LUMBERTON — A new game is transforming the smartphones of 20-somethings like Titania Mason into time machines, taking them back to their childhoods.
The 29-year-old, who lives outside Orrum, has joined millions of millennials in playing Pokémon Go, a reboot of a game originally released in the mid-90s.
“I’ve loved Pokémon ever since I can remember,” Mason said. “Playing it on my Game Boy was always fun. [Pokémon Go] truly is a walk down memory lane, but a more enhanced version with many surprises.”
Within about two weeks of its launch, the game had been downloaded 15 million times on the Apple Store and Google Play, according to USA Today. Christopher Nheu, a mobile product manager, told USA Today that most people playing Pokémon Go are in their 20s. The reason for that is simple — the Pokémon franchise recently celebrated its 20th birthday.
Pokémon, Japanese for “pocket monsters,” are cartoon creatures created in Japan by Satoshi Tajiri. Since the 1995 American release of the game, which follows novice Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum in his quest to “catch ‘em all,” the Pokémon brand has grown into a franchise, producing various versions of the game, a television series and several movies.
But until now, Pokémon-lovers would have to own gaming systems — which can be pricey — to play a Pokémon game. Pokémon Go gives anyone with a smartphone the opportunity to submerge themselves in the nostalgia of the 90s.
Here’s the gist of Pokémon Go: The player opens the game on their phone, walks around and waits for a Pokémon to pop up on the screen, which looks like a GPS. The camera on the phone picks up the player’s surroundings in real time, but superimposes a Pokémon onto the background, making it an augmented reality game.
The player clicks on the Pokémon and “throws” Pokéballs at it in an attempt to catch it. After the Pokémon is captured, it’s entered into a Pokédex, an index of Pokémon that keeps track of the ones the player has caught. Pokéballs and other surprise goodies can be found at PokéStops, which are located at real-life landmarks scattered around the country at locations like churches, parks and public buildings.
Pokémon Go has proven too surreal for some, according to news reports. One player was so immersed in the game that he didn’t realize he’d wandered onto the site of a drug deal, and another didn’t notice a venomous snake biting at his toes.
Other players have been lured to secluded areas where they’ve been robbed, been charged with trespassing on private property or have wrecked while playing the game behind the wheel.
The game does give the player the option to swap augmented reality for a solid background so they don’t get too comfortable with their surroundings.
Players are warned at the start of the game to stay cautious while playing. But aspiring Pokémon “trainers” can go the extra mile to stay safe by traveling in pairs or groups, avoiding poorly-lit areas, refraining from playing behind the wheel and staying aware of potential hazards.
“During the course of playing Pokémon Go, I’ve read about so many things going wrong,” Mason said. “I feel that we as players should have fun, but should also use precautions and be aware of our surroundings. It’s fun to try and ‘catch ‘em all’ but let’s be sensible about how extreme we take it. Have fun, meet new people and be safe, especially for the sake of our young people.”
Mason said she enjoys playing the game, but it does have its challenges.
“Living in the country can have its disadvantages because there are no Pokémon gyms or shops,” Mason said.
Critics say its dangers far outweigh the joy it brings, but one Lumberton teen said the game will keep him moving this summer.
“I get exercise playing Pokémon Go,” said 17-year-old Dylan Campbell. “That’s my favorite part.”
The likelihood of catching Pokémon increases when the player is moving, and some elements of the game only work when the player is active.
In a county where obesity is prevalent, Pokémon Go may be an answered prayer.
Campbell had stopped by Jerry Giles Park in Lumberton on Tuesday with friends Lucas Larson and Taylor Lee to play the game. Campbell grew up playing Pokémon and was excited that the game was available for smartphones. Lee agreed, adding that she loves how portable the game is.
Lumberton offers several PokéStops. Some notable ones are the Lumberton Bowling Center, the post office, Exploration Station, the Robeson County Public Library, the Robeson County Museum and the plaza downtown. Players living around The University of North Carolina at Pembroke can find a total of 10 PokéStops on and around campus.
The gyms are also scattered around Lumberton. Chestnut United Methodist Church and the Robeson Church and Community Center are two in Lumberton, and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke offers two gyms on its campus.