There's a new game grabbing the attention of young people in Wauwatosa and thrusting them into the great outdoors. It's called Pokémon Go.
Curious about the new game that's encouraging people to get active and make new friends, I downloaded the app on my iPhone and got to work. Alongside photographer C.T. Kruger, I hit the streets of Wauwatosa to uncover exactly what makes this game so appealing.
But first, here's a little background information on Pokémon: it's a media franchise that was created in Japan in 1995. It's centered on fictional creatures called "Pokémon," which humans, known as Pokémon trainers, catch and train to battle each other for sport. The franchise began as video games and now includes animated television shows, movies, comic books, toys and trading cards.
I was never much of a fan of Pokémon growing up, but I remember Pokémon being a big deal when I was about 8 years old in the late 1990s. My friends would bring plastic Poké balls to school and launch them throughout the hallways; the Pokémon television show would play in the background during playdates at friends' houses; and Pokémon trading cards were hot show and tell items.
As my generation grew up, Pokémon matured, too. Pokémon Go, an augmented reality game released in the United States earlier this month, is a Nintendo iOS and Androids app where players can walk around outside and catch Pokémon.
Pokémon Go: the basics
So, how the heck do you play Pokémon Go anyway? Players can check out PokéStops, which are important or iconic places in your area (think benches, plaques, art installations, historic landmarks, etc.) and collect items. "Gyms" — also landmarks — are where Pokémon trainers can battle each other.
The new game has captivated my friends the same way the franchise did nearly 20 years ago.
Case in point: during a recent dinner with friends, I got a taste for just how fast the game's popularity has spread; some friends pulled up the Pokémon Go app and discussed where they've so far found the rarest Pokémon. It was basically a flashback to my third grade lunch table.
Both PokéStops and Gyms can easily be spotted throughout Wauwatosa as there's usually several people gathered in the area, buried in their cellphones.
Playing in Wauwatosa
Hitting the streets of Wauwatosa with C.T., we immediately found a PokéStop in the Village, near Root Common Park. It was peculiar — very "The Twilight Zone"-esque — to see such a vast number of people playing the game at once.
"We'll play it if we're bored and want to walk around," said Greta Schroeder, 13, of Wauwatosa, as she sat on a park bench with friend Olivia Rebek, also 13. Rebek said she had plans to play the game with her sister later.
About 30 feet away were friends Autumn Stong and Eva Presser Dudley, both 14.
"I ran into a curb," said Stong, of past experiences playing the game. "I was on my bike."
Added Presser Dudley: "Yeah, it's kind of dangerous."
I found players to be more than willing to talk about their experiences playing the game and to share tips with a newbie like me.
"In order to get really good, you have to actually be active," said Owen Shao, 14.
I found 17-year-old Rylan McNally posted up outside Bethany-Calvary United Methodist Church near 73rd and Center streets. He took a break from scraping old paint off his parents' garage to play in a "Gym" near the church. He offered me tips on how to level up and join teams with other players.
I asked him why he thought the game had picked up popularity so quickly.
"It overlays it with a map of your actual world," said McNally of the game. "And that's what people are identifying with. It gives a sense of real world into something that has always been considered a fantasy before."
"Whenever you meet somebody playing the game, you usually stop to chat with them," said Tim Schneider, 13, who was hunting Pokémon near Cafe Hollander in Wauwatosa when I spoke with him. Schneider was clad in a T-shirt and hat bearing the Nintendo logo,
"And sometimes people you know are playing the game so you can chat with them, too. It's a very friendly environment and I think Nintendo does that well, for the most part."
Schneider was out with his mom and stepbrother, Donna and Jacob Odrzywolski, respectively.
"I think it's all great," said Donna Odrzywolski, 43, of the game. "It's gotten us all out, it's given us a lot of connect time."
Schneider said he walked six miles the first day he played Pokémon Go.
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