pokémon grow and become more experienced and even, on occasion, evolve into stronger Pokémon. There are currently more than 700 creatures that inhabit the Pokémon universe.
Pokémon is most well known in video game form, but is also a card game and an animated series following the famous young Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum.