Since Pokemon Go debuted on July 6, the augmented reality game has taken the world by storm—and Missoula, for better or worse, is no exception. The smartphone app requires that players leave the comfort of their homes and search the real world for digital characters to capture, collect and use in virtual battle. How popular is the game? SurveyMonkey reports it has as many as 26 million active daily users. On July 12, it even surpassed porn in worldwide Google searches.
In Missoula, the craze can best be measured by clusters of kids and adults seen wandering around town at all hours, eyes glued to their phones, and local businesses capitalizing on the game's popularity. Liquid Planet Grille dropped a "Poke-lure" to attract customers, while many others advertised that hard-to-find characters could be found near their storefronts. Even the Fox Club marquee declares "Rare Pokemon inside VIP Room," though one Indy staffer discovered to his disappointment that his phone's GPS doesn't work inside the strip club, rendering the game useless.
Missoula Parks and Rec's Meg Whicher says they've definitely noticed the "insanity." The game encourages people to be more active—players, for instance, must walk certain distances, sometimes up to 6 miles, to "hatch" eggs for a treasured Snorlax or Electabuzz—and that just so happens to coincide with Parks and Rec's mission.
"It's new and it's different, for sure, but if this is how people are choosing to use their parks and trails systems, that's great," Whicher says. "As long as they're looking up and not running into each other."
New groups are also forming around Pokemon Go. Gina Stewart, creator and administrator of the "Missoula Poke-Pals" Facebook group and its 200 members, says she's met several new friends while playing. In fact, she went on a date with another player she met in Caras Park.
"I played [with Pokemon cards] when I was a kid and got made fun of," Stewart says. "Now that I'm an adult, it's like, I'm going to do what I want. Nobody's going to make me feel like a nerd for it."
But Stewart's not counting her Rattatas before they hatch. She says it remains to be seen if the game will continue to attract new players and flourish, or if the fad will dwindle faster than Pidgey evolves into Pidgeotto.