Pokémon Go making big splash locally as well as worldwide

Preston Reinier shows the “augmented reality” of the Pokémon Go game inside Nick’s Kitchen, in Huntington, on Monday, Aug. 22. As he holds his camera up to an adjacent booth, the screen of his phone shows a Pokémon character sitting on one of the seats. Reinier and his wife, Shanna, will hold an event for Pokémon Go players in downtown Huntington on Sept. 10.
Preston Reinier shows the “augmented reality” of the Pokémon Go game inside Nick’s Kitchen, in Huntington, on Monday, Aug. 22. As he holds his camera up to an adjacent booth, the screen of his phone shows a Pokémon character sitting on one of the seats. Reinier and his wife, Shanna, will hold an event for Pokémon Go players in downtown Huntington on Sept. 10. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Originally published Aug. 25, 2016.

The gaming craze that has swept the country – and even the globe – in the past month-and-a-half is very alive and well here in Huntington County. Pokémon Go was unleashed on the world on July 6, and the fun, addictive game has aficionados from young children up to Senior Citizens; in other words, anyone who can use a smartphone and walk from Point A to B. Others are curious why people seem to be walking around town with their eyes riveted to their phone screens while others are afraid the game is dangerous.

Shanna and Preston Reinier, of Huntington, started the Huntington County Pokémon Go Facebook page on July 8, as a gathering point for locals who want to share their love for the game, and for others who are just learning about it and want some tips on how to play. On July 30, the couple called a Pokémon Hunt in downtown Huntington that, despite being advertised only on Facebook and by word of mouth, was well attended, with an estimated 230 people treading up and down Jefferson Street downtown, cell phones in hand, searching for elusive Pokémon characters not visible by anyone in the “real” world.

“The youngest we saw was about 6 or 7, and the oldest was in their 40s or 50s,” says Preston Reinier. “A lot of people took their children or grandchildren. There were multiple comments (on the Facebook page) on the event after it finished about how great it was that they were able to spend that time with them.”

“We had parents that weren’t playing, but they brought their younger kids out and walked them around,” adds Shanna Renier.

“There was a grandmother that commented that she didn’t understand Pokémon Go, but her 9-year-old grandson had a blast.”

Local businesses chipped in to sell Pokémon-styled treats, T-shirts, food and other paraphernalia. One store offered a free charging station for cell phones so gamers could continue on in the hunt. Others used trash bags to pick up litter while they searched for Pokémon.

“It turned out really good and I think it looked great,” Shanna says.

The July 30 event was so popular that the Reiniers have planned another “Downtown Pokémon Hunt, Round 2” on Sept. 10, from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Gamers will convene mainly in two places in downtown Huntington, on the “Dream Center” corner and at the courthouse.

“There are two ‘Pokémon gyms’ down at the courthouse,” Shanna says, that draw players of a certain skill level.

“If you happen to be driving through downtown, you’ll see some people at the courthouse, just kind of sitting in their cars or sitting on the sidewalk over there, usually on the Jefferson side, or on State,” advises Preston.

The Reiniers have been Pokémon fans long since the Pokémon Go game began, having watched the Pokémon cartoon series as children, collected Pokémon and played the Pokémon video games that followed. Shanna Reinier says this is just the next progression of the Pokémon saga.

“Pokémon started back when I was a kid, and I’m 27 now,” she explains. “I think it’s part of almost everyone’s childhood that’s in our age group. That’s a big thing.”

“You have, like, the legacy factor of it,” adds Preston. “And then, the new features of it actually requires you to go out and actually move around. It requires you to visit new places … It actually allows you to go out and explore something that you normally wouldn’t have.”

For those who didn’t get the Pokémon experience the first time around, here’s a simplified explanation of how the game works.
After downloading the app and making an account, a player has a “ball” on his screen that he can throw at a Pokémon he finds hanging around, by swiping the phone’s screen. There are more than 150 different kinds of Pokémon cartoon characters out there, some more rare than others and are harder to catch.

The game features what Preston calls “augmented reality” – in which the cell phone’s camera takes pictures of the real world and inserts a digitized character into the view.

“It looks as though it’s really there,” he says.

After a player reaches a certain level up in the game they can join one of three teams, use a gym to train their Pokémon and battle each other for additional points and power. But the Reiniers admonish that the teams are rivals, not enemies.

“It is just a game,” he says. “I know some people take it very seriously, and there’s nothing wrong with liking it and taking it serious, to an extent. But it is just a game. Stay friendly. Everybody is trying to accomplish the same goal. It doesn’t matter who gets there first, just that everybody gets there.”

“PokéStops” allow players to get Pokéballs, “razzberries” (to feed Pokémon to make it easier to catch them), eggs and other tools to play the game. Some businesses can submit requests to become PokéStops. Victory Noll Center and the Forks of the Wabash are among local PokéStops.

Players also learn some tips and tricks of the game from each other, often as they meet while out hunting for the elusive characters.

There are also Pokémon trainers and clubs available for those who want to hone their Pokémon-catching skills.
Pokémon, gyms and PokéStops are located mostly in places where there are historical landmarks or popular attractions. This is not a game for couch potatoes; those who play have to get up and out and do some walking, sometimes several kilometers in order to unlock certain features. Driving while playing is discouraged and can cause the game to shut down. However, the Pokémon may be located anywhere, and gamers are warned to pay attention to where they are going, don’t trespass and respect the privacy of others.

Preston Reinier says there is another benefit to playing the game for people who have post-traumatic stress disorder or social anxiety problems. He has a friend who has PTSD, and says he can cope with being around large groups of people much more easily while he is playing the game. Preston saw the results from a recent study reported in a news article that backs up his experience.

“It showed that most of the time, a lot of people who have social anxiety won’t go out or they get really anxious being around other people,” he says. “But when they have something to focus on, something that brings them joy, it allows them to be around people so they can cope with the social anxiety a lot better.”

The Reiniers say the popularity of Pokémon Go is so great that the next generation of Pokémon Go is set for rollout in November – just months after its initial release. The next generation is expected to add enough catchable characters to make a grand total of around 200.

“They plan on rolling out new stuff constantly to keep people interested,” Shanna says.

To get to the Huntington County Pokémon Go Facebook page, visit www.facebook.com/huntingtoncountypokemongo. Questions about the game can be posted on the page. Those going to the Sept. 10 event can also let others know they plan to attend.