Pokemon Go craze sweeps Alexandria

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Pokemon Go craze sweeps Alexandria
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By Chris Teale (Photo/Regine Victoria, Niantic)

After the success of the trading cards, video games and television series in the 1990s and 2000s, a whole new generation of Pokemon fans are being born in Alexandria thanks to the new mobile game Pokemon Go.

The game, developed by San Francisco-based Niantic in conjunction with Nintendo, allows players to capture, battle and train the virtual creatures called Pokemon. It is an augmented reality game, which means players must move around in the real world — using their smart- phone’s GPS capabilities — and find wild Pokemon.

Upon encountering a wild Pokemon, a player’s smartphone camera superimposes that creature into the real world using the phone’s camera. They must then catch the monster by flicking a Poke Ball towards it. Elsewhere, players occupy themselves by visiting PokeStops, which are significant real-world landmarks where they can acquire free items like more Poke Balls.

Players also can battle their Pokemon against each other in Pokemon Gyms, which also are located at places of interest and require individuals to be in teams.

One day after its release, Pokemon Go had been installed on more phones nationwide than dating app Tinder, according to website and app usage measurement tool SimilarWeb. The company also said that as of July 8, Pokemon Go had more daily users than the smartphone application for social media website Twitter.

Reception across the region and across the country has been mixed. The National Park Service reported an influx of visitors to the National Mall in D.C., which is a hotspot for wild Pokemon, and some museums have experienced a bump in attendance.

But the app also has been criticized, especially for using locations like cemeteries and memorials as sites to catch Pokemon. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery both have lodged official requests with the developer to be removed as sites, while the Pentagon is designated as a Pokemon Gym, which may be surprising given its high-security status.

Closer to home, officials are hailing the game as a new way to get to know the city of Alexandria, especially with wild Pokemon, PokeStops and gyms located throughout the Port City.

“Pokemon Go is a great new way for visitors and locals to explore Alexandria,” said Claire Mouledoux, spokeswoman for city tourism authority Visit Alexandria. “There are Pokemon, PokeStops and gyms all over the city, with a concentration in Old Town and others to be discovered in our neighborhoods from Del Ray and Carlyle to the West End.

“And PokeStops like Carlyle House and the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum include facts about the location,
so players get to learn about local sites as they go. We love the way the game is bringing locals and visitors together.”

Mouledoux said Visit Alexandria has been sharing Pokemon sightings on its official Twitter page, and that the organization is developing a blog post about where to find Pokemon in the city.

For local businesses, the new game presents both challenges and opportunities, as they have the potential for new customers to be drawn in but could also be faced with game-players loitering on their premises catching Pokemon.

The Hotel Monaco at 480 King St. has been a significant landmark in Alexandria since the Civil War, when the first Union officer, Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth, was killed at what was then the Marshall House. In Pokemon Go, it has become a PokeStop, and is attracting people from far and wide who look to stock up on in-game items.

Jaclyn Randolph, a spokes- woman for the hotel’s ownership group Kimpton Hotels, said staff at the Hotel Monaco have noticed a “slight increase in people stopping by … and standing outside with their phones out playing the game.”

Staff at the Lost Dog Cafe on 808 N. Henry St. expressed surprise on the eatery’s official Twitter account on July 11 at the number of people playing the game, and noting the number of wild Pokemon near their beer coolers.

Manager Kaelin Evans said the restaurant’s outdoor patio appears to be a popular area for wild Pokemon, but she had not noticed many people coming in, catching Pokemon and leaving again.

“Sometimes we get people at the counter playing Pokemon and ordering food,” she said. “The delayed response [to a question asked by a server] is a bit funny.”

Elsewhere in the United States, there have been reports of crimes being committed against players of the game. Three people were robbed of their phones last week at the University of Maryland’s main campus in College Park, while four robbers targeted players in O’Fallon, Mo.

Alexandria police spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said there have been no reports of similar crimes in the city, although she said last week that two teenagers and an adult sibling were caught trespassing at a school late at night trying to catch so-called “ghost” Pokemon that only come out after dark.

Nosal said the Alexandria Police Department wants players to be vigilant of their surroundings at all times.

“People get so absorbed in these things that they’re not paying attention,” Nosal said. “It’s your obligation [as a player] to keep yourself safe versus expecting cars to stop for you… People need to remember that there are plenty of places closed at [after dark], so it does constitute trespassing.”

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