The creatures wandering through the parks with their heads down and their vision locked on their cell phones are not zombies. They’re searching for creatures you can’t see.
For the past week, hundreds of people have been seen wandering the trails of Fairfax County parks in a kind of mass trance, and then they’ll suddenly and randomly stop and start waving their cell phones about.
If you don’t know what’s going on, remain calm. They are sane. In fact, they’re having a blast.
A Nintendo game called Pokémon Go has gone viral, and casual players are joining rabid players in chasing the characters of this game in augmented reality. Millions of people have downloaded the game in its first week on the market. Simply put, the app causes virtual characters from the game Pokémon to appear on a virtual map of wherever you are standing, and from there the fun begins as you chase them, capture them and advance to further challenges through several levels of play. The characters can pop up anywhere. (I downloaded the game and immediately found three in my yard.) If you play the game, you’ll also want to use it to seek out Pokéstops, which are public places where you can download Pokéballs to throw at the Pokémon. Trust me, if you’re not familiar with the game, that does make sense.
Huntley Meadows Park intern Megan Massa points out that parks and other public areas are designated “Pokéstops,” places where people can gather to catch Pokémon. Some places are designated “Pokémon Gyms,” where trainers from three competing factions meet and battle each other. For example, the overlook on the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows is a Gym, and there is at least one Pokéstop in the park.
Virginia Commonwealth University student Laura Weimer of Springfield was playing the game this week at Hidden Pond Nature Center. “It’s kind of the dream that all Pokémon fans have been doing since the games originally came out,” said Weimer. “Everyone’s always wondered, well, what if Pokémon were in real life, and now they are.”
The Fairfax County Park Authority is happy to welcome players to the parks. In fact, we’re thrilled that so many folks are coming. While you’re there, take time to learn a little something about the natural and cultural resources surrounding you. Need some information about trails in the parks? Maps and more are on our web page.
So come play the game in parks. Please, a couple of precautions, though. Playing the game requires you to frequently look at your phone, so:
- Be sure to keep looking around to see where you are. We don’t want you walking into a tree or a yellow jackets nest or bumping into other people.
- Frequently check your surroundings because, in other parts of the country, some folks have been lured into situations where they were robbed.
- Be sure to put safety first and look around if you’re on a street or in a parking lot.
- Parks close at dusk. (Staff will chase out the Pokemon, then, too.)
- Don’t let the game lure you into trespassing.
- Please stay on the park trails even if the Pokémon don’t.
One final note – all of this is happening while we are running a selfie contest. Great timing. So while you’re in the park with your phone out, snap a few selfies and enter the contest.
Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.
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