This is what happens when nostalgia intersects with 21st century technology: Hundreds of Pokémon Go-obsessed Long Islanders scurry around state parks, beaches, town halls, post offices and even churches (yep, no place is safe), as they hunt creatures only visible to humans staring excitedly into their smartphones.
Pokémon Go, the recently released smartphone app that is re-writing the record books with its meteoric rise into mainstream pop culture, has seemingly swept across the world overnight.
Pokémon Go users on Long Island have descended on public spaces that don’t typically inspire summertime joy: the local post office, historical sites, and dare we say, the library, to catch Pokémon. Apparently all you need is augmented reality to get kids out of the house. Who knew?
One savvy Internet user created a Google map with coordinates of so-called “PokeStops” to find Pokémon roaming Long Island, and gyms where users can battle other Pokémon trainers.
Why is Pokémon Go so popular?
“The game’s popularity is beyond measure at this point,” 28-year-old Mike Alvarez of Brentwood, who started the Pokémon Go Long Island NY Facebook page, told the Press. “I have never seen something bring people together from all over, as this game does.”
“I have met some truly great individuals because of this game,” added Alvarez, who estimated that he’s met between 40 to 50 people since he started playing the game. “It’s a break away from all the negativity currently circulating the world we live in today.”
The app was released this month in select countries. It currently has more daily users than Twitter, has recorded more activity than Facebook, and has been downloaded on more smartphones than Tinder, the popular dating app, according to reports.
But Pokémon Go has drawn security and public safety concerns.
The gamemaker, Niantic, tried to quell concerns this week through a statement in which it said the Apple iPhone version of the game “erroneously requests full access permission for the user’s Google account.
“However, Pokémon Go only accesses basic Google profile information (specifically, your User ID and email address) and no other Google account information is or has been accessed or collected.”
Public officials in New York went so far as to remind drivers not to play while operating a car.
The game’s rabid popularity has also elicited concerns about children’s vulnerability to people with ill intentions. As a preemptive measure, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone held a press conference earlier this week in which he called on the game’s developer to prohibit sex offenders from accessing the app.
Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the department was aware of the game’s intense popularity, and told users to use caution.
“There have been various reports across the country of people getting lured to remote locations and trespassing on restricted and private properties at odd hours,” Sini said. “There have also been accounts of people using the application while driving. We are encouraging not just parents, but all users, to practice caution to avoid injury to self and others.”
Suffolk police reported on Thursday that a 19-year-old Pokémon Go user walking along Lake Shore Drive in Lake Ronkonkoma while playing the game had his iPhone stolen when he was robbed at gunpoint.
But the concerns have yet to outweigh the immense joy people are experiencing as they roam neighborhoods for rare Pokémon.
Where can Long Islanders catch Pokémon?
Social media users on Facebook and Reddit have reported significant activity across the Island. One Reddit user said they spotted about 100 people in Argyle Lake Park in Babylon with their eyes focused on their screens.
Other social media users said Port Jefferson has seen quite a bit of Pokémon Go activity, as does Huntington Village, which one Reddit user said boasts three gyms and 15 PokeStops within walking distance.
Eisenhower Park was reported as a good destination to replenish supplies, and Babylon Town Hall is apparently awash with PokeStops.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City is getting in on the action, announcing that it will host a Pokémon Go meetup on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. As an added incentive, the museum said gamers will be able to use its electrical outlets to replenish their game-drained smartphone batteries. Museum Row is home to nine PokeStops and two gyms.
Alvarez, the creator of Pokémon Go Long Island’s Facebook page, said the game’s immense popularity could be attributed to how immersive it is.
“Those of us who had the chance to play Pokémon back in 1996, now can relive that moment all over again,” he said over Facebook messenger. “For me personally it’s a great thing that’s being done.”
Like many kids and tweens in the ’90s, Alvarez said he grew up watching the show, eagerly awaited the release of each film, and collected all 151 original Pokémon cards.
But for Alvarez, the app is more than just a game or an excuse to meet new people.
He gets to enjoy these moments with his 8-year-old son, a relationship he cherishes.
The father-and-son duo are currently entangled in a friendly competition to see who catches more Pokémon. Surely Alvarez’s two-decade advantage playing the original Game Boy games and collecting cards should give him a leg up, right?
“Clearly,” Alvarez said, “he beats me on that one.”