I’ve never seen a fox in Oberlin. But there was something very similar in the very center of Tappan Square.
It was an eevee with long, pointed ears and a thick tuft of fur around its neck. I threw a PokeBall at it and it was mine.
If you saw packs of young adults walking around Oberlin over the weekend with eyes glued even more intently than usual to their smart phones, they were likely on the hunt for their own creatures — there were hundreds out tracking the imaginary animals by GPS.
After all, you gotta catch ‘em all.
The quest comes with the release of Pokemon Go, a free-to-play mobile app that debuted July 6.
The augmented reality game allows “trainers” to see Pokemon in the real world all around, and transforms cities into areas filled with PokeStops (places to get prizes) and gyms (places where Pokemon can battle).
“This is the most interactive game I’ve ever had,” said Adam Beckley, a 27-year-old player casing South Main Street for virtual creatures in front of the New Union Center for the Arts. “You actually get to go out there and explore the real world as part of it.”
The center of Oberlin quickly became a draw for players from all over the county. Tappan Square is ringed by dozens of PokeStops, including Gibson’s Bakery, the Apollo Theatre, the Oberlin Conservatory, the Underground Railroad memorial, Allen Memorial Art Museum, and many college buildings.
Most churches, historical landmarks, and cultural destinations have been tagged as PokeStops where you can pick up balls to catch Pokemon and set lures to attract more.
Gyms can be found at Wright Park, Christ Episcopal Church, Severance Hall, Wilder Hall, and Mudd Library. Powerful Pokemon perch atop those landmarks awaiting challengers.
Most virtual pocket monsters in the Oberlin area are grass and bird type. Range around and you’ll find poison type out in the woods and water type by Lake Erie — Lakeview Park in Lorain proved a popular catching-grounds over the weekend for krabbys, horseas, staryu, and the elusive seaking.
Another popular destination is Amherst, where Park Avenue and Church Street murals drew visitors. There were lots of common rattatas and pidgys but also some glooms and growlithes.
The game has already been praised for getting folks out and walking or cycling long distances to hit up poke-locations. It also forces players to travel a few kilometers at a time to hatch eggs that hold more Pokemon. Don’t try to fool the game, which can tell when you’re in a car, and that doesn’t count.
“Three days ago, you wouldn’t have seen me out on my bike,” laughed player Kevin Nielsen. “I would have been in my basement.”
Jon Niemi, who called himself “normally a homebody,” said he walked 10 miles around his neighborhood Saturday looking for rare finds. He caught a powerful scyther.
“We grew up with Pokemon,” he said. “This takes me back to being a kid.”
Back in Oberlin, we found younger people finding neat art installations and historical markers. Jeremy Burnside, 16, explored near the art museum to find the Giant Three-Way Plug.
“I just love Pokemon. Being able to see this whole other set of creatures is amazing,” he said. Burnside reported that he’s burned up more than six miles Saturday hunting Pokemon.
His girlfriend, 14-year-old Angelina Fracchione, was less enthusiastic. “I don’t understand it,” she said, rolling her eyes.
If, like Fracchione, you don’t play, still keep safety in mind, especially when driving.
Every time it’s launched, the game warns plays to “remember to be alert at all times” and stay aware of their surroundings, but we saw lots of people walking with eyes locked on their phones. Catching Pokemon can sometimes mean straying onto private property, and we did see some middle-schoolers who appeared to be playing the game chased away from Fairchild Chapel.
Pokemon Go players have already stumbled on some scary sights in strange areas.
One teenager in Wyoming was on the hunt for digital catches when she stumbled on a corpse floating in a river. At least one hospital has warned staff that PokePlayers might wander into secure areas. And police in Missouri reported muggers took advantage of PokeStops to waylay players.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
Photos by Jason Hawk | Oberlin News-Tribune Austin Buga and Alex Wood, students at Oberlin High School, hang out in front of the King Building on North Professor Street, where several PokeStops drew Pokemon. Players of the new Pokemon Go app were out in force over the weekend, drawn to historical landmarks tagged by the game as places to catch creatures.