The blockbuster game uses augmented reality and GPS mapping to make animated creatures appear in the real world
Forget beach volleyball, tennis or soccer, not to mention the javelin or discus. Pokemon Go is challenging the Olympics for most popular game among some young Brazilians.
Hundreds of them turned out in a Rio de Janeiro park on Saturday (August 13) holding their mobile phones to hunt for virtual creatures in the hyper-reality game app that has become a craze in Brazil since its release in Brazil two days before the Games.
"I watched a match in the Engenhao stadium but then when I knew that Pokemon game was launched I didn't care any more about the Olympics. I'm not even turning my TV on to watch it. Now it's only Pokemon, we are breathing Pokemon," said student Lourdes Drummond at the Quinta da Boa Vista park, once the gardens of the Brazilian royal family.
The blockbuster game developed by Niantic, in which Nintendo Co has a large stake, uses augmented reality and GPS mapping to make animated characters appear in the real world. Players see creatures overlaid on the nearby landscape that they see through a mobile phone camera.
Brazil's third largest mobile phone company Claro estimates that close to 2 million of its users have downloaded the game just in the Rio area since it was released on August 3. An executive of the company owned by Carlos Slim's America Movil América Móvil said more than half of those users have been inside or near Olympic venues hunting for Pokemons.
As Rio residents rode paddle boats on the lake of the Boa Vista park, youths explored the grounds seeking the Dragon Knight and other prized Pokemons to add to their collection. They huddled in the shade of the 19th Century royal palace to exchange notes.
"A simple thing like a game changes a lot the way we use public spaces, but we still cannot know how long it will continue to keep people's attention. But the interesting thing is really that something small like a game manages to change these places in such a short period of time," said sociologist, Joao Carlos Barssani, 31, himself joining the hunt.
When a boy shouted "I found one!" dozens sprinted after him in pursuit.
It may not be a physical sport, but the novelty of Pokemon Go is the mobility involved compared to traditional video games. You have to get up and go outside to search your city, cellphone in hand to accumulate as many Pokemons as you can.
"I always go straight from work to home and home to work. And now thanks to this game I am going out, and if my mum asks me to go out to buy something I am happy to go. With all happiness in the world because I can play," said Rafael Moura Barros, a computer technician who believes the game will help reduce obesity in Brazil.
Barssani said the game is changing the way Brazilians are using their urban space in cities long plagued with high crime rates. People are frequenting parks and squares that had been abandoned for fear of getting mugged, he said.