If you see people walking around Richmond paying even more attention to their phones than usual, there’s a good chance they’re playing Pokémon GO.
The app, which could soon surpass Twitter in its daily active users — was released last week. It uses a smartphone’s GPS and camera to make Pokémon — Japanese for “pocket monsters” — appear around users. The goal of the game is to capture as many Pokémon as possible and train the monsters to fight other creatures.
In addition to capturing monsters, players also must find Pokéspots to get more Pokéballs, which are thrown at Pokémon to catch them, and other items. Many of the Pokéspots in Richmond are landmarks and notable places such as the state Capitol and Hollywood Cemetery, but there are user-created spots liberally sprinkled throughout the area as well.
One of the hottest spots for Pokémon in the Richmond area, according to an online map, is Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Henrico County. The garden apparently is home to several rare Pokémon, including the elusive Pikachu.
Barbara Bingham, of Midlothian, and her sons Connor, 11, and JoJo, 9, were among many people playing Pokémon GO on Monday at Lewis Ginter. Bingham, a teacher at Clover Hill High School, said her family was responsible for creating the garden’s user-generated Pokéstops.
“It’s a very fun thing,” Bingham said, adding that the Pokémon go all over the garden, even sometimes running away from users.
In addition to being fun, she said, the game’s get-up-and-go nature prompts her sons to exercise more.
“They walk,” Bingham said.
Lewis Ginter spokeswoman Jonah Holland said the garden is surprised by the number of visitors playing the game, adding that one pair of players became garden members so they could return again and again to hunt Pokémon.
“People come to the garden to renew their souls, but now people are coming here to renew their Pokémon,” she said.
Holland cautioned, however, that visitors should stay on the garden’s paths and grassy areas while hunting Pokémon.
“We don’t anticipate any problems with visitors walking in garden beds because the Pokémon are accessible from the paved walkways or turf grass, or in the Conservatory,” she said.
According to the map, other hotspots in the area include Virginia Commonwealth University’s Monroe Park campus, the Museum District, Church Hill and Hollywood Cemetery, which stresses that play is only allowed between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.
At Perly’s restaurant in downtown Richmond, bartender Austin Hall said he has seen bands of people playing the game together.
“They just have their faces down in their phones, and they’re all playing Pokémon,” he said. “I guess it’s a group activity now.”
The popular app also has inspired a special food creation in Richmond: the carry-out spot ToGoGo is offering Pokémon-themed sushi rolls.
“It felt appropriate to play along with the overnight craze and have a little fun making Pokémon-inspired sushi specials,” said owner and chef Kevin Wilson.
In some parts of the Richmond area, overzealous Pokémon hunters have run afoul of local law enforcement, prompting some authorities to issue warnings about the games.
The Goochland County Sheriff’s Office said on its Facebook page that deputies are seeing a rise in trespassing and suspicious activity complaints because of the game.
“Deputies have located numerous individuals on business, church and government properties at all hours of the night, when these places are closed to the public,” the post said. “These actions are considered trespassing and put the individual and deputies in a position of unnecessary risk.”
There also have been five complaints related to the game in Henrico County and one in Hanover County, authorities in those localities said. There have been no complaints because of Pokémon reported so far in Richmond or Chesterfield County.
Across the country, Pokémon Go has led to injuries — and worse.
Mike Schultz, a 21-year-old communications graduate on Long Island, N.Y., took a spill on his skateboard as he stared at his phone while cruising for critters Thursday. He cut his hand on the sidewalk after hitting a big crack, and blames himself for going too slowly.
“I just wanted to be able to stop quickly if there were any Pokémons nearby to catch,” he says. “I don’t think the company is really at fault.”
In O’Fallon, Mo., four teenagers robbed several people over the weekend after luring them to a Pokéspot, police said.
And in Wyoming, a 19-year-old woman found a body while looking for water Pokémon in the Big Wind River.