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Pokémon Go: The New Mobile Game Taking Cities by Storm

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A virtual game with astonishing real-life consequences

In a matter of days, Pokémon Go, the red-hot new mobile app game based on the popular video-game-trading-card-cartoon empire has become nothing short of a real-life phenomenon.

Developed by Niantic Labs (a Google-grown company that created the Pokémon-infested Google Map for April Fools Day in 2014), the highly anticipated release brings the premise of catching "Pokémon," or pocket monsters, into the real world.

Here’s the gist: To begin your journey as a Pokémon trainer, download the app, switch on your phone’s GPS, and simply start walking around and wait for Pokémon to pop up on the screen so you can catch them with a Poké Ball. The app will also show you where there are "Pokéstops" to collect items (like more Poké Balls) and "gyms" to conquer. (Gameplay details here.)

Keep in mind, all these points of interest in the Pokémon world are points of interest in your physical neighborhood, including parks, churches, memorials, post offices, murals, and more. In fact, if you switch on the "AR" (Augmented Reality) view, thereby connecting your phone camera, Pokémon will seem to appear right in front of you.

While existing AR projects, notably Google Glass, haven’t exactly found a mainstream following, Pokémon Go has managed to combine the virtual and IRL in a compelling, and seriously addicting way. Just take a look at all these ways the game has already taken over communities around the country—well, mostly urban or dense suburban areas, anyway (more on that below.)

  1. It’s got people (kids and adults like) out exercising, walking (and biking) miles upon miles, racking up serious steps without even noticing.

Some people have also elected to chase Pokemon by car, but that’s dangerous for many reasons.

2. Large-scale Pokémon Go meet ups have been scheduled in major cities like NYC and San Francisco

3. Stores near Pokéstops and gyms are dealing with taking advantage of the extra traffic

(A site has also been created to help business owners attract more Pokémon Go players with "lure modules," beacons added to Pokéstops.)

4. Overlooked neighborhoods and strange sights are getting a new spotlight. From Curbed’s Community Manager Ariel Viera:

Over here at NYC, people were traveling all the way to Red Hook, Brooklyn, which is a neighborhood that is really out of the way for most New Yorkers, just to catch a rare Pokémon. This game is really making people go out to explore!

5. It’s highlighting a sort of urban-rural divide.

Some of the game’s consequences are also pretty disconcerting.

6. In Missouri, armed robbers reportedly used the game to target victims, specifically, using those aforementioned "lure" beacons to identify people idling in a parking lot.

7. In Wyoming, a teenager out catching Pokémon discovered a dead body in the process.

8. In Massachusetts, a man living in a converted church has had dozens of uninvited visitors idling around his property all weekend, all because Pokémon Go didn’t get the memo that the place is a private home now. On the app, it’s been designated a Pokémon gym.

As Niantic stabilizes the server issues that have plagued the first few days of the game’s release and prepares for the game’s imminent launch in Europe and Asia, you can expect this list to grow in amusing and bewildering ways.

So, has Pokémon Go invaded your neighborhood yet?

Curbed's "Where to catch Pokémon" maps: