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Pokemon popularity sweeping Centre County

State College local brothers Sam Woytowich, left, and Zach Woytowich play Pokemon Go on the steps of Old Main on Monday, July 18, 2016.
State College local brothers Sam Woytowich, left, and Zach Woytowich play Pokemon Go on the steps of Old Main on Monday, July 18, 2016. nthomas@centredaily.com

If you know the difference between a Spearow and a Pidgeotto, you’re definitely not alone.

If those words mean nothing to you, you clearly don’t have the hottest new game on your smartphone.

Millions have downloaded the game, and you don’t have to be an 11-year-old kid to appreciate the appeal. Professionals, students, children and retirees alike are getting in touch with their inner Pokemon trainer and obsessing over the 2016 augmented reality update to a 1990s trading card game.

So what is “Pokemon Go?” The game lets you collect wild imaginary creatures in a landscape that overlays your real location, thanks to GPS. When a creature appears in your vicinity, you can capture it in a Pokeball while your phone’s camera lets you see it in your actual location. Like, say, your keyboard at work. Not that you’d ever play at work.

Centre County is definitely in on the craze.

On Penn State’s University Park campus, it’s not hard to figure out who is playing. People can be seen walking around, heads pointed down at a phone screen, occasionally looking around for a landmark and then rushing toward it to get within range of a Pokestop (a location where you can get swag like Pokeballs or lucky eggs) or a Gym (a place where you can battle your Pokemon against others).

“Everyone on this campus is playing this game,” said Ryan Ellis, a junior studying geosciences.

On Saturday, he was sitting on a bench by a sculpture, taking a break for a quick battle.

“I’ve been waiting for months,” he said. “I’m not surprised it’s as big as it is. I’m surprised how many younger people are playing it.”

The typical campus crowd of twenty-somethings is definitely a force, but so are those in their 30s or 40s who played it as kids or teens when the game first came out. So are elementary school students who are rediscovering the game their parents played.

In Bellefonte, Tasha Hockenberry was finding the best Pokemon in Talleyrand Park.

She met up with Arianna Puckett at the Centre County Courthouse, which, not surprisingly, was a Poke-rich environment.

“I like the traveling aspect,” said Puckett. “I like being able to get out and do something.”

In some places, the game is causing problems as people are being disruptive at the Arlington National Cemetery or the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in their attempts to add to their roster of creatures or augment their arsenals of supplies.

But in Centre County, the reaction has been more welcoming and the players less intrusive.

A number of Pokestops are found at the Centre County Memorial Park cemetery in College Township, but management there says that while they have noticed an uptick in visitors, they haven’t created any problems as they’ve visited the Sept. 11th or VFW memorials in the park.

“We’ve actually not seen it as a negative,” said sales manager Rodney Gressley. “I think it’s a great way to bring people into the park to see what is actually here.”

Puckett said the game is teaching her a lot about her community.

“I didn’t know they had a time vault here (in Bellefonte), and I’ve lived here my whole life,” she said.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said there have been no problems on campus either, although she is definitely seeing a lot of players, and a lot of Pokemon. Yes, it’s being played by university administrators, too. She caught a Pikachu in front of Old Main.

“This area is a treasure trove of characters and landmarks,” Powers said.

She does urge people to be cautious. There have been reports around the country of people getting hurt when they walk into trees or traffic or aren’t smart about visiting unsafe areas at unsafe times.

The Pennsylvania state police are also giving that advice.

“Citizens should be cognizant of players using the app on their mobile devices,” police said in a bulletin last week. “Distracted game users might not be aware of their surroundings or use caution when entering into isolated areas. Criminals might also seek the opportunity to target players by luring them or waiting for their arrival at Pokestops or gyms.”

But for Ellis, the best part of the game is the other people he meets.

“You should see this place at 10, 11 o’clock at night. It’s just roving bands of people,” he said. “It’s great.”

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