Pokemon craze gets residents exploring Springfield landmarks

People walking around with their eyes glued to their cell phones isn’t new, but using them to search for monsters at the A.B. Graham Building, Veterans Park or other Springfield landmarks is.

Pokemon Go! is a free, GPS-based game released last week that allows users to search their towns to capture more than 150 virtual Pokemon characters they can then train to battle other users.

While the Pokemon franchise has been a video game juggernaut for more than 20 years, this new version has become an instant phenomenon.

Since last week, people all over Springfield have sought out the digital creatures. Unlike most video games, it means getting up and out, which excites even a non-gamer like Chris Schutte, director of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“This potentially is a tool that lets people experience the rich world around them and discover things you go by every day and not pay attention too,” Schutte said. “It can have a real enriching quality.”

Schutte would like to do an event in the near future based on the Pokemon Go! concept, especially with the appeal to the younger demographic and the impact it could have on local travel and tourism.

The game has gotten people such as Springfield resident Greg Willis out of the house.

“I’ve gotten more exercise in one day playing this than I have all year,” he said.

Willis, who is directing a youth production of “Shrek Jr.” for the Springfield Civic Theatre, said he noticed the kids at a recent audition addicted to their phones and now claims he’s addicted.

He’s been up at 3 a.m. trying to catch a ghostly Pokemon character in his back yard, and the next day in his neighbor’s front yard. Instead of yelling at Willis to get off his lawn, now his neighbor is playing.

Jason McHenry, 23, played the game in Veterans Park on Monday. While there he discovered the Tecumseh statue on the bike trail and said he liked getting the exercise.

Michael and Annette Black are playing Pokemon Go! as a family activity with their grown kids.

“I almost caught a Pikachu, but didn’t have enough berries,” Annette Black sighed.

She’s been surprised she likes it and at how many players she’d seen in a 14-hour day in Veteran’s Park while helping with the Summer Arts Festival production of “Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s ‘Mary Poppins.’”

The Turner Pavilion stage is one of the landmarks included in the game and they also discovered some at Ferncliff Cemetery.

Greenmount Cemetery is a normally a quiet area of the city, but even it has become a hot spot for Pokemon Go! fans.

David Bruns lives across the street. He’s enjoyed the peace and is now amused at the activity.

“It’s a beautiful, empty green space, nobody ever goes there,” he said. “Now you see it flooded with Pokemon users among the cool tombstones.

“I came home for lunch yesterday and saw a guy in a suit with his phone out looking for Pokemon and later a guy with tattoos and a long beard,” Bruns said, laughing. “One night I saw a woman and her son and I just asked ‘Pokemon’ and she nodded yes.”

Bruns started playing the game with his 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

“My wife thought I was the only one playing. I like it because it’s getting people outside,” he said.

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