Photo Gallery | 'Pokemon Go' in the Berkshires
PITTSFIELD — It's like a community planner's dream, the way crowds of people have been exploring Pittsfield, except their heads are buried in phones, what they're after, invisible.
They call "Pokemon Go" an augmented reality game, something like virtual geocaching. Using the GPS systems, clocks and cameras in players' phones, the game makes cartoon critters appear based on where players are in real time.
They then wrangle the creatures using resources they've collected in the game, later sending their captured characters to battle on behalf of one of three teams — red, yellow and blue.
Anyone looking could see North Street in an altered state on Tuesday.
Skateboarders and bikers, eyes on phones, patrolled north and south. People gathered in Park Square, First Street Common, in front of Berkshire Athenaeum and at Thistle and Mirth — holding phones before them, all. Teams of players battled for coveted "gym" sites like Berkshire Museum and the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires.
"Everybody you see walking around with a friend and looking at their phones is playing," said Jordan Chapman of Pittsfield, who was skateboarding North Street with Michael Brophy and another friend. He proceeded to point out half a dozen other players in the immediate area.
He added, "There's so many people playing right now you can't hold on to a gym for more than 10 minutes."
"Sometimes people drive up in cars and yell things," Brophy said.
"I was battling for [Berkshire Museum] yesterday and some middle-aged guy pulled up in a car, helped us attack it, then drove off," Chapman said. "I've seen elderly people playing it. The other day an older lady on a porch told me where to find a Pokemon."
The game pinpoints notable landmarks in one's town as sites to explore — where game-ready prizes, and with luck, the little monsters can be found. It even notes historical facts about these locations. The game is free to download, which is spurring much of its popularity.
"The idea is to get you to explore your town," Martin R. Vuillemot said. He was at Dottie's Coffee Lounge playing the game with two friends, Christine Osimo and Simon Weeks.
Certain Pokemon appear in certain places. Apparently, the Berkshires are generally rich in "normal" Pokemon — the ones based on water, bugs, poison and mammalian animals. Players reported on Facebook that the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail was a particularly Pokemon-rich area to explore.
Other kinds of Pokemon appear in different places. For instance, the ones based around fire are more likely to be found in hot climates like Arizona and the Middle East — making them unlikely finds here.
"Remember when catching them all was a viable goal?" Vuillemot said, referring to the slogan of the '90s card and video games based on the same concept.
Ghost types apparently show up around cemeteries and water types around lakes.
"I tried to catch some on the fishing pier at Onota but was out of luck," Vuillemot said. "I'm told having a boat helps."
A pair of reference librarians at Berkshire Athenaeum mused at the new faces showing up there.
"I don't know how it's happened, but we are [a Pokestop in the game]," Puglisi said. "There are already articles out there on the Internet that say why Pokemon Go can save your library."
"We're thrilled when we get included, particularly by something that trends to a group that might not be part of the traditional core of library users," Kelly said.
She added, "We're cool with people coming in a doing their own thing, so long as they're not disrupting others."
Weeks said the game was a useful way to get people to exercise.
"It's giving people in excuse to go out walking," he said.
Angela Guachione, who player who was roped in "because everyone was Tweeting about it," made the same point.
"The makers probably wanted people to exercise," she said. "What is a Pokemon? I don't know. Angry Birds was stupid, but I played that one, too."
"This game confuses me," said Angela O'Neil, an employee of Patrick's Pub, another Pokestop. "There literally isn't a point."
However, O'Neil conceded, she did fill with excitement when she captured her first Pokemon — Bulbasaur — outside Angelina's Subs on West Housatonic Street.