When “Pokemon Go” players visit Scranton’s Courthouse Square for items and wild Pokemon, they may hear the television show’s theme song playing faintly in the background. It isn’t a hallucinatory side effect of too much catching ‘em all — it’s 21-year-old Blaise Pantuso. He has the song repeating over and over again through a Bluetooth speaker in his backpack.
“I’ve been playing ‘Pokemon Go’ for two days striaght now,” said Pantuso, who
sat charging his phone and himself in the Courthouse Square shade on Monday.
The Pokeball beanie-clad trainer said he hadn’t played a core game in the Pokémon franchise for years, but “Pokemon Go” had him in the square from 8 p.m. July 10 until 6 a.m. the next morning.
Dom Nolan, 25, who was in the square the same time as Pantuso, said the song attracted a small following as Pokemon masters lived the show they watched as children.
Play it safe
On the night of July 8, Nolan’s search for an elusive Pokemon called Electabuzz took him to Marywood University; it was also a brush with the real-life dangers associated with the app.
“I almost died,” Nolan said. “There was a giant pot hole and I almost stepped in it and tripped into traffic. It was pitch black.”
The game uses GPS and cell phone cameras to integrate reality into a virtual experience (a practice in gaming known as augmented reality). Players are forced to frequently look at their phone’s display and follow a map that indicates locations of interest. It’s built to be played while walking, so it advises players to be alert when walking around busy streets and private property.
The app can be just as tempting to drivers as it is to pedestrians.
Nanticoke resident Ashley Nichols admittedly checked to see if any Pokemon were around while stopped at a red light. She said if she does want to interact with the app she’ll pull over to the side of the road, but even playing it safe comes with its own hazards.
“I pulled over in Plymouth and I got a nail in my tire, so I have to take care of that now,” Nichols said.
Train your Pokemon, train yourself
Scranton resident Chad Pokita, 25, was hunting alongside Nolan. When asked if the game motivated him to visit areas he didn’t frequent, he admitted it drove him to explore one area in particular: the outdoors. For Pantuso, the game hasn’t just gotten him outside; it has gotten him into better shape.
“I’m six pounds lighter,” Pantuso said. “I weighed myself this morning. I try to walk every day but I mainly only do a half hour. This is crazy.”
The game has helped him become more social.
“I’ve added 30 new contacts in my phone already,” he said.
Scranton’s downtown area may attract so many players because of its monuments and landmarks, but Wilkes-Barre is anything but barren when it comes to “Pokemon Go.” The city’s Franklin Street YMCA is one of dozens of Pokestops in the downtown area — although they didn’t know it.
Linda Reilly, community health director for Wilkes-Barre YMCA, was also familiar with the Pokemon franchise but was surprised to hear the health facility was integrated into its latest entry.
“I think it’s great. It sounds like a great way to keep people active,” she said. “It seems like a really engaging thing, especially if families do it together. It could be a good bonding experience between family members — parents against the kids, competing as you go along.”
Wilkes-Barre residents Joe Cresho and Emily Flatt said they’re naturally active people, but they’ve had a little extra motivation since the release of “Pokemon Go.”
“We usually go out, but now we have even more of a reason to,” Cresho said.
So far the two have hunted Pokemon in a number of places, including South Philadelphia and Scranton’s The Marketplace at Steamtown, but Flatt said her favorite place to Poke-watch was Wilkes-Barre’s Kirby Park.
“I love seeing everyone out of their houses at the park,” Flatt said.
It’s educational too
Nichols visited multiple areas in her hunting. After the King’s College student finished exploring her own campus, she made laps around Wilkes University, hitting Pokestops and catching Pokemon.
“Those blue historical markers are (Poke)stops too,” said Nichols, comparing the app to a city-wide scavenger hunt. “You see them all over the place but no one really ever stops to read them. Hopefully people will now.”
For some players, the goal is to control gyms. After players reach level 5, they can join one of three teams (blue, yellow or red) and visit designated spots on their map (like the Kings College bell across from Times Leader’s offices) to battle against other players. The gyms, along with PokeStops and wild Pokémon, form the basic gameplay elements of the Pokémon GO experience.
Whether they’re trying to “catch ‘em all” or training to take over gyms, Northeastern Pennsylvania “Pokemon Go” trainers of have a long road ahead if they want to catch ‘em all and tackle every gym, but the streets of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre have more Pokestops and Pocket Monsters than original series starting point, Pallet Town, and they can be uncovered through exploration and a little bit of luck.
Reach Gene Axton at 570-991-6121. - Sarah Haase contributed to this article.
1: Visiting a Pokestops on the map gives players free in-game items that can help catch Pokemon (like Pokeballs and berries). These items would otherwise have to be purchased from the in-app store once depleted from the inventory. Pokestops refresh quickly after they’re used, so stock up on the consumables in public places like Wyoming Valley Mall or downtown Wilkes-Barre
2: The ring that shows up in front of a Pokemon indicates its capture difficulty. Green means easy to catch, yellow is a bit harder, orange is harder still and red is the most difficult. Raise capture probability by using items
3: Level up and evolve Pokemon with candy. Candy is gained by transferring duplicate Pokemon. Don’t transfer your most powerful pocket monsters — always transfer Pokemon with lower CP (combat point) levels. The higher the CP, the stronger the Pokemon
4: During battle, tap the screen to perform a basic attack. Special attacks can be performed when the blue bar under a Pokemon's health is filled to the spot required by each move
5: Team members can store Pokemon at gyms owned by their team and earn "gym defender" bonuses every day their Pokemon remains there. Visit the shop tab to collect the bonus. To capture a gym, challenge its trainers to lower the gym's prestige number. When the number reaches zero, the gym will become available.
6: Eggs gained at Pokestops must be placed in an incubator to hatch. Incubate eggs by walking; higher required distance means rarer and stronger Pokemon. Distance will be counted if slowly riding a bike or skateboard, but the game will not count distances crossed at higher speeds
7: "Pokemon Go" is hard on battery life; make sure phones are fully charged and, if possible, bring back-up batteries. Also, be mindful of the world outside the phone
8: To start with Pikachu, walk around and ignore the first three Pokemon at the game’s beginning. After a few minutes, Pikachu will appear.