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Video gamers take to Estacada streets

PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO - The game uses the AR functions of phones to place the Pokmon in the real world, like this Drowzee encountered in downtown Gresham.Gresham’s Main Avenue is packed with people in the late afternoon on a sunny Monday, July 11. They dart from one location to the next, focused intently on the bright glow of their cell phone screens. Most walk, some ride bikes and others push strollers. Many are in groups of two or three, while a few walk alone — though they are quickly enfolded with the rest of the crowd.

In total there are around 50 people, all of whom have been swept up in the latest craze — Pokémon GO.

Pokémon GO is a free-to-play mobile game released on July 6 for iOS and Android smartphone devices. The game, created by Niantic and the Pokémon Company, uses the phone’s GPS to detect where players are, making Pokémon monster companions appear in the world around them utilizing the camera to form an augmented reality. The incentive is for users to get up and go outside to track down Pokémon, as different locations will contain different types.

“I have been playing Pokémon since I was little, and now I can go catch them on my own,” said longtime fan Nicole Marie Boyle. “I have been waiting many years for this.”

PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO - Hilary Beutler sits outside of the Sandy City Library, which is one of the local Pokmon GO gyms where players can battle each other.At the Sandy City Library Hilary Beutler sits on a bench using her Pokémon to battle against the owner of the location, user KBumanlag. Beutler was successful in her attack, claiming the gym as hers.

“I’m sure someone will come along soon enough and beat it,” said Beutler, who has been playing the game since it was released.

In Estacada there are a lot of Poké Stops, which serve as points of interest, spread throughout downtown, all within easy walking distance. Two residents, Chris Morgan and Jason Deardorff, sit next to each other in the shade at the Estacada Veteran’s Memorial, drawn by the lure of Pokémon.

They had briefly known of each other in high school, when Deardorff was a senior and Morgan a freshman, but if not for the game they wouldn’t be sitting next to each other chatting.

“The first day I got the game I went out and saw tons of groups walking around and playing,” said Morgan, whose favorite part is being outside and meeting other players.

Deardorff downloaded the game during his recent vacation to Maui, Hawaii, where he would play during walks in the morning and evening.

“It will be interesting to see how they add new mechanics down the road,” Deardorff said.

PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO - From left, Tae Cyoon, Derick Rattanapieoonchareon, Anthony Zhen, Tony Ngo and Angelo Huyuh explore Gresham while playing Pokmon GO.You are the star

What makes Pokémon GO special is it finally delivers on the promise of the other Pokémon games, where a fictional protagonist, called a trainer, would journey out into the virtual world to catch exotic creatures. Pokémon GO casts you as the star of the journey, which takes place in your own neighborhood.

The main goal is catching and powering up Pokémon from the original roster of 151 monsters that populated Pokémon Red and Blue handheld game, which was released in the United States in 1998. Players can try and collect every Pokémon in the game, following the classic tag-line “gotta catch ‘em all.” They then use their collection to battle with other trainers for control of gyms, which are located in real-life places such as Bob’s Burgers & Brew in downtown Gresham. If successful, the trainer will claim that site for their team — either red, blue or yellow.

Poké Stops drive the exploration of the game, as players travel to points of interest collecting items that drive their quest. This aspect makes you appreciate the little parts of a city that otherwise go unnoticed. In Meinig Memorial Park in Sandy there are seven stops, including the play structure, some of the benches, the entrance to the park and Sandy City Hall, which is right next to it.

The game makes money through micro-transactions, where players can elect to pay for items that speed things up. While it makes things easier, playing without spending money can be achieved, and doesn’t take away from the experience.

Pokémon GO is too new to know the exact number of users, but a week into its lifespan an estimated 7.5 million people in the United States have downloaded the game. It was so popular early on that the servers would often crash as they struggled to handle everything.

The people playing are fans of Pokémon, parents with children, groups of teens, those looking for exercise, friends and strangers — all brought together by the game. Walking down the street it is easy to tell who is trying to catch Pokémon. Just look for those with their noses buried in phones, fervently swiping away.

At 63, Debi Milholland Hukriede, Gresham, is the self-proclaimed oldest Pokémon GO player in the community. She never played Pokémon before, and doesn’t know much about the characters, but loves the app because it gets her outside.

“When I heard this would get me out walking, I jumped on it,” Hukriede said.

The community of players is friendly, with many veterans of the game willing to take time to speak with new players, sharing tips and strategies on how best to approach things. In a gaming world filled with over-competitiveness and anonymity, many consider Pokémon GO refreshing.

Meeting new players is Veronica Cervantes’ favorite part.

“I was parked with no one around trying to take over a gym, when suddenly this girl pulls up in her car, shows me her phone, smiles and waves,” said Cervantes who is from Wood Village.

PAMPLIN MEDIA PHOTO - Gresham resident Marcus Jones, left, stands with a group of players drawn to Main Street because of the abundance of Pokmon.Community connections

Tiffany Oliver is the founder of the Gresham Pokémon GO Community Facebook page, a place where players can connect with each other. Oliver says she has been waiting for a game like this her entire life, and it is something she enjoys doing with her two-year-old son.

“All of these anti-social people are becoming more social because of this game,” Oliver said. “I’ve met so many other adults playing this game.”

Safety has been an issue looming over the game, especially when it comes to overzealous players neglecting basic awareness of their surroundings. Pokémon GO is distracting, and you tend to forget to look up while playing. It’s not hard to imagine accidently stepping in front of a car, or simply missing a curb and twisting an ankle.

The game itself gives a warning message at the loading screen reminding players to remain alert while and not take undue risks. The company also has posted safety notices on social media in response to users sharing photos and stories of them playing during inappropriate moments, playing while driving among them. At its core, the game rewards you for covering vast amounts of ground, which is easiest behind the wheel — though extremely dangerous.

The best part of the game, getting people to go outside and explore, has also led to its own set of problems. Many have found themselves in unsafe areas alone while searching for Pokémon. In Missouri, police reported that armed robbers used the game to lure victims to isolated places, while a Forest Grove man was stabbed while playing the game at 1 a.m.

“Obviously it is dangerous to walk around town staring at your mobile device because you aren’t able to pay attention to hazards or street corners,” said Detective Adam Baker of the Gresham Police Department. “Please remember the game doesn’t only place characters on the sidewalk or in safe public spaces.”

Despite some of the risks, people are flocking to Pokémon GO. Jay Olsen and Malia Joelle, a Gresham couple, enjoy doing it together.

“I feel like this is a way for everyone to be able to relate to each other,” Olsen said. “I was walking past Butler Creek Park and there were a few younger kids walking and laughing while looking at their phones. I had to ask if they were playing, and sure enough they were.”

A Gresham day shift officer who covers downtown estimated Sunday morning, July 10, that around 300 people were walking around with their phones held up in front of their faces — the way the game is played.

Pokémon GO continues to grow, and if you look outside you’ll probably see one or two players undertaking their own journey.

“When I heard this was coming out I knew I had to play,” said Gresham resident Ashley Tompkins. “It really is bringing the community together.”