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Pokemon Go
Pokémon Go players assembling at Seattle’s Pacific Place. (Photo via Mee Minamoto)

By now you’ve noticed the Pokémon Go players, sometimes roaming in packs in search of the elusive game characters. The new app has taken Seattle, and the country, by storm in less than a week.

The social aspect of Pokémon Go is unlike any other smartphone game I have ever seen, as players are gathering in large numbers to meet up with other players and create a unique experience. Earlier this week, I got the chance to get caught up in some of that as organizer Brandon Gross and the “Seattle Pokemon Go” Facebook group hosted a local gathering.

The group, SeattlePoGo as they are known, sponsored in-app purchases known as “lures” to attract players and Pokémon to PokéStops downtown. A crowd of about 60 or 70 enthusiastic players gathered at Seattle’s Pacific Place. Badges were handed out and players were split into teams.

Pokemon Go players
Members of Team Instinct. (David Schwartz / GeekWire)

In the game, each player is assigned to one of three teams. I bumped right into mine, Team Instinct, just as they were leaving Pacific Place. I asked if I could join them and document the experience and I was received with open arms. With our phones fully charged and our walking shoes on, the team of 20 players set out to conquer Seattle’s most iconic Pokemon gym, the Space Needle.

As we began the mile-long journey from Pacific Place to Seattle Center, the first thing I noticed was that almost all of the participants had a back-up power source for their phones. While many players’ complaints about the game are related to the amount of battery the app consumes, I doubt makers of back-up batteries are complaining at all.

“Eighty percent of my phone’s battery is consumed by Pokémon Go,” said player Christian Barber.

Pokemon Go players
Team Instinct!

Some of those taking part made a serious effort to travel to the event. Team Instinct member Jay Hagan drove 30 minutes from his home in Mountlake Terrace to be a part of the madness. Arvin Cabanilla took a 30-minute bus ride from SeaTac. The draw of Pokémon Go and its ability to bring people together around a common gaming cause is pretty astounding.

I interacted with the group for 2 1/2 hours, and I hardly noticed a minute go by. Many people came with a friend or two; others showed up solo. But by the end of the night, we were all the Team Instinct family. There were even shouts of “family!” when the group photo was taken.

I don’t think any of us knew what to expect, but I’m sure many of us were surprised by the experience. Playing Pokémon Go with your team members, in a giant group, is a far more engaging and thrilling experience than going about it alone. And frankly, it felt a lot safer.

Pokemon Go players
Pokémon Go players Amy and Eva Ostbo. (David Schwartz / GeekWire)

I spent some time getting to know sisters Amy and Eva Ostbo, who shared their perspectives on the “Pokémon Go experience.

“Oh my gosh, it’s incredible, everyone is just one big family,” Amy Ostbo said. “I will see people on the street with their phones out and they’ll look at me and say, ‘Hey are you playing Pokémon?’ and I’m like, ‘Of course!’ It will be people from different backgrounds, or social statuses, it doesn’t matter. I love how it’s bringing people together. I know people who are like 50 and they’re like, ‘I don’t know what Pokémon is but I can’t stop playing this!’ You don’t need to be a ‘gamer’ to enjoy it.”

Eva Ostbo said that she hopes to see some software improvements so that the game doesn’t crash so much.

“As for game play, I think they should add more Pokémon and more features like being able to battle other trainers when you see them on the street,” Eva said. “That’d be cool — it would be more like the Gameboy games.”

Pokemon Go player
Pokémon Go player Matt Kanter. (David Schwartz / GeekWire)

I also spoke with Matt Kanter, a digital media consultant, who thinks highly of the game.

“As someone who’s been able to do all his work from home, the game has been a really good motivator for exercise,” Kanter said. “I think soon, it’s going to peak in popularity, and I think other games will come out that do essentially the same thing. But I think it’s going to stay around, I just don’t think it will stay this popular.”

After Team Instinct finally assumed control of the Space Needle for a whopping 15 minutes, we were defeated by a rival team. Satisfied that we’d even reached our goal, we decided to make our way toward Starbucks. I am now certain that businesses along popular Pokémon routes are benefitting from an increase in foot traffic. The reason we entered the building in the first place was because someone had purchased a lure and placed it on the PokéStop inside the store. Sure enough, we stopped to support the little coffee chain.

Pokemon Go
Event organizer Brandon Gross, in front in Pokémon hat. (Photo via Mee Minamoto)

As the sun began to set, I said my goodbyes at Seattle Center’s iconic International Fountain. But not before making a quick music video on Triller, a former GeekWire App of the Week. Check out the video on Facebook.

So in the end, I was blown away by the overall sense of camaraderie, and the kindness of strangers who belong to the Pokémon Go community. The event was a success and I doubt it will be the last of its kind. Organizer Brandon Gross said he’s definitely going to do more.

“For me the event was more about the people than the Pokémon,” Gross said.

Pokemon Go player
Cookies! (Photo via Mee Minamoto)
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