BANGOR, Maine — When someone who doesn’t play Pokemon Go asks someone that does play why this game has seemingly taken over the lives of so many people, the answer can range from a passionate defense of the game’s myriad physical and social benefits to a simple statement that it’s just a lot of fun.
Regardless of your opinion on the matter, the fact remains that Pokemon Go is a nationwide phenomenon that just one week after launching is poised to overtake Twitter in terms of daily active users, and has been downloaded nearly 2 million times.
The mechanics of the game are fairly simple: Catch Pokemon with Pokeballs, collect and evolve the ones you catch, collect more balls and other items at Pokestops, and battle your Pokemon with others at gyms. The app uses Google Maps and data collected from another game, Ingress, to make Pokemon and Pokestops appear on your phone, depending on where you’re standing in the real world — augmented reality, to use the game industry’s term.
For Maine businesses and organizations, it has meant a surprise boost in traffic outside — and sometimes inside — their doors. And for Mainers that play the game, it has lead to unexpected conversations with strangers, visits to places they’ve never been, and exercise they might otherwise not have gotten.
There’s a cluster of “Pokestops” on the Bangor Waterfront, all of which are almost constantly tagged with lures, an item players can attach to a Pokestop to attract more Pokemon to the area. At any given time, there could be between 40 and 100 people in the area. Past midnight early Tuesday, there were upwards of 200 people hanging out, catching Pokemon — from a family that set up a phone-charging station to a girl dressed as Pikachu.
On Tuesday afternoon, Judy Perry and her grandsons Kaden and Adam, all of Dedham, were walking around the waterfront. While her grandkids were eagerly catching Drowzees and Nidorans, she was watching amusedly.
“I’m just the chauffeur. I’m not playing. But it’s great that it’s getting kids out and about and not sitting at home, inside, not moving,” she said.
Maine Maritime Academy student Megan Perkins, 21, and her boyfriend, Matthew Jacobs, and their 15-week-old puppy, Milton, were also out for a Pokestroll on the Bangor Waterfront on Tuesday. She said she had walked a lot in the past week — many players have walked long distances, considering the eggs that drop at Pokestops will only hatch when a player has walked a certain number of kilometers (usually 2, 5 or 10, with better Pokemon coming with longer distances).
“We went for a bike ride this morning in the Bangor City Forest, and we had to stop every few hundred yards to keep catching them,” said Perkins. “I love collecting everything. I work in Bar Harbor during the day, and all my friends are playing, too, so someone will put a lure out, and we all just hang out and catch Pokemon. It’s really fun.”
There are three Pokestops within a few feet of one another on Hammond Street — the mural at the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department, the post office and the Fiddlehead Restaurant — and most nights, crowds of people can be found sitting on the grass outside the old Penobscot County Courthouse, having a “lure party.” On Tuesday night, Hampden resident Grant Beals organized a lure party there that attracted close to 100 people, mostly in their 20s.
“It was a private event, but it quickly kind of spiraled from there,” said Beals. “I think people just like to have something fun to do, and there’s never been anything like this before. There was Ingress, the game that this is partially based off of, but this is way, way bigger than that.”
Businesses near Pokestops and gyms have seen an increase in foot traffic outside their doors — though that doesn’t always translate into sales. Friar’s Bakehouse on Central Street is a Pokestop, but according to Brother Don, no one playing Pokemon has come in to buy a loaf of bread. But for others — including Sea Dog Brewing Co. and the three food trucks parked most days immediately adjacent to the waterfront stops — business has increased.
“There are way more people here than would normally be down here,” said Brian Virgilio, an employee at the Grammy’s Grilled Cheese food truck, immediately before serving sandwiches and drinks to three Pokemon Go players. “Plus, it’s getting people to walk around Bangor and explore. We love it… maybe we should get the game and buy lures to keep people down here.”
Pastor Stan Moody of Columbia Street Baptist Church found out over the weekend that people were congregating outside his doors to battle the Pokemon they’ve collected at the gym outside his doors — so he and his church jumped into action, offering a recharging station to players, as well as information about the church’s services and message.
“While the Bangor Police Department was informing the public that it would not serve as a Pokemon recharging station, we headed in the opposite position,” Moody stated in a news release sent out Monday. “This is just another way of bringing faith into the action.”
Some businesses are also offering phone charging stations, including the Central Gallery on Central Street, between 6 and 10 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays.
Though Bangor police did, in fact, ask people to be responsible and respectful during their Pokemon hunting, Officer George Spencer, who walks the downtown beat, said he had never seen anything like it in all his years on the force — though he has yet to see anyone cluelessly walk out into the middle of traffic.
“All day, I see people walking around with their phones out. I bet there were 100 people in Pickering Square the other day,” said Spencer. “So far, though, I haven’t seen anyone walk out into traffic. Not yet, anyway.”
Walking into traffic isn’t the only concern the game has drawn though. Some players — and nonplayers — have expressed concerns that the terms of service of the game grants Niantic, the game’s developer, access to the the full Google account of a player (though only for players using iOS), including emails and location data. Niantic released a statement Tuesday evening clarifying this, and both Google and Niantic plan to change the permissions so that only the basic details of a Google account are accessible.
Meanwhile, the popularity continues to surge. Facebook has been overrun with in-game photos players have taken of the Pokemon they’ve caught — Psyducks in the water, Rattata in living rooms, Pidgeys virtually everywhere. In a Facebook group called Pokemon Go: Maine, players alert each other to lures that have been set, share Pokemon memes and great catches, and good-naturedly rag on people that are on Team Red (Valor), Team Yellow (Instinct) or Team Blue (Mystic).
Aaron Perry, an Augusta resident and founder and admin of the Pokemon Go: Maine Facebook group, said he was a little surprised by how explosively popular the game has become — though he knew it would be a hit.
“I play games quite regularly so I caught wind about the game early last year,” he said. “I was expecting it to be a big game. Maybe not as big as it is currently, but still a hit. I think it’s so popular because of the people in my age group. Late 20s, early 30s. We grew up with Pokemon. I think I was 7 or 8 when it first came out. Well, we grew older — not up.”
Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the name of Team Blue. They are called “Mystic.”