Pokémon Go is sweeping over Isla Vista like an unsuspecting tidal wave, leaving the residents permanently changed.
The interactive video game, released in July to players in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand, gained so much popularity in the last few weeks that the Pokémon Go servers crashed repeatedly from overcrowding within the game.
Pokémon Go, for those who haven’t heard, allows players to become trainers within the Pokémon universe, catching different breeds of monsters, leveling them up, and joining one of three teams to take over gyms. All of this seems to be an attempt by Nintendo to get video game players off their couches and out into their neighborhoods.
I took a Pokémon walk with a trainer the other day to see the effects of the game in my own backyard. Here, people stop in the middle of the street to furiously swipe at their phones in hopes of catching a stray Bulbasaur, another Magikarp, or any of the multiple Pokémon meandering around I.V.
“UCSB has a ton of gyms and spots, so it’s definitely worth checking out,” said Karthik Chellappan, a beta tester for the game and recent master’s graduate from UCSB. “Girsh Park is also full of people playing Pokémon Go right now.”
Some trainers forgo all personal safety when it comes to collecting just one more Pokémon. Andalusia Kear, a theater student at UCSB, sustained a radial fracture to her right arm while playing the game.
“Around midnight, I went on an hour-long ride to catch Pokémon,” said Kear. “I was skating and catching Pokémon while not paying attention to the curb, and my board stopped, but I did not.” Yet her enthusiasm for Pokémon Go has not abated.
Businesses in Isla Vista are playing into the hype, as well. Certain places are advertising Pokéstops and giving away rewards to customers who post about rare Pokémon near the establishment. Woodstock’s Pizza gave away free CinnaBread to members of all three teams within the game.
“It’s cool that a gym could be claimed by one team today, and tomorrow another team might have conquered it,” said Chellappan. “Every day I’ve seen gyms changing hands, which means there are a ton of people getting together to work towards a common goal, which is pretty awesome to see.”
Pokémon Go blends the line between the game and real world, which is both a breath of fresh air and a new, potentially dangerous distraction to be had by the residents of I.V. We’ll see how crazy it gets when school resumes in the fall and the team numbers swell.
Gotta catch them all, right?