It was after 10:30 a.m. Monday when the Howard Amon Park arch came under “attack” in Richland. A group of a half-dozen people could be seen wandering toward the area.
Wearing mostly red, they all yelled, “Team Valor!”
Law enforcement officials are concerned about these activities, but not because of the “attacks.”
Others will notice nothing more than a bunch of people walking around with their cellphones out.
The action takes place on Pokémon GO, a wildly popular smartphone game released late last week.
Players, or “trainers,” have been coming together across the country to join in on what can best be described as a giant virtual scavenger hunt for virtual creatures. Trainers then choose teams — red, blue or yellow — to hold down “trainer gyms” placed at certain landmarks so they can move up levels in the game.
The Tri Cities WA Pokémon GO Gym Leaders group on Facebook is a local example of players uniting to schedule public hunting-and-battle events.
About 20 of them were spotted Monday at Howard Amon.
Capturing the community
The Tri-City group first started more than a year ago when John Fischer, 24, of Kennewick, decided to create the page and invite some friends.
Fischer’s work with the group picked up when Niantic, the game’s developer, started trial periods known as beta tests.
“I started working on it a little more when the beta phase kicked in,” he said.
The Tri-City Pokémon group now has more than 400 members on Facebook.
Fischer said the game helped him meet more than 300 people in the past three days.
“It’s got great support, great morale for the most part,” he said.
The game uses a real-time GPS tracking system, which encourages players to walk around their own communities and meet people to hunt for new virtual monsters.
It’s got great support.
John Fischer of Kennewick
D’angelo Marple, 18, of Kennewick, said he hatched one of his Pokémon eggs with a combination of walking and other activity that involves any sort of movement.
“The point is to walk it, but you can cheat it a little bit,” Marple said.
Local landmarks and businesses also play a part, serving as Pokéstops to collect items for players to use, or “trainer gyms,” for personal battles to take place, another element that encourages local traveling.
Matthew Alexander, 27, of Kennewick, said the game has helped him with previous anxieties as he ventures out to meet new people.
“Getting out and meeting people like this is so comfortable and I don’t have to worry about it,” he said.
He encourages people to stay together after recent news of robberies in other cities. O’Fallon, Missouri, made national headlines when O’Fallon police reported that three adults and four teens used the app to rob people.
“I constantly tell people online to double-up in groups so that doesn’t happen,” Alexander said.
Police caution safety
Tri-City police departments also have also encouraged safety.
In Kennewick, police received reports Sunday from two 15-year-old girls who said they were being stalked by a vehicle circling the block.
The driver and occupant were a father-son duo trying to catch some Pokémon.
“(Kennewick police) strongly suggests avoiding private property where these characters appear,” police said.
West Richland police also talked about the game on their Facebook page, saying that they do not discourage the app’s use but encourage players to act responsibly.
“To those playing the game, please stay aware of your surroundings,” they cautioned.
Fischer, the local gym group leader, shares similar sentiments, reminding players to stay safe and avoid any illegal activity while hunting and playing.
“Don’t play the game and drive,” he said.