Your eyes aren’t deceiving you—there are suddenly dozens of teens walking in groups around Wilton Center and elsewhere in town, looking at their phones, and going place to place as if they’re searching for something. They’re playing Pokémon Go, a mashup of the Pokémon video game and the real world, using their phone GPS and maps of the town to ‘capture’ animated characters from the game called Pokémons that pop up on their screens.

It’s a craze that has taken the world by storm. Since the “augmented reality” game app was released just a little over a week ago, more people are playing it than use Twitter. Nintendo, the company that released Pokémon Go, increased in value by nearly $11 billion$11 billion!…in the days since its release.

Players not only try to find the animated characters, but in the mythology of the Pokémon game, they have their characters battle each other in ‘gyms.’ The game places gyms in local landmarks on the maps—for instance, one gym is pictured to be located at the iconic flag sculpture outside the Wilton Library—and players can also join one of three teams (red, yellow or blue) and battle for control against other players. The game is designed to get players walking around; for instance, an egg that gets collected won’t hatch until the player has walked a certain number of steps or distance.

Pokemon 1
pokemon 3

Wilton has definitely jumped in on the trend along with the rest of the world. Just sit outside and enjoy a coffee at Tusk and Cup on Old Ridgefield Rd. and count the many, many kids that go by holding their phones, pointing and dashing off in all directions.

Getting players outside is one benefit of the game, as one joke circulating online points out:  Kids have now gone from spending too much time indoors playing their video games to spending too much time outdoors to play video games.

The game is inspiring some kids to take up the old-fashioned habit getting outside in the summer and staying out with neighborhood friends until after dark. Jennifer Angerame‘s son has been playing Pokémon Go with other neighborhood kids until late at night, using flashlights to navigate around and play. “It’s all he has done since the launch!” she says, adding that the game has even brought a bit of family peace. “I am in awe of it… It has two of my kids getting along and going on walks together!”

pokemon kids church

Kids and teens aren’t the only ones playing. There are plenty of adults and parents who are in on the phenomenon too.

Some parents, like Kristen Stieber Schestag, are playing with their kids.  “My son got me to download it yesterday. It’s nice to connect with my 14 year old and have something to talk and laugh about,” she says. We’ve spotted parents with younger children searching and playing the game together.

Pokemon kids crossing

One mom told us about a funny experience she had while playing:  “Friday night I was hanging out with my teenage daughter and her friend. They decided to go outside at 10 p.m. in our yard to search for Pokémon. Of course I had to download the game and headed outside so they could teach me to play. I was at the end of my driveway, in complete darkness—searching for Pokémon—and a Wilton police car pulls up to me and asks if everything is ok. I started laughing and proceeded to tell him that I was searching for Pokémon. We were both hysterical laughing at this point.”

Another friend said she was driving with her kids when they spotted someone outside who was clearly immersed in the Pokémon world. “Ww were stopped at a light on Danbury Rd. across from Outdoor Sports Center. We see this man in work attire at lunch hour walking aimlessly in circles with his phone. My son says, “I bet he’s playing Pokémon,” and rolls down the window to yell out, “Pokémon?” The guy turns around laughing and says, “Yes!” and gives him a thumbs up!”

Some lucky businesses get to take advantage of the fad if they become a “Poké Stop,” a spot where several Pokémon are located, as Beth Anne McMahon reports:  “Heibeck’s ice cream has seen much more revenue from my family because it is a Poké Stop.”

Kelly Hough agrees. “I work in a local church and we are a Poké Stop and love it! We have had more ‘visitors’ during this week than ever. It’s great! Had some amazing conversations with folks and got into the game myself with my 6 year old.”

There are parents who are going to great lengths so their kids can play. Just ask Dawnmarie Gili, who says, “I drove my son to the Wilton Historical Society and Our Lady of Fatima to locate Pokémon.” Sarah Beach was in the same boat:  “Spent an hour last night driving three of mine around town collecting the sodding things!”

It can be easy for players to get so wrapped up in the game they may find it more important than anything else.

Valerie Lupinacci-Incao posted this anecdote on our Facebook conversation about Pokémon Go. “I was driving with my 13 year old son yesterday, who scared the bejesus out of me when he yelled just as we passed the library, ‘MOM PLEASE STOP THE CAR I NEED TO COLLECT THIS GUY!!!!!’ Needless to say I of course turned around (LOL) but letting him know to never yell like that again while I’m driving.”

Ronni Dreyfuss Sayewitz had a similar experience:  “My daughter yelled ‘Stop! Stop!’ in this panicked voice yesterday as soon as we entered the Starbucks in Wilton. As I’m frantically trying to figure out what horrible thing has happened to her, I realized … She was collecting a Pokémon. Out of her best friend’s hair. And she thought if we moved it would get away.”

Some Dangers and Warnings

But the game can become an obsession that can go too far, presenting situations where players might get hurt. Some players get so distracted by the game they forget they’re playing on real streets around town with real cars that could really hit them.

“I was driving down Rte. 106, a very busy road, as we all know. A boy around 12 years old darted out in front of my car and ran across both lanes staring down at his phone. I wouldn’t say he came close to being hit at that moment but I would say he was very lucky. He came out of the woods near WEPCO, no one would’ve ever seen him. It was very scary,” one concerned reader wrote to us.

It can be very dangerous if players drive and play, which some are doing. Andrea Konstantin Topalian told us a story of a visitor to her house who arrived exclaiming she had just captured three Pokémon on Belden Hill Rd.. “After I asked what it was I then reminded her she was driving and shouldn’t be playing a phone app! This was an adult! The addictive qualities and distractibility for drivers and walkers is one of many disturbing pitfalls of this unique and enticing app for people of all ages,” she cautions.

One mom is even much more wary about the game itself and larger dangers she says it may present. She won’t allow her children to download the app because, like others, she’s concerned about the potential for the app to be used maliciously. In her case, she’s acting from past experience.

“I’m sure the game was meant for good however I feel it offers an avenue for a person to lure children who are naive. My children used to play Xbox live which had them interacting and playing with total strangers from all over the world. Everyone thinks they are ‘safe’ because it’s cyber space; however kids are naive—it’s crazy because they would never talk to a stranger on the street but might have multiple conversations with a stranger in cyber space. It might sound paranoid, but we’ve had something similar happen that could have been very bad,” she says, adding, “The world is a very scary place as technology evolves so quickly and our youth are so accessible via social media.”

There are some additional concerns about privacy and safety that some users feel are too much to mess with and have opted to have nothing to do with the app. Just like anything else, especially online, there are things to be aware of when choosing to use Pokémon Go.

Just try explaining that to the billions of users, and the many Wilton people having fun playing the game.