While walking around Chicago, you might have recently noticed more people than usual obsessively hunched over their smartphones. Maybe you thought they were following complicated directions to a new bar or restaurant.
But they’re not lost. They’re playing Pokémon GO, the mobile gaming app that has taken the city and country by storm.
Launched on July 6, Pokémon GO blends the real world with the virtual world: the app uses a smartphone’s GPS to detect when and where a player is located in the game and makes Pokémon appear on a player’s smartphone screen.
Pokémon GO player J. Samuel Guerrero, a 24-year-old Little Village native, grew up with Pokémon in the 1990s and said the release of Pokémon GO was a childhood dream come true.
“Like everyone in the community, we’ve been waiting for a game like this for such a long time. As a kid, I always imagined what it would be like to have Pokémon in the real world, and this is the closest thing we could ever get to it,” Guerrero said. “Everyone, including myself, has been overjoyed with how fun it is.”
To play the game, you have to download the Pokémon GO app, sign up for the game (either through a Google account or by creating a Pokémon Trainer Club account) and create a digital avatar (aka your Pokémon trainer). As you move through the real world, so does your avatar, which can come across Pokémon, the monsters or critters in the game; PokéStops, checkpoints where players can collect items; and Gyms, which are controlled by and fought for by Pokémon teams.
— Ryan (@TheRyanBoswell) July 12, 2016
Miguel Uribe, a 21-year-old self-described Pokémon nerd, said the release of Pokémon GO has exposed a whole new group of people to the Pokémon phenomenon.
“It makes Pokémon more mainstream. I see friends, who never played Pokémon [before], all playing Pokémon GO,” Uribe said. “I see parents playing Pokémon Go. It’s really amazing.”
In addition to introducing people to Pokémon, the app introduces them to new places. The locations of Pokémon, PokéStops and Pokémon gyms are real places, such as churches, restaurants and businesses.
“I’ve been doing a lot of traveling, visiting different suburbs, going downtown and taking walks to see new things in search of Pokémon,” Uribe said, adding people playing Pokémon Go should be safe while in pursuit. “Don’t go out at night, or if you do go out night, go with a group.”
— AKA Erin (@PurloinedKitten) July 12, 2016
After downloading the game, Guerrero created the Facebook group Chicago Pokemon Go as a way for his friends and co-workers playing the game to connect. Shortly after creating the group, the number of members grew exponentially (as of this writing, there are 3,676 members).
To bring Pokémon GO players together in real life, Guerrero decided to organize a meetup Sunday at Cloud Gate—aka the Bean—in Millennium Park. While he didn’t anticipate a large attendance, more than 7,000 are currently planning to go, according to the event page.
“Originally, it was just for players to hang out and enjoy the game,” Guerrero said. Due to the larger than expected turn out Guerrero said the event might shift over to Buckingham Fountain.
“We might migrate to Buckingham Fountain because the Bean, though it’s large, it might not be large enough to hold everyone,” he said. “Originally, we’re planning around 2 p.m. for people to show up and meet, and then slowly migrate to a wider open area.”
Can’t make it to Sunday’s meetup? Catch your chance next week: The Pokemon Go Chicago Squad will host a meetup from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 23 at the Lincoln Park Zoo.