A few nurses lounge in baby blue scrubs on a bench at the Bayfront Park, sporting a look of exhaustion after a late-night shift at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. Their eyes are glued to their phones, and they appear to be doing a slow scroll through their Twitter or Instagram feeds. Then, unexpectedly, their faces light up and they eagerly jump up from the bench and point their phones in front of them, exclaiming excitedly about their newest catch. These nurses--just like millions of other players around the globe--are catching and training Pokémon, just like it's the '90s again.
It was only a matter of time before I joined Pokémon Go, the newest pop culture craze. I first heard about the app when my younger brother demanded that I download it and explore the town with him to catch Pokémon. Then my friends, who previously had absolutely no interest in Pokémon, began raving about it. Suddenly, Pokémon Go was the top story on every news outlet.
By this point, I felt I needed to experience the hype myself, so I downloaded the app, created and customized my user and was ready to join the frenzy by heading out in the real world to catch 'em all. Despite every fiber of my being telling me not to go outside on a sweltering July morning in Florida (and for the record, the heat index reached about 103 degrees), I soldiered on and began my expedition around downtown Sarasota, pursuing cute virtual monsters.
I headed to the Bayfront Park, which has proven to be a hot spot for Pokémon Go players. It features an abundance of Pokéstops—typically a landmark, such as a statue, sign or other recognizable item in the real world, that will give you more Pokéballs, which help you catch Pokémon. The park also has multiple "gyms"—not an exercise facility for humans, but a place to train your Pokémon and battle with other players.
It all felt like one giant, interactive scavenger hunt, and was much more addictive than I initially thought it would be. Tweens, teens and adults were all participating in the quest for Pokéstops and Pokémon creatures, following the paths on their phone screens to the coveted treasure. As I strolled down the sidewalk and headed towards my first few Pokéstops, many fellow hunters greeted me with a friendly hello or wished me a good morning, and a few even stopped to strike up a conversation with me about the app.
As one Pokémon after another appeared right before my eyes (well, on my screen), I began to boast quite the collection of Pokémon:
The group of nurses from Sarasota Memorial told me all about an excellent local resource: the Pokémon Go: Sarasota Facebook page, which has more than 1,000 members, all die-hard local Pokémon fans who share a love for the app. On the Facebook page, experts and novices have a public forum to discuss the best places to find rare Pokémon, and even use it to plan Pokémon Go hunting events, where people of all ages can get together around town and search for Pokémon.
I later stopped a woman in the park who seemed to know what she was doing based on the way she was intently swiping on her phone in an attempt to catch a Pokémon sitting in front of her. I asked her what the difference was between pink and sparkly Pokéstops and plain blue Pokéstops (for the record: pink and sparkly means you've already been there and don’t need to go back to it). She then gave me some useful information on how to catch as many Pokémon as you can. Her pro tip is to wait by Pokémon “Lure” spots, and masses of Pokémon will eventually appear at that one point.
She also spoke about Pokémon Go being a game-changer for video games and apps alike, saying she spent the morning bonding with her children and husband in the park while they played the game together. She also told me that she appreciates how it encourages people to get on their feet, explore their city and meet new people.
Despite my morale beginning to lower due to the intense heat of the Sarasota sun, along with my phone battery level becoming dangerously low, I also began to appreciate what the Pokémon Go app is accomplishing. It’s encouraging anyone with a cell phone to take an entertaining and innovative tour of their own city, while meeting some new residents along the way.