Exploring Downtown Martinsburg with Pokémon GO

I spent an hour walking around downtown Martinsburg today with my son and daughter in mid-80’s heat with no discernible destination. As you would expect, with all of the walking and lunch passing us by, someone finally relented and decided it was time to go back to the office. That someone was me.

I know, sounds unimaginable, right? A 9 year old and a 6 year old wanted to walk around town in July heat, while skipping lunch. What could cause this? Pokémon GO.

What is Pokémon GO?

For those that are unfamiliar, Pokémon is a card playing game in which you collect characters and then use them to battle each other. Each character has special powers as indicated on the card. It’s also a cartoon (or feature-length commercial, which is how my kids first became aware of Pokémon).

Pokémon GO is a mobile, augmented reality app that turns the real world into a Pokémon hunt. It’s also a cultural phenomenon.

According to mashable.com, “since the release of Pokémon Go a few days ago, Nintendo has added $7 billion to the value of the company, creating an app that allows users to get as close as they’d ever imagined to being a Pokémon catcher. The app, which allows users to catch Pokémon in real-life environments viewable on a smart device, has become a cultural sensation for people of all ages, especially those who grew up collecting the cards and initiating battles against their friends in the schoolyard. As of Monday afternoon, the game has also become the top-grossing game in each country where it has been released: The U.S., Australia and New Zealand.”

How does it work?

Using GPS and your smartphone camera, you hunt for those same characters while exploring the real world. Once you find a Pokémon, you then capture it and add it to your collection and eventually battle others and their Pokémon.

Using the app, you walk around an area (in our case, downtown Martinsburg) searching for Pokémon characters which pop up on the map. The app itself displays a simple GPS map, similar to what you would find on Google Maps minus the street names. Using the touch interface, you can zoom and pan around your location to search for available characters or points of interest. Points of interest usually feature a Pokémon Gym or PokéStops which players can visit to stock up on free items like PokéBalls.

After checking the map, we saw a few points of interest that were identified on the map including Trinity Episcopal Church, the Martinsburg Public Library and the Apollo Theatre. Tapping on the location brings up a picture of the location (see photo above showing Trinity Episcopal Church), its name and a bit about it. Each of the locations had a character nearby so we decided to head down King St. toward the library.

Once you decide on a direction, you begin walking to the location. As you walk, leaving the app open (yeah, this is a real battery killer), you are notified via a chime from the app that you are in the vicinity of a character. You then begin throwing PokéBalls at it until you trap it. Some are easier to trap than others and can be caught with a single ball. The more powerful characters tend to take more balls and can escape. Watching the thrown balls bounce off of a character and roll down the sidewalk makes for a very engaging experience. Once you capture a character it is added to your inventory.

As we walked between locations looking for Pokémon to catch, my daughter (9 years old) remarked that it was a good way to explore Martinsburg and my son (6 years old) chimed in that it was a good way to get exercise. I couldn’t agree more.

The GO fever continued after we got home. We generally take a walk around the neighborhood every night making one or two laps. This evening, the kids asked if they could walk around the neighborhood with their friends trying to find Pokémon. The did two laps on their own and then asked if we could take another walk as a family. We ended up doing two more laps until we could no longer find any Pokémon to capture.

In all, my kids probably walked an extra 3-4 miles today, unprompted and without complaint. Whether Pokémon GO survives long-term is hard to say but I can see it being a popular summertime diversion and a great way to get exercise!

Pokémon GO Video

I decided to take some video of the game for those that are unfamiliar with it. The first video, “Abby Catches Pidgey in Pokémon GO” does the best job of showing off the augmented reality feature. The sun was working against us in the other videos.