At This Point, We Can Say There Was Life Before Pokémon Go... And Life After.

By Joe Cingrana/CBS Local

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Growing up on Staten Island, as a kid and then into young adulthood I’ve always enjoyed taking miles long bike rides in the evening and continue that ritual as I approach my 40s. For the most part, I’ve kept it a solo affair, unless a friend decided to tag along or the occasional passing of another rider in the night.

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Tonight was different. Tonight is my fourth night playing Pokémon Go. So I decided to give some purpose to my pedaling. I’ll find some ‘Pokéspots’ and start upgrading my Pokémon. You have no idea what I just said but stick with me.

If you’re completely unfamiliar with the app, it’s a game created by Niantic Labs along with partners Nintendo, Pokémon Co. and Google, where the player or ‘Trainer’ collects fictional animals in the wild (the actual wild, it’s location based and uses GPS to track your movement in the real world) in order to upgrade, evolve and train them for battle against other teams. Along the way, there are places called ‘Pokéstops’ which when interacted with give the player items necessary for gameplay. There are A LOT of them. There are also ‘Gyms’ where battles between rival Pokémon teams take place. I’m not even there yet.

After doing a little research, I found out that the ‘Pokéspot’ and ‘gym’ locations are not random, they’re being fed, in essence, by Google maps, geotagged photos uploaded to Google, and user submitted data gathered in another geolocation based game called Ingress, also created by Niantic Labs, which was once part of Google.

So when I rode past Historic Richmond Town, as I have done for close to 30-years now, I expected to find a ‘Pokéspot’ or two, and maybe even some people with the same idea. It was close to midnight, so figured it would be a perfect time. I certainly didn’t expect to see the side streets and parking lots of the now-closed city landmark full of cars and hundreds of shadows walking into and out of the park.

Pokémon Go players swarm Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island at midnight, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Joe Cingrana/CBS Local)

Pokémon Go players swarm Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island at midnight, July 14, 2016. (Photo: Joe Cingrana/CBS Local)

‘What’s going on here tonight?’ I asked a 20-something girl, thinking there may be an event scheduled, but I already knew the answer. “Oh it’s just a game people are playing,” she said as nasally as you can imagine — as if she could see in my phone the nine measly skill levels I’ve managed to attain as a trainer — and then disappeared.

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That’s when I learned that every night since the app was released on July 6, a steady swarm of players — mostly young adults who grew up with the popular Nintendo franchise in the 2000s — have gathered in all kinds of places, from the island’s southern tip to Times Square and beyond, trying their hardest to ‘catch em all.’

I’ll admit, I’m a little late to the game — three days is a lifetime on social media — but this time that doesn’t seem to matter. There’s no one to harass me about that. The more I gave thought, the more I truly got behind the movement: It’s bringing people together. Even if they’re not talking much, they’re together, happy, and they’re getting a ton of exercise.

A grown adult standing in a closed park playing a game on his phone. Richmond Town, Staten Island – Midnight, July 14, 2016 (Photo: Joe Cingrana/CBS Local)

I had a chance to talk to some more of the young adults tonight, all of them eager to help one another find that pesky Pidgeot; happy to be out of the house socializing, without necessarily being social. Don’t forget, everyone was busy playing a game on their phone.

One 18-year-old I spoke with thinks the fad will be short-lived, like most other social-based apps, unless of course updates allow him to trade items and battle his friends directly. His 16-year-old Poké-buddy for the night explained some of the finer points of the game and was certainly happy with the turnout at Richmond Town, and even gave some tips on where players can find more Poké-fun (and groups of players) on Staten Island, as well as hot spots in the city.

Obviously, the game isn’t limited to this small strip of NYC swampland — so go out and explore. Although the app’s initial release was limited to the US, New Zealand, and Australia, Germany was added just hours ago and more countries are in the works.

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