Pokemon Go screenshot

“Seriously, why does Columbus have so many Drowzees?”

Layered over our city is another reality, a virtual world of Pikachus and Squirtles and… lots and LOTS of Drowzees, for some reason. (What’re you implying about Columbus, Niantec?) The Grandview post office is now a Pokemon gym, complete with twenty-somethings hanging around outside defending it. Short North wall murals are now Pokestops. Public spaces like Mirror Lake and Goodale Park are full of gyms, Pokestops, and newly-minted Pokemon trainers. And all over the city, people are walking around looking at their phones even more than usual.

Pokemon Go, a new mobile game from Nintendo and Augmented Reality Game pioneers Niantec Labs, was a massive hit from the moment it launched. And for good reason: For a generation of gamers, going out into the real world in search of Pokemon has been a lifelong dream. And at the low, low price of Free (with microtransactions) there’s little to stop anyone with an interest from downloading the game and playing along.

Here in Columbus, we’re lucky to have an abundance of the sort of landmarks that get pegged to be Pokestops and gyms. In order to figure out the most likely places to find them, it’s important to understand how those landmarks are chosen.

Prior to getting involved with Pokemon, Niantic made another phone-based ARG called Ingress. That game requires players to capture portals that appear in real-life places of cultural significance: statues, street art, public buildings, unique shops and restaurants, and similar locations. In addition to the obvious landmarks, players can submit local attractions that they feel are worthy of inclusion.

Here’s the trick: Pokemon Go uses the exact same location map as Ingress.

So the best places in Columbus to walk around collecting Pokeballs are the ones known for art and culture. High St. through the Short North is lined with Pokestops, as is Grandview Ave. between W. 5th and W. 1st. They’re plentiful both on campus and in the Downtown area.

The downside is that, like so many other things, this leaves some neighborhoods behind. Neighborhoods where people feel comfortable walking around pointing their phones at random things, where more money is available for public art and buildings, are going to be a lot better served for this game than others. Bexley, for instance, has a whole lot more Pokespots than Whitehall.

It also highlights who is safe being and congregating in public spaces. In the middle of a hotter-than-usual summer, it’s tempting to wait until after dark to go out looking for Pokemon, but this can be dangerous for women playing alone. Black men are already at greater risk of being targeted by the police, and that risk increases when a group of them get together to claim a gym for their team. Muslim players pointing their phones at public buildings risk being harassed under the guise of suspicion of “terrorism” when they really just wanted to catch that Pidgey on the State House lawn. For those in marginalized groups, especially those who are often targeted by law enforcement, playing Pokemon Go can quite simply be dangerous.

But so long as you know your rights and stay aware of your surroundings, Pokemon Go is a fun way to get out into the city and get to know your home a little better.