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NAMPA — How do you get video game lovers from the millennial generation and younger outside? Create a virtual reality game with some of our generation’s most beloved characters.

Pokemon Go is a new, free game for smartphones released this week. It has billions of people walking around outside hunting for fake cartoon animals in the real world.

And I can tell you from first-hand experience, it is addicting.

For those who might not know, Pokemon is a multibillion-dollar franchise that started in 1997 in Japan. Pokemon was a cartoon about a boy named Ash who lived in a world full of animals called Pokemon that had special powers. Humans in the Pokemon world could catch and train Pokemon as dueling pets. I remember riding the school bus to Greenhurst Elementary when I received my first Pokemon game card, a Pikachu. Pikachu is the most well-known Pokemon — a yellow mouse that can shoot lightning from his body.

This newest game is unlike any seen before because it breaks away from traditional gaming systems by taking advantage of GPS systems within smartphones to create an augmented reality for gameplay.

HOW TO PLAY

Gameplay is relatively simple and is suitable for anyone interested, not just devout Pokemon fans. To start, a smartphone owner has to download the free game from the app stores. Players are then introduced to the basic rules and story line. Then they get to create a character and begin walking through the augmented reality.

The game uses GPS to locate Pokemon animals, which can appear anywhere at any time, and Pokestops and Pokegyms.

In the television series, Pokemon were used for battle and companionship. Pokemon animals can evolve to become stronger versions of themselves. To capture a Pokemon, a trainer (the game player) must have a collection of Pokeballs. Pokeballs are red and white with black in the center and can capture Pokemon. In the game, one must collect Pokeballs at a Pokestop, which in Pokemon Go are unique and quirky areas in a city.

In Nampa there are thousands of areas that count as Pokestop. While visiting friends in downtown, I discovered multiple street art sites, historical spots, statues and stores that were Pokestop. Some of my favorites were the Flying M Coffeegarage, the Nampa Train Depot, the World War II airplane monument at Lakeview Park, the statue of Jesus Christ at the Saint Paul’s Catholic School and more.

While enjoying a nice walk through my hometown, I came across others playing the game. This made game play more fun and interactive because I was able to meet new people in the community and trade secrets about where to get the most points, Pokemon and Pokeballs.

Players are actually meeting face to face, despite the fact they arrived at nearby high schools, water towers and museums by staring at their screens.

Pokegyms are areas where players can meet and battle each other’s Pokemon or they can battle virtual Pokemon from the game’s software. Even the Idaho Press-Tribune office is a Pokegym.

Other places that are Pokestops in Nampa include the Nampa Police Department, the Nampa Fire Department and the high schools. Police Departments are a common Pokestop in any city.

Police in Darwin, Australia, have even asked players not to waltz into their station, which of course is a Pokestop in the game.

Although Nampa Police spokesman Tim Riha said he hasn’t seen more people walking in and around the department playing the game, employees at the Nampa Library have seen more activity.

Chris Cooper, the library director, said the librarians have noticed more teens and young adults walking around downtown near the library and sitting outside the library playing the game together.

“If it encourages people to meet at the library, that is a positive thing,” Cooper said.

Mike Sloan, 34, said he is older than his coworkers who play, but he has enjoyed Pokemon Go over the weekend. He said the game is a positive thing for the community because it forces people to walk around areas they may have never explored before.

“More people are wandering downtown,” Sloan said. “I like that a lot of the Pokecenters are art murals in town. It makes people go to places they haven’t seen before in our city.”

Pokemon Go players have also been highlighted in the local news lately. A teenager in Kuna was playing Pokemon on Sunday, when he discovered two storage units on fire at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Deer Flat Road. The player was able to call 911 on his phone, and the fire department arrived quickly.

WALKING INTO THINGS

Luckily for me, I have not had an accident yet while playing. I have played while letting my friends drive the car around town. I hold the driver’s phone and my phone as we go exploring for Pokemon and Pokestops. We also play by walking around slowly through town and finding Pokemon down alleyways, in stores and in the park. I even found a Meowth, one of the most popular Pokemon, outside of the Nampa Recreation Center.

So if you see herds of young people with their phones out and walking at a slow pace around your neighborhood, they aren’t just sucked into the newest trend on Facebook. They are most likely catching a Pidgeon, Bulbasaur, Pikachu or a Jiggly Puff.

Danielle Wiley is the reporter for the Kuna Melba News. Contact her at 922-3008 or email her at editor@kunamelba.com

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