Pokémon Go Makes its Appearance in Asheville

By Whitney Cooper

Pokémon Go is the newest computer game taking the smartphone community by storm.

For the uninitiated, this viral phenomenon — which amassed more than 100 million downloads in its first few weeks — is an ‘augmented virtual reality’ game that uses the GPS device on a mobile phone to aid players in their quest to locate, capture, train, and battle Pokémon, which are virtual animated characters from a popular 90s video game.

“Pokémon came out when I was very young, I’d say between 4 and 6 years old… Pokémon follows the story of a young boy going out into the world to try to fulfill his dream, to be the greatest Pokémon Master that no one ever was. To do this, he must capture and battle not only Pokémon, but other Pokémon trainers on his quest to be the best,” said avid player Casey Whitmire.

The free-to-play mobile app overlaps components of the virtual game onto the physical world. When downloaded, players are assigned an avatar – their virtual person. With help from Google maps technology, the game shows players their real-time physical surroundings and drops in virtual Pokémon characters. Players are then able to use the camera on their phone, and checkpoints assigned by the game, to capture, train, trade, and battle Pokémon characters inside the game, while also interacting with other avatars.

“I downloaded the app because they took this phenomenon of my childhood, and made it ‘real world’ accessible,” said player Mark Moseley. “Before [the app], Pokémon was a cartoon, a card game, and a video game played at home. Now, it’s something you have to actually get up, go outside, and work at it. I get to be the character from the show and video games. I get to experience what the characters of the franchise experience, and not have to just imagine it, but live it.”

Players of the game, often in groups, don’t solely use the app to track down Pokémon characters in their locality, but to also engage with other players.

“You literally go around and find Pokémon and try to catch them by throwing Pokeballs at them,” said Christina Furr, who explores Asheville frequently to catch Pokemon. “There are Pokestops where you can get more balls and potions. You also battle gyms that are set up so your team (Mystic, Valor, Instinct) can take them over. There’s more in the weed things like setting up lures that attract Pokémon to your area, and leaving other Pokémon at gyms to help ‘beef’ them up.”

The game currently features 145 Pokémon characters that players try to collect, and is available on a global scale – making a noted appearance at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.

“I think the game became so popular because Pokémon has spanned the past 20 years reaching another group of trainers [referencing the virtual avatars] with each generation. This gives the game a wide range of players of all ages and backgrounds,” said Furr.

Western North Carolina is no exception to the popularity of the game. Hot spots in Asheville include Carrier Park, the campus of UNC – Asheville, and the Buncombe County Courthouse.

“[Hot spot locations are] in parks, downtown areas, your own street that you live on – the app applies a GPS system so that it registers your action in the app within the real world. As you walk down the road, a wild Pokémon will appear on your screen and you have to catch it. There are also Pokestops that are marked with the GPS and they are real places that are points of interest- for instance, a library, historical place, sculpture — things like that to encourage folks who play to explore their local area,” said Moseley.

Pokémon Go players who hit level five will be asked to join one of three teams: Team Instinct (the yellow team), Team Mystic (the blue team) or Team Valor (the red team). This offers a competitive edge when playing Pokemon Go with other players.

For Kaden and Elijah Wright, both of Swannanoa, one of the best places to “catch em all”  is in downtown Asheville. With plenty of historic spots, churches, and landmarks — it’s one of the best places to catch Pokémon, visit PokéStops (a place to resell items) and Gyms (places to battle other players.

For example, Asheville’s Urban Trail in downtown is a PokeStop and the “Cat Walk” marker stop on Wall Street is a Gym.

Kaden, 13, and Elijah, 11, both have joined Team Valor, also love to play the game in their Swannanoa neighborhood, specifically at the Native Kitchen Restaurant and Bar, which is a local Pokemon Gym. In addition, the Swannanoa Fire Station is visited regularly to catch Pokemon.

“Kaden and Elijah spend a lot of time making sure the gym in our neighborhood stays in the hands of team red,” said Daniel Wright, Kaden and Elijah’s father who also plays the game with his sons. “We stop there every time we pass. They have to defend the gym by sending six or so Pokemon in to recapture and defend against others in nearby areas. Team red is pretty notorious in Swannanoa — watch out.”

The game has also traveled outside of downtown and past Swannanoa, as well, extending all the way to Brevard.

“[The] Transylvania County Courthouse has three Pokestops in close proximity that trainers will daily setup lures at. Other locations such as Brevard College Campus have several pokestops and a few areas you’re sure to catch a few Magikarps (fish Pokemon) at,” said Furr.

The app is not without its critics, though. Many local businesses and municipalities have placed restrictions on usage of the app in public spaces citing safety concerns.

“I think one of the downsides to the game is that some people don’t play it smart. They’re the ones causing traffic accidents and walking off cliffs to catch Pokémon. This puts a negative mindset into the general community that doesn’t play the game,” said Whitmire.

While the app does present its challenges, overall, it has been lauded as a pioneer in the augmented reality game community and appreciated for its unique way in facilitating community exploration.

“It [is] such a big hit because for the millennial generation [the app] made Pokémon – this huge part of our childhood — applicable, again,” said Moseley.

Pokémon Go is available for download to both iPhone and android devices via iTunes and Google Play.

Pokemon Go Etiquette Tips

  • Watch where you are going — walking into oncoming traffic is not a good idea
  • Do not trespass onto other people’s property.
  • Avoid playing the game at memorials and other sensitive locations.
  • Driving and playing is a dumb idea.
  • Keep an eye on your surroundings to avoid bumping into people.
  • Have some respect for other players. No matter what team they’re on.
  • If an area is restricted, don’t ignore the signs and go into it just for a Pokemon.

Shelby Harrell contributed to this story.

About Shelby Harrell
Shelby Harrell is the editor of the Biltmore Beacon, editor of The Guide arts and entertainment publication and is a staff writer for Mountaineer Publishing. Originally from Asheville, she has worked in journalism for seven years and currently lives in Clyde, NC.