A quiet breeze ruffled the foliage surrounding Prexy’s Pasture on Sept. 22 as the first wild Chikorita appeared.
The small, green Pokémon resembled a cartoon puppy with a leaf growing atop its head. Within seconds, the Chikorita was joined by hundreds more, coating the University of Wyoming campus and only visible with a touch-screen cellphone.
“Oh, a shiny,” Anthony Kellogg squealed with delight, staring at the rare Chikorita on his phone screen. “Hang on a second. I gotta catch this.”
Pokémon Go, an augmented reality video game played on cellphones and tablets, populates the digital world with Pokémon from the widely popular cartoon and video game franchise. Using the Pokémon Go app, fans can actively seek out and capture little creatures in the not-quite-real world.
“I’ve been playing since the game dropped, but not consistently,” said Kellogg, a U.S. Navy veteran and UW engineering student. “When I came to Laramie, I realized there was a big community here, so I picked it back up again.”
Released in 2016, the game immediately attracted a worldwide following and caused more than a few people concern about the droves of players roaming the streets day and night.
Constantly in flux, game trends shift as quickly as the wind in today’s internet-fueled society, but Pokémon GO retains a stalwart fan base in Laramie and throughout the globe.
Pushing his longboard around the pasture, Kellogg stopped every few feet to swirl his finger across his touchscreen in an attempt to catch one of the Pokémon flooding campus during the monthly, three-hour event known as Community Day.
“You think it’s a kids’ game,” he said without looking up from his phone. “But the majority of players I see are 35-45 years old.”
Among the people
Trinity Preston paused in front of the UW Half Acre Recreation and Wellness Center, biting her lip as she watched a Poké Ball sail through the air on her phone.
“I was a really casual player in the beginning, but the community sucked me in,” Preston said, smiling as stars burst from the ball signifying she caught another Chikorita. “GO gets me out among people with similar interests. I’m pretty introverted and don’t get out much.”
Standing in the shade of a sapling, Preston said events like Community Day keep her involved in the game.
Once a month, Pokémon GO developer Niantic cranks up the spawn rate of a predetermined Pokémon, which in turn, increases its chances of being “shiny,” an off-colored rare version. The event lasts three-hours and draws people from all walks of life.
Parents strolled with their children, teenagers coagulated in packs, UW students zipped across the campus and even UW faculty hopped into the mix.
Kellogg rolled up on his longboard, pointing out high-density Pokémon areas to Preston. The two knew each other from previous events and gym raids, timed battles against legendary Pokémon requiring players to work cooperatively for a chance to catch the boss.
“The way I see it, Pokémon is a great way to get out and enjoy the sun,” Kellogg said. “You also make a lot of friends.”
Unlike many video games, Pokémon GO requires players to constantly be on the move.
The game can be summed up by the franchise slogan “Gotta catch ‘em all” as the primary goal is to catch and raise wild creatures players find throughout the world.
While a Pokémon may occasionally appear in a players back yard, denser spawns can be found at parks, libraries and universities. Once a Pokémon is caught, the player can either wait several minutes for another to potentially pop up or move a few dozen feet in any direction to find others. Because players have to work together to take down big bosses, they form a community and use messaging apps like Discord to identify rare Pokémon locations and raid times.
Sporting a bright yellow backpack adorned with an image of Pikachu, Pokémon’s mascot, Amanda Carson chatted with Nick Jones as they strolled across campus.
“I didn’t realize how popular (Pokémon GO) was in Laramie,” said Carson, a UW biology student. “The community really comes together for days like today.”
Jones, a Laramie resident, said he’s played the game from the beginning, but it wasn’t until recently that he noticed how big the fan base had grown.
“When Community Days came out, it exploded,” he said. “We got everything from kids playing with their parents to people in their 60s running around taking down gyms.”
The duo stopped at the edge of a crowd gathered in front of the UW Engineering Building, which also served as a Pokémon gym. About 40 people, young and old, stood with phones in hand as they watched a clock count down the minutes until the next raid.
Plopped down in the soft grass, Kellogg counted the day’s haul.
“I grew up with Pokémon,” he said. “The nostalgia of it all pulled me in. We weren’t rich, so I didn’t get to play the Game Boy games very often. This kind of gives me a chance to live out the childhood I wanted.”