Clarksville Attempts to “Catch ’em All”
Before July 6, 2016, the only types of people you would witness around the courthouse of Clarksville, Tennessee, would be lawyers and business men dressed to the nines. Normal patrons of Franklin Street would typically be bar hoppers, seeking the next hot spot for drinks and a good time. For the past three and a half weeks, these areas are now consistently occupied by players of the new ‘Pokémon Go’ augmented reality smartphone app. Clarksville Pokémon “trainers” are constantly walking around downtown Clarksville and all of the nearby parks, attempting to capture as many digital monsters as they can. This has led to an incredible change of how Clarksville residents interact with one another and what they do with their free time.
Pokémon Go is an augmented reality (AR) app from Niantic Inc. Augmented reality is a certain type of technology that provides a direct or indirect view of the real-world whilst augmenting that view with computer generated images or via GPS. ‘Go uses the camera of your smartphone to relay the real-world image to your screen with the computer-generated pocket monsters rendered on top of said image. The AR technology gives the impression that the Pokémon are a part of our living, breathing world.
Augmented reality games are nothing new, with the first notable applications of the technology releasing as early as 2005. However, Niantic Inc., the developers of Pokémon Go, have combined the technology with a beloved franchise in mostly successful fashion. Niantic specializes in AR, having developed three full AR titles to mixed success. ‘Go is obviously the most successful title released by the startup company, having been downloaded over 75 million times. Forbes magazine reports that 1 in 10 Americans use the app daily. The incredible success of the app is described as “mind blowing” by Niantic founder, John Hanke,
John Hanke started Niantic as an internal startup software developer within Google. As Niantic began to find more and more success in its AR apps, Ingress in particular and as a result, Hanke thought it proper to break off from the proprietary technology driven approach of Google, to allow Niantic to reach its full potential by partnering with other companies. Nintendo, who has developed every Pokémon game up to this point in time, decided to take a change on Hanke and Niantic.
The fruits of that partnership is Pokémon Go, which has skyrocketed the market value of Nintendo and Niantic alike. The success is the result of die-hard Pokémon Go players who are helping the app realize its full potential by consistently using the app and socializing with other players while playing. The social aspect of the game was a big focus for Niantic, who hoped to incentivize players to explore their local areas and interact with other players on a regular basis. It has worked gangbusters, and Clarksville is no exception.
Kyle Sloas, an avid Pokémon Go player, has lived in Clarksville for 20 years and says he’s “never seen anything like it” when describing the effect the app has had on his hometown. Sloas has been a part of the downtown Clarksville bar scene for many years, making friends, bar-hopping and generally making memories. His usual routine was to visit his favorite bar, The Tap Room, and then let the night develop however it may. Since Pokémon Go released that routine has been shaken up.
The Pokémon brand means something special to Sloas, as it does with many ‘Go players. Sloas has been playing Pokemon games since 1998 with the release of Pokémon Yellow for the Game Boy Color. “I collected the trading cards, went to Viking Cards & Comics every Sunday, played at least one title from each generation on mobile, and all the console Pokémon games. The Pokémon brand just has a special meaning for me.” Now with the release of ‘Go, Sloas and other Pokémon players can appreciate the franchise in a new and interesting way. “As a fan of Pokémon, it’s pretty nifty. ‘Go has kind of reinvigorated my passion for the series, and you meet people with the same sensibility and passion for Pokémon.”
Pokémon Go emphasizes traveling to in-game structures called ‘Poke-stops.’ These are digital check-in spots, similar to Foursquare that give digital rewards for traveling to real-world locations. In the real-world, these serve as social hubs for players. ‘Poke-stops’ refresh on a set schedule, so that players can consistently receive rewards the longer they stay in that spot. Players can also use what are called ‘lures’ to attract Pokémon to their location, and this tends to happen around ‘Poke-stops’ and this leads to players congregating in certain spots around town. The courthouse in downtown Clarksville is one such spot. The social emphasis is Niantic’s overnight success really shines in these types of situations.
“I’ve made so many new friends,” Sloas says, “I hang out with the Baileys on a regular basis because of ‘Go. Friendships with people that I thought were long dead have been re-established because of this game. It is incredible. I once considered these people to be some of my best friends, and because of life, we just sort of lost touch. ‘Go has brought me back together with old friends from high school, college and past jobs.”
Upon exiting his vehicle in parking lot across from the Clarksville courthouse, Sloas is immediately greeted by a co-worker. After catching a few Pokémon, Sloas then walks down Franklin Street and is greeted by three former co-workers, all playing ‘Go. “This is just kinda how it goes man,” says Andy Blankenship, a cook at BlackHorse Pub & Brewery, “you just always run into cool people doin’ this. Everyone is just out having a good time with it.”
The onslaught of new faces in downtown Clarksville has not gone unnoticed by local business or entrepreneurs. Local cafes on Strawberry Alley have signs featuring coupons for Pokémon seekers, incentivizing them to give their local establishment a try. Others have seen the opportunity that such a big new craze can bring about. Travis Brown, a Clarksville resident, saw an opportunity for a small business venture and now sells custom Pokémon Go shirts on the Riverwalk.
“I’ve been making shirts for a while,” says Brown, “but my daughter asked me ‘why aren’t you making Pokémon Go shirts?.’ I said ‘that is a good idea honey.’” Brown has set up a tent in which hangs his custom vinyl shirts featuring the logos of the three teams in Pokémon Go. “I do pretty well selling the shirts for $10 apiece. I’ll make about $200 just tonight.” While the impromptu business has been lucrative for Brown, the profits do not go into his bank account. He uses the success of ‘Go to others benefit instead of his own. “I’ll take the money and buy a bunch of lures in the game to drop at the local hospitals for the kids who are stuck there. And then I’ll buy a bunch of small Google Play cards to give to the kids in the hospital as well.”
It is a unique community that Pokémon Go has garnered, one of comradery, giving back and reestablishing old friendships. It is important to note that all these special groups and interactions take place in the small area of downtown Clarksville and the park along the Cumberland River. Situations like these could be developing all over the U.S. and Eastern Europe who have now gained access to the game. Pokemon Go’s hold on the population of Clarksville may not last forever, but memories are definitely being made.