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Pokémon Go has players exploring Lexington and pursuing adventure

Pokemon Go players at University of Kentucky

Reporter Andrew Henderson talks to Pokemon Go players on the University of Kentucky campus.
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Reporter Andrew Henderson talks to Pokemon Go players on the University of Kentucky campus.

Sitting outside Papa John’s Pizza across from the University of Kentucky’s Singletary Center for the Arts on Thursday night, Quel Coleman, 19, was anxiously waiting.

In fact, the Atlantan had been waiting for for a year to download Pokémon Go.

“This is probably going to take over my life,” Coleman said. “I might not come to work tomorrow.”

With the promise of being able to “catch ’em all,” the new iPhone and Android game Pokémon Go allows players to “travel between the real world and the virtual world of Pokémon.”

The game was released in the U.S. Wednesday night, and people around the country, and the world, have already embarked on their respective journeys.

Using GPS and augmented reality, players use their cellphone’s camera and go outside to catch Pokémon, collect items and challenge gyms. The gyms are an important part of the game because they give players a means to put their Pokémon to the test against others.

A series of video games, Pokémon was developed in 1996 and published by Nintendo. Pokémon was the first hand-held game Coleman played. He’s looking forward to the next installation in the series, Pokémon Sun and Moon, he said.

“I’ve been hooked ever since 1999,” Coleman said.

In the game, players have the opportunity to choose one of three starter Pokémon. Coleman chose Charmander.

After choosing a starter, players need to get up and go outside. In order to level up — or advance — in the game, players have to gain experience. This is done by going to various real-world places that are recognized landmarks in the game. From these you gain experience and in-game items.

The company that made the game, Niantic Inc., started as part of Google. Niantic made the game Ingress, too, which people in two teams competed over portals around the world. For comparison, in Pokémon Go, these portals would be gyms, and there are three teams and not two.

In Pokémon Go, once players reach Level 5, they’re able to choose to join either Team Instinct, Team Mystic or Team Valor. By joining a team you make progress in the game.

Ingress used a combination of Google Maps data, Android location statistics and user-submitted local landmarks to make the portals, said Kyle Defler, an incoming junior at UK.

“In order to make the Pokéshops and gyms, they just reused their data from Ingress,” he said. “That is why the area near where there was an active Ingress community may have more shops/gyms.”

Another way to gain experience is by capturing Pokémon. The point of the game is to explore various areas to find Pokémon.

In an urban area, expect to find more normal-type Pokémon, such as Pidgey or Ratta. A trip to the UK Arboretum yields more bug and grass-types: Weedle, Metapod and Exeggcute.

Online, players are constantly finding unique in-game locations and strange situations to capture Pokémon.

UK’s campus is full of in-game locations and gyms. Miller Hall, the Whitfield Stump, Margaret I. King Library and the university’s south entrance are all locations where players can get Pokéballs, potions and eggs.

Memorial Hall, named to honor those who died in World War I, is a gym in the game. So is the Patterson Office Tower. Both were under control of Team Mystic (the blue team) Thursday night. That control could change at any time as the game goes on.

Popularity of the new game, however, can also herald difficulties. Not the least among them is the potential for injuries if you’re not paying attention while following your phone.

A lot of online chatter has been surrounding the problems of battery life, data use and the servers being down, preventing game play. For example, once the game finally downloaded on Coleman’s phone, he soon saw that the servers were down.

The fickleness of the servers has inspired some online creativity. Take for example the Twitter account @PoGoServer.

Not all players suffered the curse of the servers. Ellen Green, an incoming UK senior, sat in front of the office tower to help reinforce the blue team’s gym.

“Seems like all the gyms around here are blue right now,” she said.

Defler explained that people on the same team can keep as many as six total Pokémon at their team’s gym to increase their chances of keeping control.

With each defeated player, the prestige level of gyms goes down, making it more likely for other teams to claim them.

Green started the game as soon as it came out, she said. She spent her lunch break Thursday walking around campus playing.

Tristan Koerner, an incoming junior at UK, was roaming around campus on a recent evening. He had reached level 4 after starting the game that morning.

For him, the game reminded him of a simpler time.

“Gets people to go roam, get experience and embrace your inner child,” Koerner said.

Andrew Henderson: 859-231-3424, @a_henderson1864

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