In little more than a week, the world has become obsessed with the Pokemon Go app and Sedalia citizens have joined the hype to catch ‘em all.
The mobile app Pokemon Go launched last Wednesday and despite initial issues has become an overnight sensation, attracting young and old alike to search their communities for Augmented Reality Pokemon. Players are called “trainers” who try to collect Pokemon across the world to help research the creatures. The game features Pokestops, which are connected in a form of geocaching — a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS — to historic landmarks and parks.
In Sedalia, one of the most popular spots is the Pettis County Courthouse. James Hogg was there Thursday night and said he’s been there almost every night since the game started last week, noting the crowd continues to grow. He said Wednesday night there were roughly 60 people.
“The people have increased exponentially since it started,” he said. “… This area has been amazing. Everyone has been helping everyone. There hasn’t been any incidents of violence or people not liking each other.”
Just before talking with the Democrat, Hogg had been offering tips to fellow trainer Wyatt Smith. The two had just met and began chatting about the app, talking about best practices.
“You’ll find people in random groups because they just met and started walking around together,” Hogg said.
Both Smith and Hogg said the app has given them an opportunity to get more exercise and get out of the house. They both said they’ve reconnected with old friends they’ve run into while downtown.
Downtown resident Jennifer Langdon plays the game as well and has noticed an increase in downtown traffic, but she’s pleased with the result.
“Starting (last) Friday I saw a steady increase in people walking downtown, enjoying downtown,” she said Thursday. “I’ve never seen this many young people downtown, ever, and that’s really nice. It works out better for the players that (many Pokestops) are downtown which is a safer area — there’s sidewalks and good lighting. That’s why you see people all hours of the night doing this.”
Families are playing too, and several families were downtown in the early evening hours Thursday, including Dan Miller, Kim Hargrave and her two children, Cole and Kadence Hargrave.
“It’s crazy, but we do so much walking with it,” Kim said.
Dan and Kim both noted they’ve seen both adults and kids playing the app downtown.
“Two weeks ago you wouldn’t have seen this many people out walking in downtown,” Dan added.
The pair also noted that it gives them a chance to show the kids the historic aspects of Sedalia all while having fun with Pokemon since most Pokestops are connected to historic landmarks.
“We’ve been doing a little every day,” Kim said. “Maybe 30 minutes or an hour, get outside to play it. It’s been pretty fun.”
The Sedalia trainers are organized — Becca Wilbanks and Jacob Melte created the “Pokemon Go Sedalia” group on Facebook as an online gathering space for Sedalia trainers.
“We started the group so that people in our town could share their experiences and just talk about the game,” Wilbanks said via email. “Just this week we have gotten over 100 new members and there has been nothing but positive comments and feedback. It’s fun to interact with people in our town and share something we all enjoy.”
Nintendo is seeing huge success from the app. According to the Associated Press, stock in Nintendo, which part owns “Pokemon Go,” jumped 25 percent Monday and another 13 percent Tuesday, adding nearly $8 billion to its market value as investors assessed the breakout game.
The Pokemon Go craze has been embraced across the country by Uber drivers offering to drive trainers around to catch Pokemon safely, businesses who place “lures” outside their building for a small price to attract more visitors, animal shelters are seeing an increase in volunteers who walk dogs and catch Pokemon at the same time, and local, state and national parks that, along with polite warnings to tread carefully, are setting up Pokemon events.
There have also been some downfalls to the app, including a woman who found a dead body in a river in Wyoming while playing the game, residents complaining about trespassing, and vehicle accidents caused by drivers focusing more on catching them all than arriving safely.
According to the Associated Press, four teens used the game to lure victims by putting a “beacon” at a location in O’Fallon, just outside of St. Louis, and then robbed them, police said.
Sedalia Police Department Officer Travis Lorenz said so far there haven’t been any negative Pokemon-related incidents in Sedalia that he’s heard of, but he offered a few safety precautions for trainers.
“Obviously don’t drive around and use the app,” he said. “Make sure you have a buddy with you. Watch your surroundings and be careful where you’re going, especially at night, pay attention to your surroundings at night while walking around downtown.”
Lorenz also reminded citizens that Sedalia parks close at midnight and officers may have to ask people to leave at closing time, despite a large number of Pokespots in Liberty Park and others. He also cautioned about lures, like the incident in O’Fallon.
“These lure modules, they can set them out where other people see them and come to them, then people are there waiting for people to show up,” Lorenz explained. “I could see that being a problem, especially if it’s at off-the-path places. Be careful wherever you’re at lure modules. If you have a lure off in a dark field, don’t go out there, obviously.”
While Pokemon Go hasn’t caused any major problems in Sedalia, Lorenz said it has caused some citizens to call in reports of suspicious activity.
“The only issues we’ve got are people are calling in suspicious people,” he said. “One the other night, there was a man standing in the intersection of the road without a shirt. People were calling in, they thought he was under the influence because there with his his shirt off, but he was playing Pokemon.”
Once Lorenz started hearing more and more about the app, he decided to check it out for himself. Several other SPD officers have signed up for the popular game, even playing with citizens occassionally. Since many of the Pokespots are connected to historic landmarks, downtown Sedalia has become a high traffic area for trainers.
“I’ve been driving through those areas, keeping an eye on those folks playing, and I’ve been playing it too,” Lorenz said with a laugh. “Saturday when I started figuring it out there were 20 to 30 people at the (Pettis County) courthouse, around midnight or so. You could hear the crowd talking and I got out and asked what they were doing. They said ‘there’s a lure module on the cannon,’ and I pulled my phone out and started playing. I had some folks help me out, get it up and running. The last few nights we’ve had guys out talking with (citizens) and playing with them. It’s an opportunity to get out and talk with folks in a good way.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or @NicoleRCooke.