For Charlotte Nelick, Pokémon Go is more than a game — it’s a lifestyle.
“I really don’t do anything but work and play Pokémon,” says Nelick, 24, who lives in Lawrence.
Nelick has been playing with Pokémon since she was 4. So last year, when she found out that Niantic Inc. was developing an augmented reality game based on the Japanese franchise from the ’90s, she flipped. She founded a Facebook group, Pokémon Go! Kansas City, to connect with local fans. The group had about 400 members prior to the game’s release last month, and now has close to 10,000.
Pokémon Go has become a global phenomenon faster than you can say Jigglypuff. The free game, which is available on iOs and Android devices, recently surpassed 100 million downloads worldwide.
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To play, “trainers” capture monsters by flicking red and white Poké Balls. The “pocket monsters” can be collected, traded in for virtual candy and used in battles. The three teams in the game — Mystic, Valor and Instinct — compete for control of “gyms.”
Here in Kansas City, there are Pokémon trainers everywhere you look: They’re bagging Bulbasaur on the Country Club Plaza and pocketing Pikachu on the lawn of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. They’re stocking up on Poké Balls at the Kansas City Zoo, hatching eggs on the KC streetcar, and doing their damndest to combat the metro’s ongoing Rattata infestation.
Trainers are easy to spot: Look for the zombie-like walkers gazing into their smartphones and stopping occasionally to flick at their screens.
“A lot of people think it’s stupid, that we’re getting sucked into our phones,” Nelick says. The stereotype of the distracted Pokémon Go player is reinforced by reports of car accidents, trespassing and game-related injuries such as sunburns and (yep) sore legs caused by marathon monster-hunting expeditions.
But Nelick says Pokémon Go isn’t about withdrawing from reality — it’s about getting out to explore your environment and connect with the community.
“I’ve made 30 friends because of this game,” she says.
Stuart Washington, a Pokémon Go addict who lives in Kansas City, says the game “forces you to explore places you’ve taken for granted.”
Washington and his friends regularly go for “Poké Walks” — monster-hunting missions that cover several miles. The game has also inspired Washington to poke around Shawnee Mission Park, which is close to his Lenexa office.
Washington has since returned to the park to rent a kayak over his lunch break — and not just so he could fish for Magikarp.
Victor Adam, a 27-year-old Overland Park-based fitness coach, says the game helps his clients move more. He challenges some to hatch a 5K egg every day, a task that can be done only by walking 5 kilometers.
Adam recently started a Pokémon Go Meetup group that gathers in a different Kansas City location every two weeks. About 20 people showed up to the first meetup on Saturday in Loose Park.
The cool thing about Pokémon Go, says Kansas City photographer Colt Coan, is that it encourages strangers to have positive interactions IRL.
Coan, 25, says players often stop to share tips and rumors. The game provides common ground that transcends age, race or socioeconomic status.
“That’s something we need in 2016.”
On a quest to catch ’em all in KC? Here are 11 locations recommended by expert Pokémon Go players.
Country Club Plaza
The Plaza is the best place in Kansas City to catch Pokémon, according to Jenni Fenice, a 27-year-old trainer from Kansas City, Kan. Last month, Fenice organized a late-night meetup there that attracted about 200 trainers.
The Plaza is chock full of Poké Stops — stations where trainers can stock up on free in-game items such as Poké Balls and eggs — and lures, which attract Pokémon. It’s also a good place to find rare monsters such as Blastoise and Sandslash, Fenice says.
Four to five nights a week, Fenice and her friends set up a “Poké Center” near the fountain at the intersection of Broadway and Nichols Road where trainers exchange donations for energy drinks, chips, fruit and other snacks. Fenice says she donates a portion of proceeds to KC Pet Project.
From 6 to 11 p.m. on Tuesdays, Tapcade sets Pokémon lures that attract Pokémon and trainers to the arcade bar at 1701 McGee St. The weekly event, “Catch ’Em All Tuesday,” also features $2 unlimited arcade play (it’s usually $5), Pokémon video games on the projection screen and $4 themed drinks.
Last week, the drinks were named after the three teams. Instinct was a screwdriver (iced orange juice and vodka with a cherry on top), Mystic was a lemonade spiked with bright blue curaçao, and Valor was a shot of whiskey, straight up.
But Tapcade staffer Jacqueline Immele’s favorite drink is the cherry vodka and grapefruit soda concoction with the same rosy hue as Clefairy, the Pokémon it’s named after — and Immele’s hair.
If you’re looking to make a day out of Pokémon Go, head to the zoo, says Lauren Caldwell, who lives in south Kansas City.
Recently, Caldwell armored up with sunscreen and bug spray, packed a portable power bank and spent all day wandering the 202-acre park.
“They have a Poké Stop for almost every exhibit,” Caldwell says. She and her boyfriend counted about 60 stops.
“You get to enjoy the zoo and really get stocked up on stuff,” she says.
Caldwell says she hasn’t caught many rare monsters at the zoo, but the area is crawling with common Weedle and Caterpie.
Adult admission costs $14.50, or $7 for residents of Jackson and Clay counties. Caldwell says she’s considering buying a Friends of the Zoo membership, which costs $64, or $29 for Jackson and Clay county residents. 2016 memberships last until March 31, 2017, and include free zoo entrance for one adult and one guest.
This boutique at 4056 Broadway in Westport sells Pokémon Go team-themed T-shirts produced by Kansas City clothing company Flat Black Cult. The $25 shirts come in three colors — blue for Team Mystic, yellow for Team Instinct and red for Team Valor — and look like basic gym equipment until you read the words emblazoned on the front.
The blue one, which reads “Property of Team Mystic Training Gym,” is the best-seller, but Team Valor’s shirt is a close second. Sorry, Team Instinct.
After hitting the Bunker, don’t forget to walk around Westport, which is among Coan’s favorite Pokémon stomping grounds.
“There’s stores galore, so wherever you walk, you hit Poké Stops,” he says. “Westport doesn’t have the rarest Pokémon, but I’ve caught some cool stuff, like an Ivysaur.”
Need to refuel between battles? Pop in to one of the Roasterie’s cafes in Brookside, Leawood and off 27th Street and Southwest Boulevard for a Shiny Chaimander.
The Pokémon-inspired drink mixes spicy chai concentrate with sparkling water and was inspired by Charmander, a cute fire-type monster with a flaming tail. The 16-ounce version costs $3.79.
Caldwell’s go-to Sunday spot is now La Bodega, 4311 W. 119th St. in Leawood.
“It has a gym you can access from the bar,” she says. It doesn’t hurt that sangria is half-price during happy hour (2-6 p.m. daily).
Caldwell says when she went a couple of weeks ago, everyone at La Bodega was talking about Pokémon Go — even the bartender and the manager. So trainers don’t have to feel shy about getting their battle on while sipping a drink at the bar.
In Pokémon Go, trainers “hatch” eggs collected at Poké Stops by walking for 2, 5 or even 10 kilometers. At the finish line, each egg cracks open to reveal the monster inside.
Many Kansas City trainers have found a creative (OK, lazy) way to hatch eggs by hopping on the KC Streetcar, which connects the River Market to Union Station.
Trainers can’t hatch eggs by riding in a car — probably because they’re traveling too fast — but somehow, a stint in the streetcar does the trick.
“Every single time I’ve been on the streetcar, I see people hitting all the Pokémon Stops, catching stuff and hatching eggs,” Washington says.
“It’s the modern equivalent of reading the newspaper on the train in the ’50s.”
Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead
How do you lure an urban trainer to the suburbs? With rare Pokémon, of course.
Both Caldwell and Coan have been known to troll the parking lot at Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead at 13800 Switzer Road in Overland Park for rare monsters such as Electabuzz, Drowzee, Gastly and Gengar.
“People drive to the parking lot, stop, catch, then keep going,” Coan says.
On a recent expedition to the farmstead, Caldwell bagged a whole bunch of Jynx.
“She looks ridiculous,” Caldwell says of the blond, human-shaped monster in a red dress. “She looks like a woman with giant breasts. She’s pretty powerful.”
Nelick says Mass Street is almost as good as the Plaza when it comes to catching Pokémon. Picture tons of stops and trainers on every corner.
If you go, don’t forget to check out the Pikachu-themed window display at Game Nut, 844 Massachusetts St., which is where Nelick works.
Nelick also recommends strolling on the sidewalk on the bridge that spans the Kansas River. Electabuzz, a rare electric monster, has been known to appear in the general vicinity of the nearby Bowersock Dam. Just stick to the sidewalk — dams and power plants are dangerous.
The north lawn of the Nelson is a magnet for Pikachu hunters.
“It has been proven to be a Pikachu point,” Nelick says. “Usually you hear someone scream and say, ‘Oh, there’s a Pikachu!’ ”
Once, “I found eight in an hour and a half,” Caldwell says.
Flocks of Pokémon Go players accounted for a recent spike in visitors to the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park. In July, 20,492 people visited the park, more than three times the visitors in July 2015.
Media relations manager Kathleen Leighton says the museum is “delighted” to have more visitors to the park, whether they’re playing the game or not. But the museum is more cautious when it comes to visitors playing Pokémon Go inside.
“Any handheld device requires attention while walking, and the user runs the risk of not being aware of their surroundings and possibly harming art,” Leighton said in an email. “There are plenty of little monsters to catch outside, and players are less likely to harm themselves or any art objects.”
The museum’s Pikachu population might have declined after a recent upgrade to the game. According to Fenice, trainers are more likely to stumble on a “nest” of Ekans, a coiled purple snake.
But hey, even if you don’t nab Pikachu, you still get to marvel at the treasures dotting the sculpture park. Is there a Golbat in the Glass Labyrinth? There’s only one way to find out.
Longview Lake Beach
Coan says he made some of his rarest catches at Longview Lake Beach, 11101 Raytown Road in Kansas City.
“I went there because I wanted to get near the water,” he says, “and everyone I talk to says they catch some really cool things there.”
Coan’s Longview Lake finds include Psyduck, Slowpoke and Snorlax.
“I saw a Slowbro over there,” he says, “and a Jigglypuff as I was leaving.”
Jennifer Aldrich contributed to this report.