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Pokmon Go has Turlockers on the hunt
Sheriff's office urges caution when playing location-based game
Pokemon go pic
Anthony Mejia and Riley Noland take advantage of their time in downtown Turlock by stopping to catch Pokmon on the mobile gaming app Pokmon Go. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Pokémon Go is the newest sensation in mobile gaming, giving average citizens the chance to become Pokémon trainers. Since its release on July 6, the app has taken the nation – and Turlock – by storm, with residents hitting the city’s streets in a quest to “catch ‘em all.”

The location-based augmented reality game allows players to capture, battle and train virtual Pokémon, which appear throughout the real world thanks to the use of the Global Positioning System and camera on compatible devices.

 After logging in to the game, players can create an avatar and select physical characteristics that resemble themselves. Upon creating an avatar, it is displayed at the player’s current location along with a map of the player’s immediate surroundings. Features on the map may include Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms, where players can gather supplies and battle other trainers. These are typically located at popular meeting places, such as memorials, places of worship, parks and tourist attractions.

Pokéstops and Pokémon gyms can be found all over Turlock, such as at Stanislaus State and downtown Turlock, where places like Dust Bowl Brewing Co. and the Post Office have been converted into gyms. Those driving around town may have noticed the large groups of “trainers” gathered at many of these locations.

Children, teens and adults alike are all taking part in the Pokémon hunting around Turlock, and for many, the game has taken them back to their childhoods when the Pokémon phenomenon was just beginning.

“I think actually running around just looking for Pokémon is just like in the show,” said Adam Rashidi, who was out at Stanislaus State looking for Pokémon. “We watched that and now we can put ourselves in the show in a way, instead of just sitting at home on our Game Boys.”

The first Pokémon games came to the Nintendo Game Boy system in 1996, followed by both a Pokémon trading card game and a manga series which was also based on the game. Over the next two decades, many more versions of the video game were released, which included new Pokémon and new adventures for players to embark on. In recent years, however, Pokémon’s popularity has dwindled compared to what it once was, leading to the development of Pokémon Go in an effort to appeal to today’s youth.

Just 24 hours after its release, Pokémon Go topped the American App Store’s “Top Grossing” and “Free” charts, becoming the fastest game to reach the top of the lists. As of July 11, Pokemon Go has an estimated 7.5 million downloads in the U.S. alone and has topped the download charts in New Zealand and Australia, where it was also released.

Stock in Nintendo, which part owns "Pokemon Go," jumped 25 percent on Monday and another 13 percent Tuesday, adding nearly $8 billion to its market value as investors assessed the breakout game.

But Jefferies analyst Atul Goyal says that's just the beginning. He now targets a share price of 30,000 yen, or $286.40, nearly a third higher still. Nintendo is transitioning from console games to smartphone games, and "it has just started that journey," Goyal says.

The game's success on smartphones also could spur faster development from hardware makers — Microsoft with its HoloLens, the secretive startup Magic Leap, or Google, which could still revive its failed Glass headgear, says Timothy Carone, a professor at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business.

"The reaction (to Pokemon Go) is a quick of vote of 'Yeah, they got this right,'" Carone says. "My guess is that a lot of developers have gone back to figure out how to take this approach."

The appeal of the game is that players of all ages can enjoy it – all they need is a smart phone. Israel Galvez of Turlock has been showing his father how to play the game since its release, giving the pair a fun opportunity to spend time together.

“For me, it’s cool being able to bring something from my past that I used to enjoy and being able to enjoy it with my dad,” said Galvez. “Especially even now as I’m older, it’s cool being able to share it with him.”

Since Pokémon and the various stops within the game can only be found if you and your phone are standing near them, the experience requires players to leave their homes and traverse across the city. Because of this, many are hailing the video game as an excellent way for both youth and adults to stay active.

“Oh man, kids are everywhere, adults are everywhere,” said Amy House of Turlock, who was out hunting Pokémon with her husband and daughter. “This is probably going to be the best thing to beat obesity.”

Players are able to see how many kilometers they have walked since downloading the game, with most seeing an increase in their level of activity since becoming certified Pokémon trainers.

“I’ve probably done the most walking in the past four days than I have in the past few months,” said Ryan Anshutz of Turlock.

Since the game does require walking about in the real world, there have been instances across the country where players have encountered dangerous situations. For example, armed robbers in Missouri have used the app to stake out Pokéstops, using the GPS feature to anticipate the locations of unknowing victims.

According to the Turlock Police Department, officers in the city have not had to deal with anyone playing the game, nor have any crimes been linked to it. However, the Stanislaus County Sherriff’s Department posted a video on Facebook warning parents of the dangers of the app, advising the public to “play safely, be aware of where the game takes you and do not play and drive.”

There are other safety concerns with the app for players consider.

Adam Reeve, principal architect of security firm Red Owl, told the Associated Press that "Pokemon Go" required overly broad permission for those using a Google account as a sign-in. Even setting aside the location data collected by the app, he said, the app is a "huge security risk."

He noted the app, in theory, could allow "Pokemon Go" to read one's Gmail, send email as you and access your Google search history.

Niantic, the American software company that developed the app, said in a blog post Monday that it never intended to request such sweeping data access, hasn't collected information beyond the user's ID and email address. By Tuesday, signing in on an iPhone with a Google ID showed this pared back authorization.

Due to the high number of people who are playing the game, the app has also experienced some technical difficulties, including the force-logging out of players, crashing of the app and issues with the game’s servers. The game’s next update will fix these issues and future updates will bring new experiences to the game, such as the ability to trade Pokémon with your friends, according to the app's creators. Updates will occur on a bi-weekly basis, with the first update available now.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.