What Makes Nyack a Local Pokemon Destination?
by Shauna R Bahssin
It can be hard to believe that more than twenty years have passed since the advent of Pokemon, the Japanese anime universe in which Pokemasters catch and train fictive dinosaur-like creatures and battle other Pokemasters. But it’s harder still to believe that Pokemon, originally conceived as a GameBoy game, is now experiencing an epic resurgence. On July 6, Nintendo released Pokemon Go, an augmented-reality game built for smartphones; within 24 hours the game topped mobile application downloads. Pokemon trainers — people trying to catch and raise Pokemon, build strong teams of the digital creatures and face off against competitors– are suddenly everywhere. They are easily identifiable — any person under 30 years old who is walking around, absently with their phone open is likely to be a member of the Pokemon Go community [Editor’s note: Not every Millennial with their phone out is playing Pokemon Go]. And around Rockland County, Nyack in particular has been something of a haven.
Unlike the original Nintendo games, in which the player catches Pokemon by walking through virtual tall grass or a similar unpredictable landscape (e.g., the ocean or a dark cave), with this game you must go outside, walk around, and experience actual landscapes. What you might find differs according to the real life location. For this reason, the residential suburbs of Rockland County, where there are few landmarks, is not exactly a riveting setting to play the game. The Village of Nyack, though, which is full of hot spots —“Pokestops,” in the game’s parlance — where players can gain experience points and pick up useful items, is one exception. On Saturday I walked around Nyack, hunting down Pokemon Go players, rather than the Pokemon themselves, and I found that the majority of people playing the game were not residents of the village; instead, they came from neighboring towns in Rockland County, specifically to catch Pokemon.
Many of these visiting Pokemasters came to Nyack for its proximity to the Hudson River, because water-type Pokemon can only be found if you’re near actual large bodies of water. “If you want water Pokemon, you need to go to water,” said Joe Porco, 24, of Nanuet. “Instead of us going to, like, New City or something, we came down here to sit by the water — we’re forced to have this beautiful view. There’s a sky up there, that’s new.”
Another perk of playing the game in Nyack is its relatively dense population. In the game, more Pokemon tend to show up if you’re wandering around a more densely populated IRL area; so, going on a Pokemon-catching adventure in Nyack will likely be more productive for the player than a walk or jog in a more suburban neighborhood like Valley Cottage. (Not to mention, rumor has it that you can catch starter Pokemon Squirtle in the bathroom of Art Cafe.)
Nyack also offers players an abundance of Pokestops, the location-based icons that dispense items that can heal your Pokemon, catch new Pokemon or hatch Pokemon. Each Pokestop is designed to reflect a landmark in the area and often includes a short description on the site. In a village as rich in art and history as Nyack, Pokestops are abundant— some blocks even include two or three stops. There are more than 15 Pokestops in sight if you’re standing at the intersection of Main Street and North Broadway, and they vary in social significance: Some Pokestops are simply murals, others, like Edward Hopper House Art Center, have a much greater historical magnitude. Though the Pokestops are spread out throughout town, it’s not difficult to visit each one; the total walking distance is about two kilometers.
The social, exploratory nature of Pokemon Go makes it fairly unique as a video game. It’s similar to other games in that you have your own team and statistics, but Pokemon Go differs from many other games in that it encourages players to meet other players, and sometimes forge new friendships. “It’s social, because you’ll see other people and you’ll know that they’re doing it too,” said Dan Moro, 24, of Nanuet. “No other game has done that. You can play online with other people, but this is walking … it’s interactive in a way that video games aren’t.”
For this reason, local players feel as though Pokemon Go has eclipsed their expectations. “This is where we live; this is where some of us grew up,” said Anthony Fagan, 24, of Nanuet. “So it’s really fascinating — I thought with this game, I was going to walk around, catch a few Pokemon, have a few laughs, but now it’s much bigger than they thought it was … it’s not Pokemon anymore, it’s people, it’s your environment, it’s your setting.”