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All Points West: Making sense of Pokemon Go craze
July 22, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
The virtual world got a boost in early July, for better or for worse. You’ll get my drift in a few minutes. On my way to Cheyenne for National Guard duty this past weekend, I saw the first sign of trouble. A Nebraska Department of Roads warning on an electronic highway sign greeted me: “Don’t Pokémon Go and Drive.” I wasn’t planning on it. This after two days of listening to one of our young staffers talk about the live interactive App, then mentioning that her younger brother woke up stepping out into the early morning mist in south Gering clad only in bath towel to capture one of the 700 creatures that are said to inhabit the Pokémon universe. The lucrative franchise was introduced by game maker Nintendo Systems.
Our staffer’s brother did this before anyone else in the neighborhood or nearby could do the same (You’d be surprised at the lengths Pokémon Go players have gone to capture the creatures, but more on this later).

The first games, Pokémon Red and Green Versions, entered the Nintendo Game Boy system in Japan on Feb. 17, 1996, and subsequently in the U.S. and other parts of the world in 1998.

Since then, the creatures have achieved world-wide fame. Pikachu, likely the most popular of the cartoon etched creatures, has grown to become a household name.

It’s officially been proven, big things have small beginnings.
According to the history of Pokémon, the franchise started in 1995 simply based on the hobby of Satoshi Tajiri, who as a child was fond of catching insects and tadpoles while living in a suburb of Tokyo. The 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise was celebrated with a commercial at the 2016 Super Bowl.

Pokémon Go was released on July 6, 2016, using Niantic’s Real World Gaming Platform, which raised $30 million in financing from the Pokémon Company, Google and Nintendo. Niantic created the Ingress App. Without involving too much technical jargon, Ingress is a real-time location-based multiplayer game, which was launched for Android devices on Nov. 15, 2012, and for Apple iOS (operating systems) on July 12, 2014.

Two short years later, in 2016, people have become even more leashed to their smart devices, simultaneously staring at their smartphones or tablets, and walking through a virtual world, except the virtual world overlaps onto the real world where there are real risks and dangers, such as the potential to trespass or stop in the middle of the street, as I did while trying out the App during my cursory attempts to research the product. In a mere 10 minutes, I had reached Level 2, capturing two creatures, a Bulbasaur and a Nidoran, the latter described as Poison Pin with the hidden ability to Hustle (Confused? Me too. I’m guessing only a gamer with more experience could explain such Pokémon intricacies).

I met Nidoran at the corner of 10th and O streets just inside Prairie Floral. Meanwhile, a group of Gering teens was across the street in front of Gering Bakery discussing their captures. (See photo on the Front Page). One of them, Joseph Brady, 15, reported that he and his cohorts, also 15, Matthew Bohlman and Brock Parker, encountered a 20-something gentleman at the Central Church of Christ, who took the day off from his job in Colorado to attempt the capture of a Pokémon gym or training center for the creatures, who by the way can gain strength by training at these gyms, hence, why the gyms are so valuable. Meanwhile, the trio of teens had ridden their bikes to 10th Street from their respective homes in Gering. Perhaps, one ancillary benefit of the game is it will help America shed a few unwanted pounds, and perhaps our kids will rediscover what it’s like to play outside.

The Wyoming National Guard was not immune to this phenomenon.
Several soldiers spent their breaks glued to their iPhones, exclaiming captures, and moves from one level to the next at a training ground in Guernsey. One soldier reported that the town of Chugwater, Wyoming, had only one App user, but with hundreds of possible captures and a Pokémon gym in the town of 212 people and one gas station (still under construction), a few App users from Cheyenne decided to drive the 43 minutes to find out.

According to comicbook.com, the App has been downloaded 15 million times as of July 13, more than a week ago. As of July 11, Survey Monkey boasted 21 million active users in the United States. Various financial reports have said the App is earning more than $5 million every day, and Nintendo’s market value increased by $9 billion in the last two days of the first week. Techcrunch.com reported iOS downloads give Nintendo earnings of about $1.6 million a day. By Sunday, with my bags packed, ready to come home from drill, the talk continued. In giving my safety briefing, I had to include in it, that soldiers refrain from playing the game while driving or while walking as I did to cross a street. During my drive along highways 85 to 151 through La Grange, Wyoming, I saw more than a dozen stopped cars, and wondered for a moment if it was scavenging fever amid ping-pong ball sized hail stones descending from an ominous sky.

In a Fox News report, a Texas Tech professor warned of possible “death by Pokémon.” And, in of all places in rural Wyoming, the game led a teen girl to discover the body of a dead man who had purportedly drowned near a highway underpass. At the same time, I couldn’t help but think about the shooting deaths of three Baton Rouge (Louisiana) law enforcement officers. And this single thought rang in my head: If millions of Americans so caught up in the Pokémon Go craze are willing to jump into their cars to find imaginary creatures at the spur of the moment, would we or could we expend the same kind of energy to suppress violence? Would it be so hard to look after one another with the same kind of zeal?
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