When the Pokémon Go app was first released this July, hordes of summer students could be seen trudging across the Cornell campus with their eyes glued to their phones, swiping and tapping to either catch their next Pokémon or conquer their next gym.
“I was here this summer, and the first couple of weeks if you went out on Collegetown, you can pretty much assume the people who were out were playing Pokémon Go,” said Michael Disare ’17, president of the Pokémon League. “Especially the first week after the release, you could basically strike up a conversation with anyone who you thought was playing, too.”
Shea Belsky ’18, a long-time Pokémon enthusiast, was part of the excitement this summer. To help players in Ithaca enjoy the game, he created a Google map pinpointing all the places where players could collect items and defeat gyms.
“Niantic originally developed a very similar game called InGress,” he said. “The point is that Niantic pretty much used the same data and gave it a brand name, Pokémon. So I took that data and put it on the Google map to make it more accessible without all these hoops and loops you have to get through [the internet].”
While interning at IBM this summer, Belsky also worked on developing a website called Professor Watson, an “intuitive assistant” meant to provide players with information about the Pokémon they catch.
“[The user] can ask it questions about type effectiveness, evolution, moves and much more,” Belsky said. “It integrates with Facebook, Slack, Twilio and Twitter at the moment.”
As the school year began, Jennifer Fuhrer ’19 said she thinks the number of Pokémon Go users on campus has slowly dwindled. Fuhrer, who was also on campus during the summer, attributed the decline to the game’s accumulation of bugs and glitches.
“The initial hype and being a part of the Pokémon generation again was fun, but the hype wore down when the app started breaking down,” she said. “Occasionally, a friend will tell me when there’s a rare Pokemon around and I’ll play it when I’m really bored.”
Chiara Alvisi ’20 added that she has had less time to play since arriving on campus.
“When I got to Cornell, I just got super busy,” Alvisi said. “[The game] kills my battery and makes me look at my phone constantly instead of looking at my surroundings.”
However, the game still has a steady number of users who take advantage of the geographical advantages of playing in a well-trafficked area like a college campus. Cornell boasts four Pokémon gyms on the Arts Quad alone and has multiple others across campus and in Collegetown, according to Disare.
“It’s more exciting to play on a college campus than in the suburbs, where there aren’t that many gyms or Pokéstops,” Fuhrer said. “When I went home, it was definitely different than playing on a college campus.”
Many buildings and landmarks are campus are also Pokéstops, where players can retrieve special items and experience points. Kane Wu ’20 said that his room in Just About Music is right below a Pokéstop.
“I will never run out of Pokéballs,” he said.
Mary Mueller ’18 explained that she finds the game most enjoyable when she is walking from one location to another. “Wherever I go, it becomes a whole new game,” she said.
Despite the app’s decline in popularity since the summer, Disare said he still occasionally sees students playing on campus near gyms.
“Every once in awhile, if I walk by the clock tower I can see somebody sitting on the ledge that faces the clock tower, looking at their phone and tapping furiously,” he said. “That’s sort of a dead giveaway.”