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Pokemon GO is getting Columbians out of the house and talking to each other

online@thestate.com

Pidgeys are pecking around the University of South Carolina Horseshoe, Pinsirs are scuttling across the Williams-Brice Stadium field, and Poliwags are swimming around Harbison State Forest.

All are Pokemon that players of the game Pokemon Go can capture. Pokemon Go is a new free app available on iOS and Android, where players must physically walk around to find Pokemon.

The game quickly has become a craze since it was released in the United States last week. The Washington Post reported that Pokemon Go already has been downloaded more times than the dating app Tinder, and “is rapidly encroaching on Twitter.”

Wondering where Columbia’s Pokemon are? Here’s a map

But it’s more than just a popular game. It’s a game that is getting everyone out of the house and starting conversations with people they normally would never talk to.

“You see things you wouldn’t have otherwise, like certain monuments, and you’re learning about Columbia in the process,” Pokemon Go player Sean White said. He and a group of friends gathered at the West Columbia Riverwalk Amphitheater to catch Pokemon last week.

In the game, you can replenish your supply of Pokeballs at certain markers, which also tell you a little about where you are, like the history of the Wade Hampton statue at the State House, or how Harden Street in Five Points got its name.

“There are murals in Five Points that I never knew about until playing Pokemon Go,” said Anthony Eads, who was playing the game with White.

At the State House – a Pokemon hotspot – half a dozen small groups milled around, heads bent together, swiping at their phones.

Friends Lauren Hiers and Quindrick Holley already had been to the Riverwalk, Chick-fil-A and the Starbucks on Main Street in search of Pokemon.

Hiers excitedly said she had caught a Pikachu at the State House steps. A Pikachu!

Both were quick to say that Pokemon Go had gotten them out of the house and engaged with people around them.

If I wasn’t playing the game, I’d probably be home watching Netflix.

Lauren Hiers, Pokemon GO player

“We were here last night and there were people all over yelling things out about the game” and swapping sightings, Hiers said.

“Just walking to my car from Starbucks, I had three people stop me and ask me about the game and tell me what level they’re on,” Holley said. “I just reached level 5.”

Hiers, not looking up from her phone, added, “If I wasn’t playing the game, I’d probably be home watching Netflix.”

That’s the beauty of this Poke-moment we’re in. Yes, players have their phones. But they’re outside. And they’re connecting.

The other day a mother and her two kids walked down Main Street, sharing one phone and playing Pokemon GO. Two college-aged girls and their dad were on the hunt by the Five Points Fountain. Even adults walking their dogs (a good disguise) can be seen surreptitiously looking at their phones, very Pokemon GO-like.

The craze might not last forever, but Columbians clearly are enjoying it while it’s here.

If you go

Upcoming Pokemon events

Pokemon Go Walk

Noon Saturday, July 23 at the State House, 1100 Gervais St. Participants are urged to wear team colors: Blue for Mystic, red for Valor and yellow for Instinct.

Pokemon Go Bar Crawl

6 p.m. Saturday, July 23 in the Vista. The crawl is self-guided, but bring friends and make new ones. Find what Pokemon you can for one drink, then move on.

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