Wednesday, October 17 , 2018, 4:54 pm | Fair 76º

 
 
 
 

Pokémon Go Craze Hits Santa Barbara Community

Players head to landmarks and bustling downtown areas to find and capture characters in the popular mobile app game

Pokémon Go players create an avatar and search for, capture and train characters in the popular mobile app game.
Pokémon Go players create an avatar and search for, capture and train characters in the popular mobile app game.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Standing in the courtyard of Paseo Nuevo Shops and Restaurants, Catherine Giantonio stood beside her two friends swiping her iPhone directly in front of her face.

“We aren’t taking selfies or texting,” the 20-year-old Santa Barbara City College student said. “We are trying to catch Pokémon.”

Pokémon Go is a free augmented reality phone app that mixes real-world aspects and GPS to search for, capture, battle and train Pokémon characters around the community. 

The game limits the number of Pokéballs to catch Pokémon, therefore, players must walk around the neighborhood to hunt characters down. Then, the phone uses GPS to decide which Pokémon appear in the game. 

“If you’re near a beach or water, those types of Pokémon characters will show up,” Giantonio said. “Then, you catch them. You go to different locations to get different types.”

Isla Vista, Stearns Wharf, historical parks and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art are a few hubs where players meet and fling Pokéballs. 

Pokémon can be found in galleries and exhibits at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. Click to view larger
Pokémon can be found in galleries and exhibits at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.  (Santa Barbara Museum of Art photo)

“The characters we've seen most often here are Ekans, Rattata, Mankey, Zubat and Pidgey. We've also witnessed less common ones like Ponyta, Abra, Sandslash, Raticate and Growlithe,” SBMA Katrina Carl public relations manager said.

“Whether this is a short-lived trend or here to stay, it's nice to see people out and about exploring the community.”

The franchise’s tagline “gotta catch ‘em all” is the goal, and players can earn medals for completing certain tasks, like catching a number of Pokémon, or walking around a set distance. The trainer levels up with experience once more points are gained.

The app also directs users to a specific location to battle one-on-one or in teams at so-called gyms.  

“Sometimes you see a bunch of people in one place playing the game,” UCSB graduate student Jasmine Childress said. “I played in the Funk Zone and found some cool locations.”

The game taps into nostalgia for the 23-year-old, who played and watched the Pokémon series in the ’90s. Her experience has been positive with people trading stories of friendships and adventures made.

The Pokémon Go craze prompted the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara to affirm it respects all Pokemon trainers and their Pokemon, evolved and unevolved. “Please don’t trample our garden trying to trample your Bulbasaur,” it notes. Click to view larger
The Pokémon Go craze prompted the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara to affirm it respects all Pokemon trainers and their Pokemon, evolved and unevolved. “Please don’t trample our garden trying to trample your Bulbasaur,” it notes.  (Giana Magnoli / Noozhawk photo)

“There’s a huge hype because of the people who played as a child,” she said. “Where I have played there has been nothing but good vibes and a community looking out for each other. But, there will always be people trying to take advantage of each other.”

The nature of the game also means users may be tempted to trespass secluded areas or loiter.

Santa Barbara Police Department Sgt. Riley Harwood issued safety tips for players after a late-night Pokémon Go player returned to his vehicle to find a stranger in it. 

Harwood said there has been reports from around the county of players trespassing, having accidents and being victims of crime. 

“Encountering strangers after nightfall is always a concern,” Harwood said. “Criminals will take advantage of darkness and areas might not be safe. People should also be aware of trespassing after hours.”

Since the game released on July 6, community players have been using social media to create Facebook groups to unite fans, including a page called “Pokémon Go Santa Barbara.”

The app’s popularity has jumped to the top of Apple’s App Store and continues to grow, with game installations on more Android phones in its first week on the market than the dating app Tinder, according to Digital Vision, a blog maintained by SimilarWeb.

The game has been named as the most popular mobile video game in history by survey company SurveyMonkey and is estimated to have had 21 million daily active users at its peak in the United States.

Despite its growth and popularity, not everyone is a fan of the game.

“It doesn't catch my attention,” said Adriana Guzman, a 21-year-old UCSB sociology graduate. “I wasn't a fan of Pokèmon growing up and I don't need more distractions. It would take up too much time.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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