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Catch ‘em if you can; ‘Pokemon Go’ smartphone game a huge hit in Hilo

Skeptical.

That’s how Hilo resident Barry Ogline first felt after hearing about “Pokemon Go,” the wildly popular, week-old smartphone app.

Ogline, 56, wasn’t a Pokemon player in the 1990s, when the original video game version first came out. So he was hesitant to jump on the bandwagon.

“I thought it wasn’t going to be that good,” Ogline said.

Ogline took the plunge — his friend pushed him to download the free app — and by Tuesday, his tune had changed. Ogline now plays “every day and pretty much all night,” he said as he strolled through Liliuokalani Park and Gardens with a friend, Wendy Emnase, 40.

“This is just great,’” Ogline said, swiping his phone to capture Pokemon, collect Pokeballs and meandering past Pokestops — all different elements in the game. “I downloaded, and I’ve been playing ever since. This is pretty good.”

“Pokemon Go” launched nationwide last week on Android and iOS devices. With at least 21 million active users each day, it’s since become the most popular mobile game in United States history. Three days after its release, the game had more users than Twitter, according to data from Survey Monkey.com.

Projections show “Pokemon Go” soon could have more Android users than Google Maps and the social media app Snapchat. And on Monday, the game boosted the market value of Japan-based Nintendo Co. — which owns about one-third of the game — almost 60 percent.

Users might remember Pokemon from years ago, released as video games, trading card games, anime, manga and eventually movies and a television show.

The new smartphone game bears similarities to the original franchise. But it uses a new concept called “augmented reality,” meaning elements in the physical world are mixed with digital components of the app. Once downloaded, a user — called a “Pokemon trainer” in the game — plays in a digital version of the real world via their smartphone’s GPS and camera.

Interspersed throughout that world are Pokemon, which are animated creatures users want to catch and collect. Catching Pokemon requires Pokeballs, which are capturing devices available at Pokestops — designated locations in the real world.

And as it turns out, Hilo is filled with Pokestops.

On a clear Tuesday, dozens of Hilo trainers strolled along Banyan Drive, around county beach parks — and through every nook of Liliuokalani Park — to hit up Pokestops and capture Pokemon.

“We came the other day. It was like 6 o’clock by the time we left, and it was still packed,” said Hilo resident Sinead Bendetti, who, along with husband Gino and their two daughters, ages 1 and 3, spent the evening hitting up Pokestops at Liliuokalani. “I love it because we grew up with Pokemon. When they announced they were going to create a real-life Pokemon game, everyone was like, ‘Oh, I gotta get that.’”

Liliuokalani is a particular hot spot. Dozens of parkgoers glued to their smartphones Tuesday strolled through the park’s idyllic pathways, stopped in front of various stone structures and trekked nearby to Coconut Island, where Ogline said there also are multiple Pokestops. Ogline has even found Pokemon in unlikely places.

“If you happen to go to the bathroom, and you’re playing this, well, you’ll catch some in there, too,” he said with a grin.

Since its July 6 release, some cited privacy concerns and worry the game could make users a target for crime. Earlier this week, an Oregon man reportedly was stabbed while playing the game. And nationally, several reports have surfaced of users robbed while playing the game.

Some also worry the game, which encourages users to stay buried in their phone, could cause accidents.

Bendetti said she came close to running over a “Pokemon Go”-playing pedestrian earlier this week who dashed into a crosswalk without looking up from their phone.

Hilo resident Jasmine Silva, 20, said she once nearly ran into a pole while playing.

As of Wednesday, local law enforcement had not received any reports of Pokemon problems — either accidents or crime-related — said Maj. Samuel Thomas of the Hawaii Police Department.

Proponents say the game encourages users to get outside and exercise — one can’t catch plentiful numbers of Pokemon at home.

Hilo residents agreed. Silva, along with friend Niki Thomas, 21, said they made recent trips to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and Rainbow Falls just to play.

Eleven-year-old Briani Iyo said she similarly asked her mom, Jolene, to take a trip Tuesday to Liliuokalani to play.

And Ogline and Emnase said they’ve spent hours biking throughout town the past week in the quest for digital Pokemon.

“You just got to try it,” Emnase said. “You won’t know how fun it is until you do.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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