As the warm afternoon sun fades chalk-written concert announcements written on the Kedzie Avenue sidewalk and a soothing breeze carries the flecks away, four men are seated inside Bow Truss Coffee Roasters mere inches from each other with their heads bowed toward their chest, muttering.
“I want to be the very best, the best there ever was,” said one of the men with a smile.
The Kedzie Avenue coffee shop’s oversized panoramic windows overlook a busy intersection, cars, buses, cyclists all flowing at the pace of traffic lights. With their heads also bowed and their distance inches from the next car, bus, bike or person, other Logan Squarists are wandering in staccato harmony. At first their pace is quick then suddenly slow and finally with abruptness, they stop in place, like robots shutting down, power finally ceased.
Watching the scene from the coffee shop stools, safety almost appears secondary to them. But what is causing this bizarre or aimless movement?
The answer: a fixation on “catching ‘em all” on Pokemon Go.
The free-to-play augmented reality smartphone gaming app uses GPS technology and the in-phone camera to encourage players to capture, battle and train virtual creatures, called Pokemon. Since its release nearly two weeks ago, the game has claimed residents from Logan Square to Australia into its world of virtual fun. While some claim it encourages social interaction and fosters unexpected conversations, others are worried about privacy being compromised, the addictive quality it can have, and that the fad will not last.
“I think it’s awesome, even just going out on any given day and seeing people playing it everywhere laughing and meeting other people,” said Luke Savage.
The 24-year-old moved to Logan Square two weeks ago, just as Pokemon Go was beginning its rapid ascent to ubiquity. Savage said he and his girlfriend have not only relished in the nostalgia factor, but have found it as a tool to meeting new people.
“Being new, it’s helped make new friends,” he said. “I’ve had more pleasant experiences being out and had fun random encounters with people. It’s given me a new avenue to be social.”
For his friends, Savage said it’s helped them get out of their homes and overcome, even temporarily, the crippling effects of depression and anxiety.
“It’s had a really positive impact on people that way,” he said.
The sheer scope of engagement with the smartphone app is mind-boggling. According to Amplitude, a blog about growth analytics and mobile platforms, less than a week since its release, Pokemon Go has already eclipsed Instagram and Snapchat in terms of hourly engagement had has just toppled the daily active user count on Twitter.
“This is different because it doesn’t intrude on my life,” said Patrick McGinley, 32, who doesn’t proclaim to be a gamer in any way. “Most games seem to be a waste of my time, but this is about the same level as playing Words with Friends or something similar, just a bit more engaging.”
Fascination and captivation isn’t just on the social stratosphere, either. In fact, following the footsteps of the Australia meetup on July 10 that drew hundreds, Chicago will host the very first United States-based meetup at Millennium Park on July 17. So far, 24,000 people have shown interest in attending the event on the Facebook page, with another 8,900 people confirming attendance.
“I’m excited for the meetup,” said Savage. “I liked Pokemon as a kid and now, it’s in real life and you get to do it.”
While the “Poke-stops” have popped up all over Logan Square, including the Logan Theater and Comfort Station, where people are illegally parking on Milwaukee Avenue to “catch ‘em all,” Pokemon Go has turned homes into training gyms, been the cause of attempted robberies and the source of debilitating traffic accidents. If that wasn’t enough, people are ruing the app for its access to privileged user information.
“I downloaded it, tried and then heard that the app has full access to your Google account, including emails, contacts, calendars and then felt uncomfortable and uninstalled it,” said Robert Harbin.
But not everyone shares that worry.
“I’m not sure what privacy concerns I should have,” said McGinley. “Google maps already knows where I am at all times. I occasionally walk around my neighborhood more than I used to. I don’t see what additional data could be gained by getting me to walk more and how that could negatively impact my life.”
Pokemon, also known as Pocket Monsters in its home country of Japan, has been a card game, video game and animated series since its 1995 inception. The franchise has even had its own theme park and stage musical inspired by the still prominent Megami Tensei video game series, targeting a more mature audience. Capitalizing on the franchise success, Niantic, a San Francisco based company formerly owned by Google, developed the game with The Pokemon Company. Despite no longer owning the tech company, Google invested millions into it and has addressed user privacy concerns, stating, they will work with Niantic to ensure that the accessed data is simply basic user information.
“It’s a fun concept for a game, but it didn’t need to be Pokemon, any game would have worked using this type of technology,” said McGinley. “Pokemon is still lame in my opinion, but until they come up with a more interesting game that is widely played using this same technology.”
Even so, a singular sentiment is shared among the masses.
“I guess I’ll keep playing this one until it gets boring,” McGinley said. “I give it a month.”