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Pokémon And Local History Go Hand In Hand

Lucas Willard
Pokémon GO users Ashley Toote and Emily Heck search for virtual monsters in Saratoga Springs"

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of Pokémon, you may not recognize the names of the virtual monsters being discovered in your neighborhood.

“I just caught a Venonat. I caught a Weedle at work today,” said Pat Holland.

But you’re bound to become more familiar, as the popular video game series has moved onto smartphones through a new app called Pokémon GO. It lets players, like 25-year-old Pat Holland, discover cute monsters through what’s called Augmented Reality technology.

“I’m on a roll. I’m actually a Pokémon master. I just caught like five in this area,” said Holland.

And Holland wasn’t the only one with their eyes on their devices on Tuesday night in Saratoga Springs.

Whitney Burke and Brian Gitman were also on the hunt. They drove 40 minutes from Rensselaer to catch Pokémon and meet other players.

“I was here the other day with my best friend and everyone had it so I got it and now we came today. It’s something to do, it’s fun,” said Burke.

“We’re pretty young so we don’t have a whole lot of money for shopping and stuff, so we just walk around the town anyway,” said Gitman.

The 19-year-old trainers say they’ve also learned about the city through the app.

“I thought that was cool to learn what each of the statues symbolized or represented,” said Burke.

“Because it’s stuff you can find on Google Maps but I don’t see anyone else stopping and looking at it like they are with this,” said Gitman.

The app marks historic buildings, monuments, and even public art as PokéStops and Gyms. These are areas where trainers can congregate to gather in-game items or take down a high-level Pokémon. But there’s also a short description given about each real-world place.

That has not gone unnoticed by Mary Zawacki, curator of the Schenectady County Historical Society.

“Myself and two of my colleagues were walking around the Stockade on our lunch break, and we were realizing how many of the PokéStops are historical markers, of course. And some are very accurate and some are very inaccurate.

“And then talking to people and seeing how kind of excited they were about a little bit of the history, like ‘Oh wow, there was a massacre here? Oh wow, this building was burned?’ We were like, you know what? We need to combine these two elements,” said Zawacki.

So Zawacki and her colleagueshave organized a free historical tourof Schenectady’s Stockade district for Thursday night and Pokémon trainers are encouraged to attend, meet fellow players, and learn a little more about the city they live in.

She says people have told her they’ve made new friends playing the game, and she’s also heard a word being passed around that’s nice to hear.

“I keep hearing the word ‘community,’” said Zawacki. “People keep throwing that around. Like, you can just go up to a stranger and know that you’re kind of doing the same thing and it’s this kind of instant community in your neighborhood in Stockade, which is really exciting.”

Officials are warning users to be careful while they’re on the hunt, however. New York State Department of Motor Vehicles is asking people to not catch Pokémon while driving. DMV Executive Deputy Commissioner Terri Egan said in a statement, “Simply put, catching virtual creatures to get to the next level is not worth risking your life or the lives of others.”

Lucas Willard is a news reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011. He produces and hosts The Best of Our Knowledge and WAMC Listening Party.
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