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Cartoon creatures invade Traverse City

Aaron Selbig

The smartphone game Pokemon Go has caught on all over the world, including Traverse City. By now, you’ve probably at least heard of the hot new “augmented reality” game that’s been in the news for causing car accidents and security issues at the White House.


But really, Pokemon Go is just like a lot of other smartphone games. To play it, you download the free app, open it up and pretty soon, you’re catching little cartoon creatures called Pokemon.


The Pokemon appear on your phone’s camera. So, if you’re looking around in your living room, there might be a Pidgey - an angry-looking little bird - sitting on top of your coffee table. But if you really want to catch Pokemon - and become a master Pokemon trainer - you need to head out into the streets and get walking.



Dozens of people can be seen lately in downtown Traverse City, walking around in a trance, hunting for wild Pokemon.

Cousins Torie and Allie are doing battle at a Pokemon gym near Nolan’s cigar shop on Front Street.


“A gym is taken over by one team," explains Allie. "Whoever owns that, you want to try to get it up higher and higher, so people can’t take it.”


“You basically battle the other peoples’ Pokemon," says Torie.


"There are roving gangs of people running around in giant vans, going from gym to gym to gym. It's bad in Cadillac."

When you’re fighting, the game is more like a traditional video game. You decide which Pokemon you want to send into battle for your team, and you control that Pokemon’s movements in an animated arena.

Torrie and Allie are on the red team. Right now, they’re trying to take the gym over from Chris Schuneman, who’s been defending it for the blue team. Schuneman is on a surveying team from Cadillac. He and his partner are working on a project on Front Street.


“The gym was blue when I got here. I proceeded to take it and make it red," says Schuneman. "And then those two girls showed up, tried to take it and failed.”


Credit Aaron Selbig
Chris Schuneman defends a Pokemon "gym" along Front Street in Traverse City.

The competition for Pokemon gyms in Traverse City is pretty fierce. But Chris says it’s nothing like Cadillac.

“There are roving gangs of people running around in giant vans, going from gym to gym to gym. It’s bad in Cadillac," he says.


So a gym is where your Pokemon do battle with each other. Then there are PokeStops.


Amy Reynolds and her colleagues at Horizon are trying to wrap their minds around this whole Pokemon Go phenomenon, but they figured out pretty quickly that the bookstore is a PokeStop.


“Yes, I did know that. Because I have a son playing, and my grandson’s playing, as well," says Reynolds.


At a PokeStop, like the one at Horizon Books, you can pick up extra stuff needed to play the game. Things like magic potions and PokeBalls, which you use to capture Pokemon.


Amy says the Poke Stop hasn’t yet led a lot of people into the bookstore, but it’s definitely changed the vibe out on the sidewalk.


Credit Aaron Selbig
A screenshot of a player navigating Pokemon Go near Interlochen Center for the Arts.

“Certainly, walking around downtown and in the community, I’m seeing a lot of people with their phones out, head down, looking," she says. "So, the assumption is they’re … playing Pokemon Go.”

Reynolds says Horizon Books is considering increasing its collection of Pokemon-related books and materials.


Schuneman loves the game, even though there are a few problems, like the fact that the app constantly freezes up on him.


“It’s a brand new game," he says. "It’s only been out like a week. Sometimes you just have to be patient with these things.