‘Pokémon Go’ has Rawlins hooked
Museum sees game as way for increase in tourism
By Chad Abshire
RAWLINS — The streets of Rawlins are abuzz with the biggest mobile game in history and its players, as well as at least one county entity, is praising the adventure the game is creating.
Based on Google Maps, “Pokémon Go” is an augmented reality, free-to-play game that released last week on smartphones in which you are represented on a map of your actual location through an in-game character. As the player walks, their character also walks, and they may stumble upon different kinds of Pokémon, a collection of various creatures, which are scattered throughout the city and across the country.
Many real-world locations are marked Pokéstops, a kind of checkpoint, in the game. In Rawlins, most Pokéstops are of historic or cultural value. For example, every mural in Rawlins is a Pokéstop, including the Daily Times; every park is a Pokéstop and most churches are Pokéstops as well.
Those Pokéstops are a way for both locals and tourists to see a side of Rawlins they might not have seen before, Carbon County Museum Outreach and Education Coordinator Lauren Hunley said.
“One of the things about the ‘Pokémon Go’ phenomenon is that they are stressing historic and cultural sites,” she said. “It’s really encouraging players to get out in the community, move around and visit places they may have never visited before or maybe they haven’t seen since they were six.”
Each Pokéstop can have a lure used on it, which temporarily attracts Pokémon to a Pokéstop for the benefit of all players in the area — spurring social interactions in a friendly, like-minded environment.
A pair of players hanging outside the Daily Times mural of Cattle Kate Wednesday, which had a lure attached to it, said they’ve been enjoying the adventure “Pokémon Go” has brought them.
Friends Saylee McLeland, 22, and Sharice Roberson, 21, said they’ve been walking more and driving less around Rawlins and even taking trips around Carbon County for the sake of the game.
“I’m definitely getting out a lot more. I hadn’t left my house since the beginning of summer,” McLeland, who is home for the summer from Casper College, said. “I feel like if this had came out then, I’d definitely be way more in shape. Now I’m out every day. It’s motivation to go out and do stuff.”
Roberson, who is looking to attend the University of Wyoming in the fall, agreed, saying the game was “motivation to see people and not just hide in the room.”
She also proved what Hunley had suspected — local people are visiting places they might not otherwise go to.
“I didn’t even know there was a Rawlins Springs park until like last week, and I just now went there because of ‘Pokémon Go,’” she said.
That was a revelation for McLeland.
“I’ve never heard of it and I’ve lived here like 10 years,” she said.
The duo also showed how the game could be used socially.
“We’ve been friends, but never really talked or anything,” McLeland, referring to Roberson, said. “We met up (Tuesday) night, trying to defend the gym at Old Pen. She came up and we met and I wrote her on Facebook and said ‘let’s go out.’”
Gyms in the game are a place where players can put their hard-earned Pokémon to the test, sending them to battle like in the main series of handheld games. Those who win can claim the gym for their team — Mystic, Valor or Instinct, represented by the colors blue, red and yellow, respectively. Local gyms in Rawlins also include the Carbon County Museum, Soroptimist Park, Rawlins Springs, Bolten Park and more.
Teams in “Pokémon Go” have no true bearing besides spurring social interactions and creating a sense of community within the game.
“It’s getting groups together and getting out and being social,” McLeland said. “It’s clean fun.”
Roberson echoed that sentiment.
“It’s all in good fun. The only drama there is ‘oh, you’re Team Mystic, you’re Team Valor.’”
McLeland and Roberson represent Team Instinct, thus exists a friendly rivalry against other teams.
Hunley said the Museum being a gym is “a really great way where we see virtual reality and physical reality overlap.”
“Yesterday, we had a family come in with a teenager and he came because we’re a gym,” she said.
“We’re seeing it attract a more varied audience and we’re seeing it as kind of a draw for people coming in,” she said. “And it gives us an opportunity to show the museum isn’t just dead old stuff, we do this too. We’re real people. We do virtual reality and we have fun stuff and we play these fun games.”
The Museum’s Twitter announced that it was a gym earlier this week, encouraging players to come by for the game, its WiFi and the exhibits.
Hunley said “Pokémon Go” also gives the Museum the opportunity to share its story “for people who may not come in on their own.”
“We’re really able to blend both sides of that into a single game that everyone is jumping on,” she said.
Hunley noted it was also driving more people onto the recently completed historic trail, “which is exposing those little historic snippets to so many more people versus those who might walk downtown and read it.”
“Now people are going to these places specifically because of what the place is in the game,” she said.
The game encourages walking. A built-in speed limiter recognizes when a player is driving or riding a train, for example. Steps are needed to hatch eggs in the game, which can contain Pokémon.
One such person is Ty Lemaitre, 29, who is in town for work from Laramie. Having never played a game in the franchise before, he said he saw the hype and thought he’d give it a try.
“It’s pretty addictive, actually,” he said. “It’s also highly frustrating and I guess I enjoy that part.”
Lemaitre has been walking around Rawlins to get his steps in, as well as catching Pokémon. During his walks, he noted it was “kind of neat to get out and see all the murals.”
McLeland and Roberson agreed that the game had staying power and wasn’t a flash-in-the-pan, even though the two didn’t grow up playing the game. They also said it was accessible for newcomers to the franchise like them and to people who may be outside the game’s demographic.
“I think it’s going to keep going. There’s still so many Pokémon that can still come out through the game and there’s so many we haven’t seen,” she said. “It can be fun for everyone. I know people in their late 40s playing it, and teenagers and younger than that playing.”
Roberson said the game was “totally a family thing.”
“You can put one kid in a stroller and go for a walk and have kids get excited about catching Pokémon,” she said. “And it can be the fun about the catch, or it can be about the battle or it could just be about the walk.”
“Pokémon Go” is currently available throughout the country and is free, but does come with optional in-game purchases. It can be found app stores for both Apple and Android devices and is optimized for smartphones.