Tuesday, July 26, 2016

TOP STORY >> Pokémon craze takes over area

Leader staff writer

Last week, while the Jacksonville Advertising and Promotion Commission met inside city hall, outside the parking lot was filled with about a dozen Pokémon Go fanatics.

Players of the smartphone game can get points for finding three landmarks located on city hall property, including the eagle and two plaques dedicated to former Jacksonville mayors.

Now, the Jacksonville Police Department is receiving complaints of gamers trespassing on private and public property and “people walking aimlessly in circles while staring at their phones,” according to a police department press release.

There are cases of people wandering into traffic or smashing into street signs, colliding with bushes, banging into trees and even buildings.

“We like to play games just as much as other people and see the benefit in good gaming fun. We would like to take this time to remind you of a few dangers while playing the Pokémon Go app,” Capt. David Jones said.

Husband and wife team, Eric and Danielle Childs, are Pokémon Go fans and enjoy playing together.

“Of course, you have to use common sense,” said Danielle Childs in response to Jones’ message. Her husband agreed.

Jones said, “We urge drivers NOT to use mobile gaming apps while driving; please wait, park, then, Pokémon Go.”

The Childs, who had a baby in the backseat, also understand the putting the phone down while driving and that it’s illegal to text and drive in Arkansas.

Instead, they drive to a spot and then walk in order to find their next PokéStop.

“It gets us out of the house and we get some exercise,” Eric Childs explained as he stood in the city hall parking lot. He works while she stays home with their baby, and it also gives them time together and some exercise. They say the baby also loves the fresh air.

The popular game, created by Satoshi Tajiri and released in 1995, centered on fictional creatures called Pokémon, which humans, known as Pokémon Trainers, catch and train to battle each other for sport, according to Wikipedia.

For Eric and Danielle Childs, Pokémon Go brings back childhood memories but in an updated version that works on iPhone or Android phones.

Eric Childs said, “It makes us feel nostalgic. It’s like a piece of our childhood in adulthood.”

Unlike its older counterpart, where players traveled through a fictional world, the newer version requires people get out and capture Pokémon in the real world.

There are five PokéStops along Municipal Drive, including the three at city hall, one at the community center and one at the pavilion. But there are more to be found around Jacksonville, including at Dupree Park at 1700 Redmond Road and the Jacksonville Police Station at 1400 Marshall Road.

Pokémon Go is proving a worldwide phenomenon, with no shortage of players in Jacksonville.

Jeannie Hart and her adult son, Wes, enjoy playing Pokémon together. Before Pokémon Go, they played Ingress, sort of a game of mystery, Jeannie Hart said.

They lay claim to creating the eagle PokéStop because of their suggestion to the Ingress game designers. PokéStops are based on Niantic’s Ingress portal and is currently not accepting new locations, Wes Hart said.

About playing with his mom, he said, “It’s a bonding experience.”

The Jacksonville City Hall parking lot has been full of players for weeks, said Alderman Reedie Ray, while City Attorney Robert Bamburg relates the story of a woman, dragging her child in tow, wandering the halls of city hall one evening after hours.

It was unsettling, he recalls.

Jones reminds people, “Please do not freely walk in or around the departments without having checked in with the business office.”

Entering businesses, churches, government buildings or private property, whether game in hand or not, is trespassing, and Jones asks, “If you are locked up, who will be training your Pokémon?”

He also reminds residents that the police and fire stations are “not places of amusement,” but facilities that are designed for quick emergency responses.

“Emergency vehicles could exit the station at any time from the front or the rear of the building responding to an emergency.

“Some players have already placed themselves in harm’s way in our city while playing Pokémon,” Jones said.

Use the visitor parking instead.

Wes Hart is a security guard at Ernie Biggs in the River Market, and he said he feels there’s less opportunity for crime with more people—many with phone in hand—seeking PokéStops in the area.

The Childs haven’t been to the River Market but hear it’s filled with PokéStops, and they would like to find the time to go.

But Capt. Jones gave this warning: “Across the country, people have been lured to places they thought were safe, only to have been robbed or assaulted. We ask players to stay aware of their surroundings by not staying so focused on their phones and being careful when sharing their locations with strangers through the app. Not everyone who said they are friendly ends up being friendly.”

Eric Childs said they don’t play with their heads down, unaware of their surroundings, but set their phones to vibrate when near a PokéStop.

Again, Eric Childs said players need to exercise sound judgment.

One final word of advice from Capt. Jones, “Play it safe in the real world so your virtual world can keep moving in the right direction.”