A teenager walking through Juracka Park in Rotterdam has his gaze fixed on his phone screen.
The phone vibrates and there’s a rustle from nearby. He stops. A wild Pidgey has appeared.
A few seconds and a swipe of his finger later, the teenager has caught the Pidgey and is off to explore the rest of the park, and possibly fight for a gym located up the path.
Parks, historical sites and downtowns are suddenly bursting with Pokémon and the players aiming to catch ’em all.
“It’s something you would expect to be sort of anti-social, but it’s actually bringing people together and getting them outside,” said Jack Parisella, a
Schenectady man who was playing the game with friends on Monday afternoon outside the Happy Cappuccino on Jay Street.
The latest iteration of Pokémon was released for free for smartphone users at the start of July. Since then, its popularity has exploded, with almost more daily users than Twitter on Android devices, according to an article from Forbes. Around the Capital Region, players are converging on parks, monuments and downtown hangouts, where the critters and other game features are largely concentrated. While the app has acted as an unexpected motivational tool to get outside and be active for some, it’s caused headaches for others.
Pokémon GO uses the GPS on a player’s phone to bring the long-running Nintendo series to the real world. As the user travels around, wild Pokémon appear, with different types showing up at different locations and at different times of day. Using the camera on the phone, players can catch Pokémon with their surroundings as the backdrop.
After reaching a certain level on the game, players can join one of three teams and battle for control of gyms. In addition, they can find PokéStops, where items are available for purchase. Gyms and PokéStops can be found at “interesting places,” according to the game’s website, such as public art installations, historical sites and monuments.
Social media has been abuzz with players sharing their game experiences and hoping to collaborate with other users. One Facebook group, called Capital Region Pokémon GO, has about 150 members. Posts help guide other users on where to find certain kinds of Pokémon, which are often true to their surroundings. For example, water-type Pokémon are found near water.
“FYI Saratoga State Park is FILLED with Bulbasaurs,” one user wrote.
“If anybody wants a Gyarados, head on down to my neck of the woods and walk around Schodack Island State Park,” another user said.
The group is planning a trip to Lake George to go camping and explore the Pokémon in the area.
The Stockade District and Vale Cemetery are two of the most densely populated spots in Schenectady for Pokémon GO features.
“Saturday and Sunday was insane. There were just dozens and dozens of people walking around the neighborhood playing this game,” said Mary Zawacki, curator at the Schenectady County Historical Society, located in the Stockade district. “To have so many people here at once exploring on their own is something we’ve never seen before.”
Buildings all along the historical district have been marked as PokéStops and gyms, and there are plenty of Pokémon to be caught in the area as well, Zawacki said, adding that staff at the Schenectady County Historical Society have been playing, too.
The historical society is offering a free tour Thursday evening, in which visitors can play Pokémon GO while learning about the historical significance of the buildings where PokéStops are set up.
Some gyms and PokéStops appear in more unexpected locations.
The parking lot outside Mike’s Hot Dogs on Erie Boulevard in Schenectady is a gym, as is Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia.
The Union College campus features one gym at the Nott Memorial, and another a few steps away at the statue of alumnus and former U.S. president Chester Arthur.
On Monday afternoon, a few Pokémon GO players stood near the statue, tapping their phones and talking about stats for the creatures involved in battle. Meanwhile, a tour guide walked past with a few prospective students and their families, talking about the campus and its outdoor Wi-Fi.
The Schenectady Fire Station along Veeder Avenue is a gym, though Capt. Bill Rockenstyre said there hasn’t been any report of more groups than usual hanging out near the building.
While the game has helped get users to be active and interactive with each other, it’s also caused its share of problems.
Rockenstyre said he’s a little familiar with the game because his daughter has been playing it, adding that he noticed one kid along a road staring at his phone who then stopped to play the game in the middle of the street.
“People are usually clueless as is when they’re on their phones, but now they’re doing something that preoccupies them even more,” Rockenstyre said.
Since the game’s release, there have been reports of users playing while driving and others simply ignoring their surroundings and walking into other people or bike lanes. Various police agencies have warned against players trespassing to find Pokémon. There is a note when users first open the app telling them to be aware of their surroundings.
In Missouri, a group of four people used the app’s location feature to anticipate where players might be secluded, then allegedly committed armed robbery.
In Wyoming last week, a 19-year-old playing the game wandered toward a river in an effort to find Pokémon, and discovered a dead body.
The Schenectady County Sheriff’s Office said it hadn’t received any calls as of Monday related to Pokémon GO.
Sgt. Kyle Girard of the Rotterdam Police Department said there has only been one report in town that he’s aware of related to the game so far, which came Monday morning in the form of a call for suspicious persons at Town Hall.
“After responding, investigating and speaking with the people on scene, it was due to the Town Hall being a ‘training facility’ for the app,” Girard said in an email.
Parisella, the Schenectady man who was playing the game with friends on Jay Street on Monday, said he hasn’t played the game while driving, but did admit to falling off his bike because he was playing while riding the other day.
Since the game came out, Parisella has caught over 60 Pokémon, he said. He added that he was at Washington Park in Albany a few days ago when he and a friend ran into about 25 others playing the game.
The cluster of people has become commonplace in certain areas, which Jenna Riley, assistant curator at the Schenectady County Historical Society, said has been cool to see.
“It’s bringing these places to life in a very different sense,” she said of the Stockade District. “There are people on the streets in a way we haven’t seen in a long time.”