Squirtle? Pikachu? Where are youse? Find 'em with new Pokémon Go app

pokemon-at-wawa
Pidgey in a Wawa cooler

On any other Sunday afternoon, Ecco Conte would have been inside watching television.

But she walked miles around Philadelphia over the weekend - all for the sake of catching Pokémon.

"I've done more walking in the past couple days than I have probably in the past six months," Conte said.

And she wasn't alone.

So many people have downloaded Pokémon Go - a new app that has users physically visit different geocached locations to "catch" animated creatures in a virtual world - that it was the No. 1 free app in Apple's App Store just days after its release last week.

Scores of users wandering Philadelphia this weekend, their eyes glued to their phones, were proof of its popularity. They clustered on street corners and in parks. They carried portable cellphone batteries so they could hunt longer. And they befriended strangers. Conte, 20, of Philadelphia, called the new app "genius" because its users must get out and walk around. As she stood in Washington Square Park on Sunday afternoon, chatting with other Pokémon Go users, the app estimated that she and a friend had walked 10 kilometers.

In Philadelphia, some of the many places users could find Pokémon were public parks and historical sites such as Independence Hall. Across the river, in Mount Ephraim, Camden County, one player caught an Eevee in the parking lot of the Wawa on the Black Horse Pike and a Pidgey in the store's cooler. 

The game isn't competitive, said Samantha Falk, 29, of Graduate Hospital.

"It's more about just getting all the Pokémon," Falk said as she stood in Rittenhouse Square.

For those who grew up with Pokémon trading cards or its Gameboy and Nintendo games, nostalgia is part of the new app's allure.

Cody Cardarelli, 29, a longtime fan of Pokémon and its characters, said the game was showing him around Philadelphia as he visited from New York City.

"It's almost been a tour guide through the city," he said Sunday, standing with his phone in Logan Square. "The weird thing is, I've been nostalgia tripping about when I was a kid, and now I'm learning about a city I've never visited."

Chad Mansfield, 45, of Center City, is a FedEx delivery driver and a fan of Pokémon. By Sunday evening, he was eager to return to work Monday - so he could discover new characters on his delivery route through Upper Darby.

"I'm excited to go up there and catch some new Pokémon," he said. "That's probably untapped land up there."

Looking for such characters as Squirtle and Pikachu at local landmarks has become a global phenomenon, and Pokémon characters can be found all over the country. In Wyoming, according to news reports, someone using the app stumbled across a dead body in a river and reported it to police.

The game is making headlines for its popularity - but also its dangers. The app warns users to watch where they are walking. But the Associated Press reported that there have been numerous injuries to Pokémon Go users, ranging from running into street signs, twisting ankles, or getting into skateboarding accidents. Officials were warning people not to use the app while driving.

For many in Philadelphia on Sunday, Pokémon Go was a simply way to spend a nice summer day outside. Nick Kotoulas, 29, stopped by Washington Square after brunch Sunday afternoon to catch a few Pokémon creatures.

The game creates "a different community," he said, as strangers give each other tips on where to go to find the creatures.

Plus, he said, it's causing him to get around the city. He's lived in Philadelphia for 12 years, he said, and "I've never even walked through Washington Square."

Share pics of your Pokémon Go encounters around Philly using #PHLPokemon.

lmccrystal@phillynews.com
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@Lmccrystal