At least 50 “Pokémon trainers” gathered in Courthouse Park in Merced on Monday afternoon to play the new “Pokémon Go” game, and for some of them, it was the first time they’d been to the park in as long as they could remember.
That was certainly the case for 26-year-old Merced resident Cesar Villasenor. He “never” frequents the park, he said.
But on Monday, he did visit the park to hit up all the Pokestops, checkpoints that give players free items and often are located at local landmarks such as statues, monuments or historical buildings.
If Pokémon Go doesn’t ring a bell, any Facebook News Feed post likely will reveal a friend who has “caught” a Pokémon.
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The free downloadable mobile app is an interactive game that pushes players to travel outside their homes to catch virtual critters known as Pokémon. Players collect, evolve and battle their Pokémon with other real-life players.
It released on iTunes and the Google app store last Wednesday.
The game has designated real landmarks, known as Pokestops, to help players get free game items and catch Pokémon. Some places also are designated “gyms” where players can battle their Pokémon with others.
Cooperation with other players is encouraged to get ahead in the game.
Scarlett Silva and her 5-year-old son Max also visited Courthouse Park on Monday afternoon. Though Silva plays the game, she’s enjoyed watching others play as well.
“It’s pretty entertaining to watch all the people who have flocked here,” she said. “This was sort of a bad neighborhood park to be in, but then everybody got the app and now it’s sort of a kick-it spot.”
As Silva spoke to a reporter, someone yelled out a car window “Pokémon nerds!”
Villasenor said he’s seen a lot of younger children out on bicycles playing the game. “I haven’t seen that since the ’90s,” he said.
In Los Banos, Abel Rooney was surprised after finding 10 other people playing Pokémon Go on Sunday evening after he traveled with some friends to Pacheco Park for the altered-reality mobile phone game.
“All of us on the red team started fighting at a gym that was controlled by blue,” Rooney said.
For Rooney, the game is a way he can meet other people who are plugged into the world of Pokémon.
“I’ve always liked Pokémon, and I never disconnected from it,” Rooney said. “When they said this can help me meet other people who like Pokémon as well, it was a done deal.”
Resident Shiloh Basch was walking while playing the game at the same place Monday and stopped in the middle of the sidewalk when she encountered a Pokémon.
“I think it’s improving people’s mental health, forcing them to socialize,” Basch said.
Basch’s husband, David Basch, said he preferred the original Pokémon games that came out in the 1990s. But he also feels Pokémon Go is becoming big, especially in the Merced area.
“Everybody made fun of it in the ’90s, but now it’s cool,” David Basch said.
The game hasn’t come without its warnings. People across the country have been so engrossed in the game and their phones, they suffered minor injuries when they ran into things. Also, in Missouri three teens used the game to lure their armed robbery victims, according to The Associated Press.
Los Banos Police Cmdr. Ray Reyna said Monday he hasn’t heard of any responses to police calls involving Pokémon Go in the city.
However, people playing the game while at the wheel of the car could be prone to distracted driving.
“Statistics have shown that distracted driving can increase a driver’s chance of being involved in an automobile accident,” Reyna said, perhaps involving a pedestrian or bicyclist. “The Police Department also does not recommend entering private property without expressed permission from the owners.”
Reyna said police called due to confrontations between a Pokémon Go player and a property owner could divert resources away from other emergencies.
Juan Pinto, a 21-year-old Los Banos resident, was visiting Pokestops in Pacheco Park to get more items Monday at the Los Banos Library.
“You can’t just be in one place, so you need to walk,” Pinto said. “People are on their phones but you interact with random people, and this makes people get out of their house.”