App turns Green into hot spot

People gather at the Naugatuck Green to play Pokemon Go on Monday. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN
People gather at the Naugatuck Green to play Pokemon Go on Monday. –REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

NAUGATUCK — Millennials have been heading to the Naugatuck Green in droves at all hours of the day and night hoping to catch imaginary characters on their smartphones.

Though at first glance it might seem like the flocks are up to no good, the teens and 20-and-30-somethings are actually participating in a fast-moving phenomenon called Pokemon Go.

One of the hundreds of people who played on the Naugatuck Green on Monday was Jim Goggin Jr., a 24-year-old college graduate from Naugatuck who started playing with the Pokemon card game when he was a child.

“Our generation certainly has a strong nostalgic connection to our childhood, and this is a part of that,” he said. “Pokemon is kind of helping us rediscover our youth.”

Similar scenes are playing out in recent days at parks and neighborhoods all over the United States, New Zealand and Australia.

The game, which trades on the nostalgia of the popular 1990s franchise and the thrill of exploring an augmented reality, is poised to surpass Twitter in daily active users on Android, according to data published by SimilarWeb, an information technology firm.

While it is popular among Millennials, it’s not just being used by them, as is evident by some 40-and-50-somethings seen playing at places filled with gamers, such as New York’s Central Park. The game has become so popular that the Google Play store has it ranked the No. 1 app above Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram.

People play the game by wandering neighborhoods and other public places, trying to discover geo-located Pokemon characters, which show up as if in the real world on their smartphone cameras. Players sometimes congregate at local landmarks — like a war monument on the Naugatuck Green — where imaginary characters are found.

The Green is also considered a “Pokestop” because people can gather supplies, such as Pokeballs to fling at online “pocket monsters,” or Pokemon, to capture them for training. The game uses Google Maps to show people where the Pokestops are located.

The Naugatuck Green — one of many stops in the area where players congregate — is also a “gym,” which is where Pokemon engage in a fictitious battle for supremacy.

Michael Perugini, a 23-year-old software engineer from Watertown, stopped by the Green on Monday afternoon to gather Pokemon after visiting his mother.

“The more people in a central location, the more Pokemon are going to be there,” he said. “So I saw people congregated here who looked like they were playing and decided to come by.”

Richard Hart, 34, of Naugatuck, said he has been playing Pokemon for years and that the Pokemon Go game is the most social of all of them.

He said he and a friend who joined him Monday, Vincent Seneco, 24, of Watertown, have battled depression and that the game forces them to go outside and socialize.

“It also gets us to exercise more, which is good,” Hart said.

Rachael Shemanski, 28, and Abbey Fitzgerald, 27, both of Naugatuck, said they were intrigued by all of the people they saw on the Naugatuck Green at night on Saturday and Sunday, so they decided to give it a shot.

“Everybody at work is talking about,” Shemanski said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

The game has received some negative publicity, too. Among those stories: People in Washington State were caught jumping out of bushes at a police department near where Pokemon are located; some people reported being hurt while walking or running toward Pokemon while looking down at their phones; police have warned against driving while using the app; armed robbers used the app to lure victims to isolated locations where they could be robbed; and a 19-year-old woman in Wyoming went out looking for Pokemon and ended up finding a dead body.

Still, it is the hot trend for the moment. Goggin says even he, a lifelong Pokemon fan, has been shocked by its immense popularity.

“My Facebook feed is tied in popularity with Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter, Trump and Hillary and Pokemon,” he said. “It’s amazing the level it has reached.”

The Tribune News Service contributed to this report.