Within days of its release, the new phone game Pokémon Go prompted millions of gamers to go outdoors and get some fresh air.

Whether they’ll actually see any of the great outdoors is unclear, since they’re walking around with their noses in their touch screens. Although the game is being praised for getting gamers off the couch, it also has distracted mobile players around the country so much that they have tripped, fallen off skateboards and even been robbed.

Who knew those cute Pokémon characters packed such power?

After more than a year of tense anticipation, Pokémon Go was released last week and has become nothing less than a mania. By the weekend, people all over Maine and the country could be seen playing the game just about everywhere, holding out their phones while walking.

The game uses a phone’s GPS, camera and augmented reality technology, so as a player walks somewhere in their town or city, a map of that location appears and shows all the Pokestops, Pokémon characters or Pokeballs in the vicinity. The more places you go in the real world, the more Pokémon characters your avatar can capture in the game’s world.

What’s unusual is that your avatar appears to be moving in a virtual world that mirrors your real-life surroundings. And whatever Pokémon you encounter appears to be standing right there in front of you.

Monument Square in Portland was a hot spot of activity for the Pokemon Go "augmented reality" game Monday evening. From left, Shellbe Flynn, Jordan Regios and Elizabeth Hook play the game.

Monument Square in Portland was a hot spot of activity for the Pokemon Go “augmented reality” game Monday evening. From left, Shellbe Flynn, Jordan Regios and Elizabeth Hook play the game. Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer Michele McDonald/Staff Photographer

Pokémon’s name recognition – the game is 20 years old – combined with the novelty of an outdoor-friendly video game have led Americans to download it an estimated 7.5 million times so far. The game’s maker, Nintendo, has seen stock prices surge by nearly 25 percent. The app for the game is free.

But there have been reports around the country that the game is a public safety hazard. News media have reported frequent falls and skateboard accidents, and some hospital trips. Police in O’Fallon, Missouri, said four teenagers staked out a spot they knew would lure Pokémon Go players, then robbed them.

And police in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, reported Monday that a 19-year-old playing Pokémon Go was nearly abducted, because her would-be captors thought she’d be too distracted to see them coming. She wasn’t, and ran away.

But Pokémon players, and parents of players, said the game is a wonder. It’s the first really popular video game that’s drawing kids and young adults outdoors. And since Pokémon has been around for so long, many parents already play and will happily go outside with their children.

The quest for creatures like these, seen Monday on an iPhone, is driving millions of gamers outdoors.

The quest for creatures like these, seen Monday on an iPhone, is driving millions of gamers outdoors. Photo by Katherine Lee/Staff Editor

At Deering Oaks in Portland on Monday, Hawk Reynoso of Scarborough was walking toward a 4-foot-wide tree near the playground holding out his phone and talking to his stepchildren, 8-year-old Ethan Kespert and 10-year-old Kaelyn Kespert.

“Oh, there’s another Eevee, can you get it?” said Reynoso, 30, referring to one of the Pokémon characters collected during the game. “Oh, there’s another one, see it?”

Reynoso, who works helping to produce concerts at the State Theatre in Portland, said he loves the fact that he and his whole family could be outside playing a video game together. His wife and baby daughter were with them.

He said that he and his wife have a hard time sometimes getting Ethan to go outdoors, but not since Pokémon Go came out.

“I like being outside anyway, and I grew up playing Pokémon, so the fact that we can all come out and play this is great,” Reynoso said.

He also likes the fact that there are no guns, no explosions, no overt violence. You do have to throw a Pokeball at some characters to catch them, and you do have to “battle” some other characters to get power, but there’s no blood. Pretty mundane stuff in the world of gaming. The object of the game, very broadly, is to travel around and collect characters.

Reynoso and his family don’t need three iPhones to play. They had one phone, which provided wireless Internet to two iPads.

HEADING TO THE HOT SPOTS

People all around southern Maine were talking Monday about seeing people walking around with phones over the weekend. There were some hot spots – places with more Pokémon characters, or balls, or “gyms” to gain power from battling.

Baxter Woods, the Back Cove path, several areas of Deering Oaks, and even Congress Street near Congress Square were attracting a lot of Pokémon Go activity.

At least three Facebook pages dedicated to Pokémon Go in Maine or Portland had sprung up by Monday. Players could go to the group Portland Maine Pokémon Go and find such helpful information as “There are four fresh lures in Lincoln Park right now. Almost quit my job to stay.” (Lures attract the characters that players need to collect). Someone else on the page reported seeing “tons” of Pokémon at the University of New England campus in Portland.

The Bangor Police Department took to social media Monday to address the Pokémon Go madness, with a little gentle humor. The post reminded people that the game is not “intended to be used while driving” and that if they are walking around Bangor while playing, they should remember to stop before crossing a street.

“Drivers do not know you are playing Pokémon,” it read. The post also said that someone could be charged for “distracted driving” if caught playing behind the wheel.

Kaelyn Kespert, 10, of Scarborough plays Pokemon Go at Deering Oaks on Monday. Kaelyn was playing with his stepfather and his 8-year-old brother. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Kaelyn Kespert, 10, of Scarborough plays Pokemon Go at Deering Oaks on Monday. Kaelyn was playing with his stepfather and his 8-year-old brother.
Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The game, like many video games, seems to be addictive. But maybe that’s not so bad if it forces you to walk 4 miles or so. That was the case for Raivon Morrigan, 26, who walked from his home near the Portland International Jetport to Deering Oaks on Monday, playing Pokémon Go the whole way.

As he stood near a grove of trees not far from the park’s stage, Morrigan waved a finger furiously on his screen as his phone made a variety of sounds, from “whoosh” to “whirr” to “sloosh.”

He could see on his screen that this was a hot area, where there were lots of “lures” to attract characters. To capture the characters, on his screen, he had to throw Pokeballs at them by swiping his finger across his phone screen.

“I’ve been having trouble with some of these; you have to throw sort of a curve ball to get them,” said Morrigan, who works as a cook and dishwasher at Cracker Barrel in South Portland.

Morrigan says one of Pokémon’s appeals, even when it was a game, was that it took the player on a mystical journey to find and collect cuddly creatures – and not-so-cuddly ones. Now Pokémon Go takes players on an actual journey at the same time.

PLAYERS MEETING PLAYERS

Morrigan said that by Monday, he had been to several areas where he met other players. That’s another difference between Pokémon Go and indoor games. Players get to meet other players, face to face, just by playing the game.

Jason Welborn of Cape Elizabeth has been playing Pokémon Go the past few days with his 7-year-old daughter, Amelia. He says Amelia is not easily persuaded to go on walks around the neighborhood with him and his wife, but Pokémon Go is changing that.

Welborn’s perspective on the game is a little different from that of most parents He runs his own computer animation firm, and creates animation and animated graphics for documentaries, TV shows and commercials. He thinks that using augmented reality to make a video game happen in the player’s real-time environment could change how players, and game companies, view video games. There are other augmented reality games out there, but none with a widely recognized name like Pokémon.

“I don’t know if it will be Facebook big, but I think it could change things,” said Welborn. “I swear everywhere I go I see people playing it.”

If you do see someone playing, better make sure they see you. Or stay out of their way.