The streets are empty in Downtown Roseburg on Saturday morning. It’s 10 a.m., and Lela DeHerrera, 28, and her husband Robert DeHerrera, 28, of Roseburg, can be seen sitting on a bench on Jackson Street with their phones out. As they’re tapping away on their touch screens, the duo are interacting within a digital world.
No, they aren’t browsing the web or texting a friend. Rather, the two are a part of a resurgence of interest in the video game Pokemon Go. For the past two years, the couple has been playing the game almost every day.
“(It’s) something to do while you’re out for a walk,” Lela DeHerrera said. “So it gets me active, it gets me motivated to actually come out and do something other than just sit at home. And you actually get to meet a few people along the way.”
The free-to-download app for smartphones and tablet computers allows players to catch and train virtual monsters who appear on a Google Maps-like interface. The Pokemon most commonly pop up at designated “Pokestops,” which are located in city parks, near statues, or other landmarks that also allow for players to obtain in-game items.
The surge of players that poured into the game at its launch in the summer of 2016 has since died down. But the addition of what developers call a “raid system,” implemented in the summer of 2017, has slowly drawn people back in.
Alex Martinez, 34, of Medford was not originally interested in Pokemon Go at launch.
“There was just nothing that really made me want to do it, but then when I heard about the raids, it sounded more interesting all of a sudden,” she said. “Before the raiding system, there was nothing actually challenging about the game.”
These “raids” are where players can team up together to fight powerful Pokemon. Raids appear at various special Pokestops called “gyms” all throughout the day. Players who defeat the raid boss, a super-powerful Pokemon, will be rewarded with special items and the chance to catch a weaker version of the creature.
Since raids require multiple people to participate in a particular mission, and because there is no direct way to communicate with other nearby players within the app, many have turned to Facebook.
Kay Marie, 29, of Roseburg, is one of the admins for Roseburg Pokemon Go Raids, a local Facebook group that helps organize players in the Douglas County area. The group currently has almost 300 members.
“At first, I didn’t realize the dynamics of the game. It was fun catching Pokemon, but we didn’t have raids,” she said. “They started the raid system and the (legendary Pokemon) came out and I got right back into to it. And ever since, it’s been non-stop.”
The Facebook groups created for the raids have helped to expand the social aspect of the game. This attracted many people, like Erin Wilds, to give Pokemon Go a second chance.
“It made it a lot more fun to see the social aspects of it, because that’s how the game was designed to be,” Wilds said. “But it was really kind of falling short in that for a while.”
Members of the same Facebook group as Marie and Wilds organize carpools, so members can visit multiple raid locations, something Marie calls a “raid train.” She said the raid trains can consist of up to 50 people, visiting up to 17 locations in a single day.
Marybeth Gresham, 26, of Medford, is an admin on the Southern Oregon Pokemon GO! Facebook group. The group has over 1,500 members and includes people from Douglas, Josephine and Jackson County. Because they have so many members, she said they have to map out which groups hit which raids so they don’t overlap each other. Raids are only available for an hour before disappearing and popping up somewhere else. The game only allows for 20 people to participate in one of these many raids at a time.
The app developers recently added the ability to friend people on the Pokemon Go app, but Gresham said people have been making friends in real life ever since the game launched.
“We do BBQs and swimming and things that aren’t even related to Pokemon,” Gresham said. “(I’ve) actually made like really good friends through this game that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise, and a lot of people probably feel that way.”
Marie said the that the game has helped bring together people who normally wouldn’t have had the means or ability to socialize otherwise.
“We’ve got people who have extreme social anxiety. We have people who literally would not probably come out into a community if it wasn’t for the game,” Marie said. “So it’s really exciting getting to see that.”
“My son has autism,” Martinez said, “and for a lot of kids, going outside and doing stuff is not, like, their favorite thing to do. They’d rather be at home. Pokemon Go got him interested in going outside and walking around. It’s something he seems to actually have motivation and patience for.”
While some would assume the majority of players are children, many players in these Facebook groups are in their late 20s or early 30s. This is the generation who grew up with Pokemon when the franchise first came to America from Japan in the 1990’s in the form of games, trading cards and cartoons.
“About my age is about the normal age range,” Wilds, 27, said. “I think when it first started a lot of younger kids were into it, and that doesn’t really seem to be the case anymore. I never see kids walking around playing it, which is kind of funny.”
“I think it’s nostalgia. That age group, we grew up with Pokemon,” Marie said. “I was in fourth grade when I got my first Pokemon card. So I think what draws a lot of people to Pokemon, especially in our age group, is our childhood.”