Temperatures that reached 90 degrees Monday did not deter scores of people strolling through Centennial Mall, a grassy plaza on the University of Toledo’s campus.
Instead of throwing a Frisbee or sunbathing, they were playing Pokemon Go, a new augmented reality smart phone game.
The game, which was released last Wednesday and has amassed a huge following, allows users to catch Pokemon characters in real time and in real locations by using GPS to direct players to local landmarks, where the Pokemon and certain challenges are located. Local institutions have latched onto the popularity to promote themselves on social media.
IN PICTURES: Pokemon Go craze hits Toledo
“Eighteen to 24-year-olds are probably the biggest demographic playing and our biggest audience,” said Vince DiGuglielmo, UT social media specialist and a Pokemon lover himself. Starting Friday, UT’s Twitter account has been notifying its nearly 40,000 followers about groups gathering on campus to reach landmarks the game has highlighted.
University of Toledo sophomore Bailey Duvall shows his location on the mobile game application, Pokemon Go, using his smartphone outside the Student Union building.
Pokemon Go tops both the Android and iOS app stores. It is free to download, but users can make in-app purchases with real money to gain access to more Pokemon. They have been doing so with vigor, making it the highest grossing app.
“It’s fantastic from a downtown perspective,” said Cindy Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District. Because of Toledo’s history, there are many downtown locations on the game.
Big groups were playing on Sunday night until nearly midnight.
Ms. Kerr seized it as an opportunity to talk to businesses about drawing users to restaurants and shops. Admittedly, she is an active user herself, planning to play on the way to a lunch meeting.
The Mud Hens announced Monday that gates to Fifth Third Field will open early for the July 20 home game against Pawtucket so people can “try and catch the Pokemon roaming around the ballpark.” The news release was accompanied with a screen grab showing a Pokemon in the outfield.
Daniel Woodcock, a digital strategist at Communica and a “huge nerd,” in his own words, grew up playing the Pokemon game with Game Boy, a handheld gaming device.
Pokemon enjoyed huge popularity when it first came to the United States in 1998, when many of today’s Toledo’s college students and young professionals were kids. For them, Pokemon Go is a long time coming in how it brings the familiar characters to smart phones.
“I’m in love with it,” Chase Kempher, a UT sophomore, said of the game. “It brings me back to childhood. [Pokemon] faded away by my teen years.”
Mr. Kempher and his roommate, Bailey Duvall, were on the app outside UT’s Student Union, where Edison Memorial Fountain is one of the landmarks.
But the app has sparked safety concerns, because it requires users to be looking down at their smart phones to play.
Brittani Furlong, a UT environmental science graduate student, saw two people playing on skateboards crash into a wall. Ms. Furlong’s friend, Stephanie Nummer, has seen people slow down while driving in order to check in at landmarks.
“We will have to put something in the syllabus,” Ms. Furlong said, predicting that students who return to campus for the fall semester will try to play the game during the classes she teaches.
Users will see a disclaimer urging them to “be alert” and “stay aware of your surroundings” when they open the app.
There is ample cause for concern.
According to the Washington Post, a 19-year-old from Wyoming went along a river hoping to find a Pokemon; instead, she stumbled upon a dead body.
And in Missouri, players were robbed at gunpoint after other players — all teenagers — lured the victims to an area where they expected to find Pokemon.
“Distracted walking can be dangerous, just like distracted driving,” Lt. Joe Heffernan of the Toledo Police Department said. He also cautioned players to avoid wandering onto other people’s private property, making clear that “playing Pokemon is not a suitable defense.”