Pokémon Go frenzy sweeps nation, SRU campus

pokemon images on smart phone

Photo by Haley Sweetland, digital media major from Volant.

July 13, 2016

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - In a rather sobering week of national news featuring the escalation of social and racial tensions, an augmented reality game is challenging those divisions by bringing people from all walks of life together for a rousing summer stroll.

Pokémon Go, a free-to-play location-based mobile game released July 6 for iOS and Android devices, allows players to capture, battle and train virtual Pokémon - or pocket monsters - that appear throughout the real world. It makes use of GPS and the camera of compatible devices. Although the game is free-to-play, it supports in-app purchases of additional gameplay items. And while the game has received a mixed reception from gaming critics, it became the most downloaded smartphone app in the U.S. during its first three days of release and was a boon to Nintendo's stock value.

Despite its limited release - Australia, Germany and New Zealand are the only other countries with access as of this writing - Pokémon Go is set to overtake Twitter globally in daily active usage and has already claimed more Android downloads than Tinder and more usage than Snapchat.

With data like this, it is no surprise that a number of Slippery Rock University students have been flooded with memories of Pokémons past and were quick to return to their inner childhood. But what has helped propel the game through the stratosphere is that consumption has become cross generational, as people of all demographics have become enthralled with trying to capture Squirtles, Bulbasaurs and Charizards.

"It's been bizarre walking around campus on a 2 a.m. 'Pokémon Go run' and seeing no fewer than 20 people playing too," said Chase Wickerham, a senior computing: information technology major from West Middlesex. "Even on a college green, Pokémon is bringing all kinds of people together from young children to adults ... couples and entire families."

Wickerham is a fan of the original Pokémon trading card game of the late '90s and captured the illusive Pikachu character, during one of his gaming excursions. Pikachu are one of the most well known varieties of Pokémon, largely because it is a central character in the Pokémon animated series. Pikachu is regarded as a major character of the franchise as well as its mascot and has become an icon of Japanese pop culture in recent years.

While the SRU campus is appealing to nightwalkers like Wickerham, the University's grounds are attracting multiple gamers throughout the day as well.

Brooke Cooper, a 2015 SRU graduate with a bachelor's degree in criminology and criminal justice, says she chose her alma mater as a safe zone for her renewed Pokémon obsession.

"You hear all of these stories of people walking out into traffic with their noses buried in their phones," said Cooper. "With how exciting and addictive this game has become, it's important to decide beforehand where you are planning to play. For me, SRU has become that safe place."

The campus has also become a secure battleground for young gamers and their families. Katie Wack, a Slippery Rock resident and mother of three, was initially pleased by the opportunity to just get her kids outdoors and active, but is now getting swept up in the hype - and fun - herself.

"I like to take them out for short hikes at the state parks, so at first, the idea of just walking around the campus wasn't that exciting to them," said Wack. "But when the game was released, they couldn't wait to come out here ... and neither could I."

As gamers like Wack hunt across the campus for various Pokémon, they discover "PokeStops," which tag local landmarks and become hot spots for gathering gaming supplies like "PokeBalls" and then providing opportunities for capturing a variety of the virtual monsters.

This craze has resulted in a positive surge of exercise and tourism across the country as people are walking their dogs, breaking out their bicycles and hopping on their skateboards for a chance to snag a Pokémon in their own backyards and beyond.

Mimi Campbell

   CAMPBELL

Mimi Campbell, SRU associate director for undergraduate admissions, says she first picked up the game out of simple curiosity, having heard about it from family friends who are Pokémon enthusiasts. After a few days, however, she was on the hunt herself.

At SRU, students, alumni, employees, families and visitors now cluster around the Gazebo and Art building on campus as central gathering places for character collections and mission bases. Chasing Pokémon has also become about chasing friendships and unity, even in a world with continual rushes at heartbreak.

"Recently, we've heard so many horrible things happening in the world that it's been such a relief to find people coming together, even for just a game," said John-George Sample, a sophomore computer science major from Corry. "I think Pokémon Go is actually transcending its purpose. It's also become about finding a little healing and building bridges."

Interestingly, according to Bloomsburg News, Pokémon began as an April Fool's joke.

"In 2014, Google unveiled "Pokémon Challenge" for Google Maps complete with a promotional video, inviting users to find and capture the cutesy fictional monsters within the application. The feature was active for a short while before it was turned off," Bloomsburg reported.

Fortunately for Pokémon enthusiasts, John Hanke, chief executive officer of Niantic Labs, saw the game's potential and started it on the road to full development.

According to the research firm SensorTower, since it's release last week, the game topped 15 million downloads on Apple's App Store and Google Play.

MEDIA CONTACT: Maizee Zaccone | 724.738.2091 | mxz1016@sru.edu