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Campus Uses Pokémon App to Build Community

By Cody Kitaura/Dateline on July 25, 2016 in University

A hunt for flying, fire-spewing, and poisonous monsters is leading to battles all over campus — and it’s bringing Aggies closer together.

Pokémon GO, the mobile app sensation, functions a bit like a scavenger hunt for Pokémon, the Japanese characters that spawned video games, a television show and trading card game in the 1990s. Users move through the real world to find and catch Pokémon, then strengthen them for battles at “gyms” — landmarks chosen by developer Niantic (some of the “gyms” on campus include the Activities and Recreation Center, the Yin & Yang Eggheads and the Bohart Museum of Entomology).

“Pokémon GO has given us a huge push to get out and walk,” said Jessica Potts, the Department of Chemistry’s department manager. She and a group of coworkers use their breaks to take walks around campus each day, and lately have been planning their routes around PokéStops, landmarks in the app where players can collect items and earn points. “It has been great to interact with staff and has helped boost morale.”

Students have embraced it, too. Mica Allian, a senior applied statistics major who works as an Aggie Host security guard, said she has seen players on campus as late as 2 a.m. She plays too, checking the app first thing in the morning and going on Pokémon hunts with friends.

Police lead Pokémon hunt through campus, urge safety

The UC Davis Police Department was quick to latch onto the game as a community-building tool, and held a Pokémon GO meetup and walk last week that drew more than 100 students, staff, community members and alumni. The event was decorated with Pikachu balloons and a police van blared the theme song from the television show, but Chief Matt Carmichael said the real focus was community.

Police Chief Matt Carmichael addresses a crowd before the department's Pokemon GO walk.
Police Chief Matt Carmichael shares safety tips with a crowd before the department's Pokémon GO walk Wednesday (July 20). (Cody Kitaura/UC Davis)

“It’s hard to be a student away from home, especially international students,” he said. “This is a group of people hanging out who wouldn’t otherwise be hanging out, and it’s because of this game — isn’t that wild?”

Carmichael played along with the attendees, celebrating when he captured a Vulpix and using a PA system attached to a police motorcycle to announce that he had just reached level 10.

He also shared safety tips for players — namely, to travel in pairs when playing the game at night, to stay in public places and not trespass or knock on the doors of strangers to look for creatures.

Some spend countless hours with the app

When Alex Ogloza ’14 wanted to take a trip to celebrate a friend’s birthday, they picked San Francisco — partially because they figured Pokémon would be plentiful in that city.

Ogloza said his time with the app is “more on the extreme side” — he often plays from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. — but it’s not surprising he’s gone all in with the app. In 2014, he won a national Pokémon video game tournament, and now produces YouTube videos covering various aspects of Pokémon news.

He said he’s not surprised the new app has brought people together.

“Pokémon is really well known for its great community,” Ogloza said, noting that the game’s popularity is a little surreal. When the police walk was set to begin, Carmichael yelled to the crowd, “Let’s go catch some Pokémon!”

“I never thought I would have heard that from a police chief,” Ogloza said, laughing.

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About the author(s)

Cody Kitaura/Dateline, Dateline, 530-752-1932,