Outside Florida International University’s Graham Center, David Mitchell didn’t look up from his phone screen.
Like many of the other students walking around the campus Monday afternoon, the 23-year-old statistics senior was engrossed in Pokémon Go, waiting to spot an elusive Pokémon character. For the third day, he had staked out a spot in search of Squirtle, a turtle-like Pokémon he had already failed to catch five times.
But this time, with a few flicks of his index finger, he captured it.
“Finally,” Mitchell said, doubling over in relief as he celebrated. “My day is made from that Squirtle.”
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Seconds later, the Graham Center doors behind him burst open and three students rushed out.
“Is there a Squirtle here?” one asked.
Mitchell and many of his college-age peers in Miami grew up playing Pokémon — the Nintendo Game Boy video games, the TV show, the trading cards. And now Pokémon Go, the free augmented-reality app, is giving them the chance to not only capture Pokémon in the physical world, but tap into the nostalgia of their childhoods.
“It has an emotional attachment,” Mitchell said. “It’s just feeding off the original game, and the original game was the biggest game there was.”
Pokémon Go, released Wednesday in the United States, maintains some of the original game’s features, like collecting the Pokemon characters and battling for control of gyms across the game. But with the augmented reality aspect of Pokémon Go, the digital creatures are layered into the physical world on your phone screen, with Pikachus and Charmanders appearing in grocery store carts, bathrooms and car dashboards, and players are now battling for control of gyms at local landmarks like parks and fountains.
The only way to reach the Pokémon, the PokéGyms and Pokéstops — places to pick up items — is by going to the locations themselves. Anything from a manatee-shaped mailbox in Cutler Bay to Club Pink Pussycat, a closed strip club near Miami International Airport, can hide Pokémon, rewards and boosts, or a gym to battle other people’s Pokémon. (Elsewhere, the White House and the Pentagon are Pokémon gyms, and hundreds of players have fanned out across Central Park in New York City in search of Pokémon.)
Some police departments are asking Pokémon Go fans to be aware of their surroundings — some people have apparently walked out on to the street without watching for traffic as they peer at their phones — and not using the app while driving.
As of Monday afternoon the app had soared to the top of the download charts. Nintendo Co. shares had surged by 25 percent in Tokyo, adding $9 billion worth of market value, the Wall Street Journal reported. The app was created by both Nintento and software company Niantic Inc.
While Mitchell has already collected 123 different types of the 250 Pokémon characters available, he feels he has been less productive when it comes to his daily responsibility, and he’s heard of people staying out until 7 a.m. searching for the creatures.
“For the person who plays all the time, I think it’s going to be a problem,” he said. “But people have been addicted to video games before and have gotten work done. It’s up to them.”
Joe Desch, 28, and Ernesto Columbiet, 26, both pushed aside academic responsibility Monday afternoon in favor of Pokémon. Columbiet had an FIU new student orientation course to take online, and Desch hadn’t started the 2,000 word paper on a classic film that’s due Tuesday.
Instead, they were searching for Pokémon in Miami Springs’ Circle Park, each carrying nearly a gallon of water in CamelBak packs. The two men had used the backpacks before as Marine Corps sergeants, serving together in the Pacific, and they now brought them out again to stay hydrated in the heat.
“Why not? That’s what life is — adventures,” Columbiet said. Earlier in the day, he had walked into a government immigration services building just to capture a Pokemon his phone sensed inside.
Desch said nostalgia was what got him playing when the game was released Thursday.
“I was pretty excited when it came out,” the 28-year-old said. “You get to live the show.”
They planned on finishing their respective assignments when their phone batteries gave out. But later on, Columbiet said, they’d probably join other people in a nighttime search for Pokémon (some Pokémon are nocturnal).
“It’s addicting,” he said.
Mitchell got involved in a similar night search Sunday walking home on campus. He said he counted 300 people gathered in front of the FIU library, helping each other find Pokemon in the area.
“Someone would yell ‘Venusaur!’ and everyone would run,” he said.
Compared to the original games, Mitchell prefers the interactive nature of Pokémon Go and being able to work together with strangers.
“To see others doing the same thing, it’s encouraging,” he said. “It’s the energy of the crowd, feeling like you belong. The hype of the moment draws everyone in.”
That’s why FIU freshman Jenny Tran convinced her roommate, 18-year-old Phoenix Ream, to download the game and play with her. It’s been motivation for the two girls to close Netflix, leave their dorms and explore campus more during their first semester of college.
“Now I want go out,” Ream said. “I want to walk around and interact with new people.”
But most of all, it brings back emotion from their childhood.
“It relates to a lot of childhood memories,” Tran said. “I hope it doesn’t die out.”