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Pokemon Go: The Live Video Game Everyone Seems To Be Playing


Most summers have a hit song that everybody knows. This summer, it may turn out to be a hit video game, the latest version of Pokemon. Twenty years ago, a version of Nintendo's game swept Japan. Now some Americans are obsessed with a video game that pushes people out into the real world so that they can ignore it. NPR's Laura Sydell reports

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The western edge of Golden Gate Park is amazingly beautiful. There's a view of the Pacific Ocean, a historic beach LA restaurant with a view of the water. Today, there are dozens of people that are in the restaurant parking lot. And they could care less about the ocean. They're looking down at their smartphones. Danielle Sheridon says she's searching for fictional monsters called Pokemon.

Did you come all the way out here today to play?


SYDELL: Well, how come?

SHERIDON: Because we thought the beach might have a lot of Pokemon because they tend to be in, like, more public places like this.

SYDELL: This is one of the hot spots in San Francisco for spotting Pokemon. Elliot Nicholson is also on the hunt.

ELLIOT NICHOLSON: You can tell, there's usually a big group of people just clustered around a certain area. Or in my neighborhood, they're just taking night walks in places and at times that I usually don't see people out at night (laughter). So it's one of those, OK, I know what they're doing (laughter).

SYDELL: Playing Pokemon Go. It's part of a genre of games that uses something called augmented reality. That's a mix between the virtual and the real world. The object is to catch Pokemon. On your phone screen is a map of where you're standing, courtesy of GPS. As you go off and search for the monsters, your phone's camera turns on and an animated Pokemon appears in your view of the real world.

The key is you have to keep moving if you're going to catch one. You do that by moving your finger across the screen and throwing little animated balls at the guy.

DEAN SPEER: So it's like a giant scavenger hunt. And it's all over the world, wherever you are, whenever you want to go.

SYDELL: Dean Speer, 28-year-old personal trainer says Pokemon Go takes you places. You can't play it sitting down. And the search reveals more of the world, like the entrance to a trail you've never noticed.

SPEER: I had walked by the entrance many times, never really realized it was an entrance. But then you're like, wait, that's a trail. And then you walk back there and suddenly there's creeks and trees. And I'm like, oh, there's more of this than just Golden Gate Park.

SYDELL: And this is happening all over the country. It's topped the app charts for both iPhones and Android phones.

CHELSEA STARK: People were walking around both floors of our office trying to catch Pokemon. A bunch of us left for lunch at the same time so we could do it.

SYDELL: Chelsea Stark is the games editor for the tech site Mashable. There are other augmented reality games. But Stark says, hands down, this one is the most popular.

STARK: I think it's the fact that it's Pokemon and the fact that it's the real world, the fact that maybe we kind of all need a distraction in this kind of horrible summer full of, like, really dire political events and social events.

SYDELL: The game is making money from in-app purchases to the tune of $1.6 million a day, according to the research firm SensorTower Inc. And it's only been out since last Thursday. Nintendo's stock is going gangbusters, though it only partially owns this version of Pokemon, which was produced by Niantic. Already, there are some downsides.

There are reports of people getting so lost in the game, they trip in potholes or robbers using it to lure victims and concerns about privacy. The app collects a lot of personal data off your phone. So far, none of this is deterring players like Elliot Nicholson.

How long do you think you can keep this up?

NICHOLSON: Oh, I don't know, until I get bored of it (laughter). That could either take weeks, months, maybe a year.

SYDELL: Or maybe until cold weather arrives. This could just be a summer fling. Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.
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