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Battling Mythical Monsters in Central Park

Santa Clara’s Central Park was a mythical battlefield on Pokémon GO’s worldwide monthly Community Day on March 18.

Players of Pokémon GO—a smartphone game app—roamed the park, heads bent, gazes focused on the phones in their hands. Using their phone’s GPS and camera, they were hunting for real landmarks designated as PokéStops. At PokéStops, colorful cartoon monsters called Pokémon appeared on their phone, to be battled and captured with a swipe of the finger on the screen.

Pokémon GO Community Day drew players (called trainers) from around Silicon Valley to Central Park. Mike Sheptak from San Jose joined six or so other adults he met through the game, which is free to download and play. (Optional purchased enhancements, however, can add up.)

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“The park has lots of PokéStops close together,” said Sheptak, who started playing the augmented reality game when it was introduced in 2016. PokéStop locations include libraries, community and shopping centers, and historic landmarks.

“With Pokémon GO, you need to get up and go. It’s not something you can play from your couch. Walking is key. Fitness is part of it,” said Sheptak. “This is the first video game where you really have to do things. You have to leave home and interact with the real world. You meet others randomly and become friends.”

Sheptak, whose tag is Sheppy58 on the video game live-streaming service Twitch, has walked more than 10,000 kilometers playing Pokémon GO. He meets up with friends like Brandon Siko from Fremont and Andrew Vaughan from San Jose.

“It’s a good excuse to get out,” said Siko, who started playing Pokémon GO in December 2022. “Central Park is one of the best places to go. I’m learning [about the game] from friends I’ve made.”

“It gets me out doing and moving around,” said Vaughan, who has played for seven years. “It’s fun to collect and trade Pokémon.”

There are more than one thousand unique Pokémon of various types, a number surpassing the population of many small California towns.

The Japanese-owned media franchise Pokémon—short for Pocket Monsters—was founded in 1996 by Nintendo, Game Freak and Creatures. The franchise includes video games, comics, trading cards, films, animations, TV specials and a musical.

Pokémon GO friends Diana Burnell from Sunnyvale and Chris Wagner from San Jose also touted the social and fitness aspects of the game.

“It gets me out walking, and I’ve met people,” said Burnell, who often works from home alone and has logged over 860 kilometers since she started playing a year ago at the urging of a friend. “Walking with people is good for you. I had no clue what the game was about when I started. It’s hard to describe but fun to get into.”

“It was something I could do single or socially during the pandemic. It has lots of social aspects. It’s good for all ages,” said Wagner, who has logged over 7,500 kilometers since 2016. “And after my girlfriend dumped me, it was cheap therapy.”

Pokémon GO Community Day is a monthly worldwide recurring event to bring players together. May 21, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. locally, is the next Community Day.

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