Pokémon Go has captured downtown Tulsa

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IMG_9426It’s safe to say Pokémon Go is taking over the world. By the time you read this, the uber-addicting new mobile game will likely have more daily users than Twitter.

Never one to pass up a trend, I downloaded the game on Saturday night. I’d just moved into a new house that has a park about five minutes away, and every time I’d taken the dogs there for a walk it had been empty. That sounds like prime Pokémon hunting grounds, right?

(Actually, I don’t know. I don’t have much of a personal history with the franchise, so the whole experience is completely new to me.)

When I got to the park Saturday night, I was surprised to see my formerly vacant park had three different groups of kids walking around. They all either had their phones directly in front of their face or at their sides  the latter being a sure sign of a Pokémon player (the app needs to be running for it to work, but the developers likely didn’t want a bunch of oblivious kids to get hit by moving vehicles, so they designed the game to buzz your phone whenever there’s something nearby you need to do.)

The park was full Sunday, too, and when I jogged by the park Monday morning, a group was there obviously catching the little critters. I realized that if my little neighborhood park was this active, downtown Tulsa was going to be wild.

So I braved the heat to go hunt down the people who were hunting Pokémon (and also go hunt for Pokémon myself I’m pretty addicted even though I’m not totally sure what I’m doing).

It didn’t take me long to find someone. Barrett Zandbergen, 10, and his mom Jennifer, were walking in the Brady District near Valkyrie and Barrett had his phone in front of his face. Barrett’s mom had the dutiful look of a mother keeping her son occupied during the summer.

I asked Barrett if he had ever played the old Game Boy game, but I was momentarily shamed when he pointed out he was too young to have lived during the Game Boy era.

“I played the card game,” he said.

Barrett said he had downloaded the game over the weekend, then woke up Monday and he and his mother headed to the University of Tulsa campus to go hunting. The app wears down your battery really quickly (it’s constantly pinging your GPS to find your location and show you the closest hot spots, so it’s like running a full-fledged game and a map app at the same time,) so the two headed home, got a full charge and then came downtown.

The reason downtown is such a Pokémon hotspot is because the game assigns markers to different landmarks (think Center of the Universe, or the Philbrook) that players can go to and collect free items. One of those items is an egg (bear with me here) that players can put in an incubator and hatch. The only catch is that you have to travel a certain distance to get the egg to hatch. The further the required distance, the more rare the Pokémon.

Barrett said because he’s only 10 years old, he couldn’t exactly walk around town on his own to hatch his eggs, but he figured out a workaround.

“I basically just walked around in my backyard last night,” he said.

After I bid Barrett farewell, I headed to nearby Guthrie Green where about a dozen people appeared to be playing the game. When I headed south, I found Mackenzie Wooten and Michael Crawford leaning over the edge near the Center of Universe, phones drawn.

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Mackenzie Wooten, 21, plays Pokemon Go on Monday near the Center of the Universe in downtown Tulsa. DYLAN GOFORTH/The Frontier

Wooten, 21, said she’d played the game when she was younger, while Crawford said he had only watched the TV show.

“I’m actually downloading the game right now,” he said. “I wasn’t going to, but she was playing it so I figured I would.”

I asked them how they knew each other, and they shared a look at each other then started awkwardly giggling.

“Well, she’s my ex-girlfriend,” Crawford said.

Pokémon Go, bringing people (back) together.

“The first night I got the game, I spent all night walking around with my brother catching Pokémon,” Wooten said. “It’s all anyone is really talking about. I heard some people say ‘Hey, we should go to the Zoo, I bet there’s good Pokémon there. Or ‘Let’s go get Pokémon at the mall.’ It’s kind of hilarious.”

A side effect of the game’s popularity is that it has apparently increased the activity levels of its users. Like I said, you can’t just sit still to play effectively, you have to move around. And since the game knows the difference between a user who’s walking and a user who’s merely riding in a car (or driving sidenote: don’t drive and play), it’s encouraged users to get more exercise than they’re used to.

As I continued my trip downtown, I spotted a couple that was definitely playing Pokémon Go. They would stand still for a moment, play on their phones, then look up, point to a new destination, walk there, then stop and play on their phones again. I kind of had to creepily stalk them for a few minutes to catch up, and when I asked them if they were playing Pokémon, they both erupted into laughter.

“Is it that obvious?” Andrew Winham asked. He was outside the Public Service Company of Oklahoma building near Seventh Street and Cincinnati Avenue with his wife, Deanna.

She said she had resisted downloading the game for a few days, but ultimately “caved in to peer pressure.”

“I played the game when I was little and I watched the show, so I guess I’m the target audience,” she said. “It’s a little nostalgia. It’s definitely like part of my childhood that I’m getting a little bit back.”

Deanna works downtown during the day, and Andrew works nights, so he had decided to join her for her lunch break to get some gaming in.

“When I first heard about the game, I was so mad, I was like ‘Oh great, another Candy Crush.’ But the game is actually really fun,” he said. “I immediately saw people walking around in groups, talking to each other, and everyone would be laughing and have a smile on their face. I’ve been approached by more random people and happy kids than before because they know I’m playing this game.”

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