[image-1]As I’m sure you’ve all heard, there is a new Pokémon game out. Some of you may be old enough to remember the first time Pokémania swept the nation.

It was fall of 1998 that Pokémon Red and Blue hit store shelves in North America. Just a mere child at the time, I was easily pulled under its thrall, where a part of me has always remained. Now, as an adult, it’s difficult not to feel a profound sense of glee as I walk the streets of Charleston and see so many others on the prowl for something more than just your run-of-the-mill Zubat or Pidgey. But before we get into all that, let’s dig into the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go.

Launching in the United States last week, Pokémon Go is free smartphone game that has caused everyone to lose their minds. Taking on the role and responsibilities of becoming a Pokémon trainer, players are required to physically traverse the real world with phone in hand to find the most elusive of pocket monsters. Your location is charted by GPS, and once you stumble upon a wild Pokémon, the game switches to your phone’s camera to provide a view of the creature in its natural habitat.

[image-3]In just the first two days of the app’s release, it had already been installed on more than 5 percent of all Android devices in the United States, according to data collected by SimilarWeb. This puts Pokémon Go ahead of popular dating app Tinder, proving that Americans are more interested in finding the right Pikachu than a decent relationship. So now that we know where our priorities lie, it’s time to talk about what Pokémon Go means for Charleston.

Anyone who’s been near Marion Square during the past few evenings has noticed dozens of people slowly stalking the grounds of the park with their eyes glued to their phones. These are all Pokémon Go players who want to be the best like no one ever was, to the quote to theme song from the Pokémon animated series. A local Pokémon Go meetup has been organized for Sat. Aug. 6. The event’s Facebook page already has more than 570 followers who have agreed to converge on Marion Square and another 1,400 have said they’re interested.

[image-2]One issue raised by Pokémon Go has been that of safety. With so many people focused on their phones and chasing mythical creatures through city streets and neighborhoods, you run the risk of someone losing awareness of their surroundings. On July 10, police in Missouri issued a statement saying that Pokémon Go may have been used to target victims in a robbery. Suspects are believed to have planted in-game lures to bring players to a specific location for the purpose of relieving them of their real-world possessions. Police in Florida have began issuing public warnings in response to reports of distracted drivers. “Don’t catch and drive,” advised the Sarasota Police Department. “Wait, park, and then Pokémon Go.”

The Charleston County Sheriff’s Office says they haven’t heard of any accidents related to the game. When asked about any Pokémon Go-related incidents in the city, Charleston Police Department spokesman Charles Francis simply responded, “Nothing yet.” As as side note, it’s a special day in a reporter’s life when he or she contacts local law enforcement agencies to ask about Pokémon. These are strange times indeed.

[image-4]So keeping in mind that Pokémon trainer are putting their lives in their own hands, there is something striking about seeing your city through the lens of a video game. Many of the Pokémon Go’s virtual gyms and PokéStops (locations where players can pick up special items to be used in the game) are based on points of interest from the Historical Marker Database. This means that Pokémon Go is forcing players to get out and actually visit Charleston’s local landmarks. The game provides background information on each location, so there’s a good chance that players might actually be fooled into learning something.

Businesses have also jumped on board the new craze. Forbes has recommended that stores use the aforementioned in-game lures to draw Pokémon and the trainers hunting them to nearby PokéStops. Persimmon Cafe is offering all Pokémon trainers a 10 percent discount for online orders when they use the promo code Pokémon. The offer is good for a limited time at their downtown and Summerville locations.

So there’s a basic recap of what’s going on in the world of Pokémon, which has actually become our own world. We all are now a part of an augmented reality that we share with electric rats, psychic ducks, and, of course, Squirtle. Never forget Squirtle. Happy hunting.