If you’ve noticed swarms of people staring and waving their smartphones at imaginary objects in Boothbay Harbor lately, you’re not alone. No, it’s not a case of mass hysteria but rather Pokemon Go, the global augmented reality phenomenon that has reached the shores of the Midcoast. For the uninitiated, Pokemon Go is a free-to-play, location-based mobile game developed as part of the Pokemon (short for pocket monster) franchise. In less than a month, the game has taken the world by storm and created legions of players swept up in the virtual hysteria.
In a nutshell, the game allows players to capture, battle, and train virtual Pokemon who appear throughout the real world. It makes use of GPS and the camera of compatible devices where the player’s avatar moves in the game as they walk around in real life. Events and objects are linked with specific locations in the physical world–known as PokeStops — and the goal is to catch, train, and eventually do battle with the cartoon characters who are superimposed over real life objects.
The PokeStops are typically placed at public art installations, historical markers, monuments and other points of interest. In Boothbay Harbor, PokeStops include the war memorial at the library, Two Salty Dogs pet store, and McSeagulls restaurant on Pier One. When a player encounters a Pokemon, the image is captured on the screen of their device and Pokeballs are thrown — via a function of the app — to capture the monster. If the Pokemon is caught, it will come under the ownership of the player. As players travel the real world, the avatar moves along the game's map. Though the concept may be head-scratching to adults, it has captured the imagination of many, including 11-year-old Hannah Roberts of Boothbay.
“I play it for an hour a day,” said Roberts. “It’s a lot of walking but the game is really fun.”
The Pokemon Go craze has not been without controversy. Since the game’s release three weeks ago, criminals have used PokeStops to mug unsuspecting players and recently a Pokemon was placed at a holocaust memorial. With so much emphasis placed on the virtual world, game players have been walking into walls, getting into car accidents, falling off sidewalks, and even scaling fences of private properties in their haste to hunt the Pokemon, reported the New York Daily News. Critics aside, the game has encouraged players to exercise and Cosmopolitan reported that some users are meeting on the app, hitting it off and going out on dates.
“I think it’s a creative idea but people need to be intelligent about when and where they play it,” said Jason Berry, a 20-year-old Wiscasset resident who uses the Pokemon Go app on his phone.
So far, the game has been big business for Pokemon creator Niantic: the app has been downloaded more than eight million times and generates $1.6 million in revenue daily through in-app purchases, according to online technology site Techcrunch. The game is being played in more than 14 countries and become a huge hit here in Maine. On a recent evening, a dozen or so people could be seen sprinting across the footbridge in Boothbay Harbor in pursuit of a Pokemon located near the now closed Romar Bowling Lanes on Bridge Street. With the intensity of a polite mob, the group (presumably) calmly captured the Pokemon and then fanned out across the town in search of more Pokemon.
Okay, are you still confused? The best idea is to ask a Pokemon Go player, easily identified by both their zeal and ubiquitous smartphones held at arm’s length while they scan the harbor. With new Pokemon appearing daily, there just may be one riding shotgun in your car, hiding in the bathroom, or eyeing the lobster roll you just bought. With the game seemingly here to stay, if you can’t beat them, you might want to consider joining them. Provided of course you know where to look.