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'Pokemon Go': West Linn

Local businesses, schools and parks see the wildly popular 'Pokemon Go' cellphone game as a way to draw in new visitors

REVIEW PHOTO: ANTHONY MACUK - Here's what the Pokemon GO map of downtown Lake Oswego looks like as seen from The Review's office, looking southeast toward Lakewood Bay. The blue icons are points of interest, and the pink fountain effects indicate that there are lots of players in Millennium Plaza Park.West Linn Parks and Recreation Director Ken Worcester was making his rounds across town recently when he came upon an unusual sight.

An adolescent was walking down the street with his phone held in front of his face and proceeeded to smash straight into a light pole. Right away, Worcester knew what had happened.

Like so many others across the globe, this particular person must have been playing “Pokemon Go.”

“Pokemon Go” has exploded onto the mobile gaming scene since its debut more than two weeks ago, and it’s had a noticeable impact for City staff and local businesses in the area.

That’s because unlike other cellphone games, “Pokemon Go” encourages players to go outside and explore in order to play — and that has led to a dramatic increase in the number of people visiting West Linn’s parks and public institutions.

“People are wandering all over the place,” Worcester said. “It’s kind of fun to watch. Apparently there’s a bunch at our office (City Hall) as well.”

“We noticed it last weekend, just in the fact that there were more people on campus than usual, and that there were so many people here at one particular time,” says Karen Pederson, communications manager at Marylhurst University. “People were starting to get curious, and probably it was Tuesday or Wednesday when we made the connection — ‘Oh, they’re here with their devices, with their apps running and capturing Pokemon.”

The game is incredibly popular among children and teenagers, but it also has a large following among older players who grew up during the initial Pokemon craze in the late 1990s and have now found themselves drawn back into the quest to “catch ‘em all.”

For many local businesses, that creates a unique opportunity to use the game as a way to draw in new visitors.

“We’ve directed our employees to learn how to play, and they’ve eagerly jumped into the fray,” says Andrew Edwards, executive director at the Lakewood Center for the Arts.

In the original Pokemon video games, players explored virtual worlds to search for new additions to their collection of fictional creatures, but “Pokemon Go” applies the concept to the real world. The game works like Google Maps, using GPS to display a map of the player’s real-world surroundings; players have to walk around in real life to move their character avatar on the game map.

“In a way it’s almost like geocaching,” Worcester said. “That’s kind of how we’re looking at it. It would be cool if people picked up a (West Linn Summer Passport) while they’re doing this. There’s a bit of redudancy there.”

Pokemon players are drawn to specific places because the creatures in the game pop up in different environments depending on their species.

“There’s a bunch in Willamette Park, a couple in Hammerle,” Worcester said.

The creatures pop up at random, but many real-world points of interest such as public sculptures, historical markers and government buildings also appear on the game map as Pokestops that players can visit in order to get new items — so any place with lots of public art tends to be a prime destination. The Lakewood Center in Lake Oswego is one such place, which is why its staff have been using social media to encourage people to visit.

“We’re one of the landmarks,” says Edwards, “so we said, ‘If you’re here, catch your Pokemon and then come in and take a look at the art, maybe see some of what we’re offering for plays.’ Our point was to try to familiarize ourselves with a different demographic that may or may not know we were here.”

Other downtown Lake Oswego businesses have shown similar interest. During its opening-day celebration last week, the new 365 by Whole Foods Market posted screenshots from the game on its Facebook page, urging players to visit the store and a Pokestop nearby.

Marylhurst’s campus also features several Pokestops, and the school’s staff sees that as a way to bring in more visitors. In fact, the university added a large sign near the entrance for visiting players.

“We did some communication,” says Pederson, “both signage on our campus and posting on Facebook, welcoming the “Pokemon Go” players to our campus and letting them know we welcome them anytime during our campus open hours.”

The caveat about open hours is important, because the game has raised security concerns for police departments throughout the country and there have been reports of players being robbed. The game does not broadcast players’ locations, but players can use “lure” items to create temporary targets where a higher-than-average number of Pokemon will appear, which in turn will draw nearby players to the spot.

However, West Linn Police Sergeant Dave Kempas said few issues have arisen thus far.

“I am not aware of any issues, other than I am seeing a few more people out on foot at night on their phones,” Kempas said.

“More than anything, it’s obvious what they’re playing,” Worcester said. “So you just need to be careful while you’re driving, because they’re not looking.”

Pederson says the security issue was discussed among the staff at Marylhurst, but the consensus was that players are welcome on the campus as long as they visit during daylight hours. Players seeking nocturnal Pokemon like Ghastly or Zubat will have to look elsewhere.

“As long as people are here during daylight hours when we have security on our campus, then this is a very safe place to play and we’re thrilled that people are coming onto our campus,” says Pederson. “Even if they’re not here to take classes or go to one of our summer concerts — any reason that they’re coming onto our campus, we’re thrilled.”

Reporter Patrick Malee contributed to this story.

Contact Anthony Macuk at 503-636-1281 ext. 108 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..