On July 13, 2016, Park Central Square in downtown Springfield, Missouri, filled with people playing Pokémon Go, the latest app sensation. (Picture by Amy Qualls)

Have you noticed herds of children and 20-somethings gathered in streets, parks, or even your backyard? Don’t be alarmed. They are probably just playing Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go has surprised the world. It’s not just a game, but a catalyst for organic communities of gamers and non-gamers connecting through social media and face-to-face interaction. Even people who have never had a connection to the original games and their nostalgia are out and about trying to catch them all.

Tasha Early and her husband, Christopher, were new to the scene when I met them in Springfield, and it did not take them long to immerse themselves in the Pokémon universe. Said Tasha:

 We just started playing two days ago actually I think. … Last night, we put the kids in the car and put a movie on and just kind of just like parked around the square. There were a million people here, and it was really fun!

For the uninitiated

Pokémon Go screen shot Doduo

Doduo is one of many Pokémon you can capture in the came. (Screenshot by Amy Qualls)

Pokemon Go is a virtual-reality styled role-playing game (RPG), bringing the Pokémon universe to players’ smartphones.

Here is how Pokemon.com‘s explains the new game:

Pokémon Go is built on Niantic’s Real World Gaming Platform and will use real locations to encourage players to search far and wide in the real world to discover Pokémon. Pokémon Go allows you to find and catch more than a hundred species of Pokémon as you explore your surroundings. The Pokémon video game series has used real-world locations such as the Hokkaido and Kanto regions of Japan, New York, and Paris as inspiration for the fantasy settings in which its games take place. In Pokémon Go, the real world will be the setting!

And it became an instant success for the company. According to The Verge’s James Vincent (@jjvincent):

Nintendo’s stock continues to skyrocket following the release of Pokémon Go. After an increase of 9.3 percent with the game’s launch last week, the company’s share price rose 24.52 percent on Monday to ¥20,260 ($193) — its highest one-day surge since 1983, adding $7.5 billion to the firm’s market value. The game has topped app download charts. In the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, and according to some market researchers, has already been installed on 5 percent of all Android smartphones in America.

Springfield MO Pokemon GO Facebook Page. 2016

Some players connect at the Springfield MO Pokemon GO Facebook page. (Screenshot by Amy Qualls)

The financial success wasn’t the only surprise; Pokémon Go sprouted a community around game. The app was not designed with player-to-player messaging, but players are finding ways to interact, using Facebook pages, GoChat conversations, Subreddits, and other platforms.

On the Springfield MO Pokémon GO Facebook page, players are informing each other about the best places to catch rare Pokémon, sharing their common annoyances with the app’s glitches, and setting up meeting places to catch Pokémon together in the community. Players are stepping out of their comfort zones and talking to each other not through a screen but face-to-face.

Paul Chaves, another avid Pokémon Go player in Springfield, decided to make a Facebook page for other players like himself after witnessing the game’s popularity.

Picture taken by Amy Qualls

Picture taken by Amy Qualls

This whole generation…we’re all playing this game, and we played it when we were kids. I used to play when I was a kid, and I just think it’s making us all walk around, and I’m talking to people I would probably never talk to, to be honest. I decided to make a Facebook group to bring some type of organization to all these people out here just walking around aimlessly. Maybe bring us all together, walk down the street together — I don’t know, just bring us together.

Building a community

Walking around downtown Springfield you see people with their friends, partners, and families clustering together to battle at Pokémon gyms, spreading the word about Pokémon hot spots. and gathering to discuss their experience so far.

After battling and taking over the virtual Pokémon gym at the Regal College Station 14 movie theater, Trevor Blancher, a downtown Springfield native, said:

I’ve talked to so many people I would’ve have never have met otherwise. I live downtown, but I hardly ever go out downtown, and I’ve talked to about a hundred people. … I’m on three Facebook groups. And so I’m reconnecting with people I haven’t talked to in years that I found on the groups, and we’re meeting up and catching Pokémon.

Exploring new places

In the game, there are locations called Poké-stops. Poké-stops are locations indicated on the GPS game screen where players can retrieve useful game items (Pokéballs, healing potions etc.). Many of these Poké-stops are located at or around local businesses.

According to Jason Evangelho at Forbes.com, businesses should be taking advantage of the increase in foot traffic.

If you’re a local business owner and haven’t yet checked out this game, I’d highly recommend downloading it for free from the Google Play Store (where it is at #1 ahead of Snapchat and Facebook Messenger) or the Apple App Store — there’s a good chance you could be one of these gyms or PokéStops! If that’s the case, prepare for the influx of foot traffic and potential customers.

The Earlys were unfamiliar to game when it first came out, but now they are out with the masses. Said Tasha:

I love that there are so many people that are out and like I am like actually smiling to people and saying, “Hey, did you find so-and-so?” … People all doing the same thing and everyone knows about it, and it’s not stupid. It’s cool!

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