It’s easy to spot who’s playing the latest Pokémon craze on their smartphones. They walk in groups, heads down and eyes firmly affixed to their screens.
Pokémon Go, a new mobile game from former Google startup Niantic and video game giant Nintendo, has been a massive success since it debuted earlier this month.
And Pokémania has officially hit Riverhead and Southold, with hundreds of players scouring locations across the area for items and rare collectible creatures.
“It is incredibly addictive,” said 28-year-old Meaghan Sands of Astoria, Queens, as she played the game near the Mitchell Park carousel in Greenport. “This is something for our generation.”
What is Pokémon Go?
Pokémon Go is a mobile game users can download to play on their smartphones. The game uses “augmented reality” to make Pokémon — small, friendly creatures users can catch and collect — appear.
Unlike virtual reality games, which require bulky headsets, Pokémon Go uses a smartphone’s camera to capture live video of a player’s surroundings. The game then projects a digital Pokémon onto the screen, blending it with the environment to make it seem like the tiny monster is standing in front of the player.
The game also uses GPS mapping to track where players are in the world, showing them real-life places they can collect items and search for elusive Pokémon. Pokémon “gyms” are like forts players can attempt to claim for their team, battling other players’ Pokémon for control.
But players can work together, too. By adding a “lure” to one of the game’s locations, players can draw extra Pokémon to the location for all users to capture.
The game already has more active users than Twitter, and people spend more time on the app than on Facebook. The runaway success has made Nintendo’s stock rise nearly 50 percent since the game’s launch. It’s the app’s collaborative spirit that has drawn players out in droves to hotspots across the North Fork.
Along the Peconic River, Nick Shann, 25, of Westhampton was recently out with a friend, 20-year-old Sarah Cook of Wading River, collecting items at local stops. Mr. Shann has his own secret location for catching the rarest Pokémon, but he refused to share it.
“Don’t let people take my spot!” he told a reporter.
While they walked the Riverfront, Mr. Shann and Ms. Cook ran into another player: Ms. Cook’s best friend from high school, Sam Colt, 21, of Riverhead. Ms. Colt had run out of items to catch Pokémon and had gone downtown to hit all the stops.
Mr. Shann said he has yet to play the game without running into another player on the street.
“Every single time I go out alone, but I never end alone,” he said. “I see kids doing this, but I also see full-grown adults doing it. There was a father and a son over there; the son was fishing and the dad was catching Pokémon.”
Nearby, 23-year-old Kenny Sims was playing the game on a park bench, dropping lures for other players to attract more of the creatures.
“Everywhere I go, people are asking, ‘What’d you catch?’ ” he said. Even the town employees at the park were curious, he said. Mr. Sims, who grew up with the game, said he was surprised to see the once-popular fad make a comeback.
“It’s 2016 and our big thing is Pokémon,” he said.
Across the way, Mustafa Gulsen, owner of Turquaz Grill, said he saw 20 people in a group playing Pokémon on Monday.
“All of them were walking with their heads down,” he said with a laugh. Mr. Gulsen has no desire to play the app, but his 15-year-old son, Yunushan, sneaks down to the riverfront after working as a waiter in the restaurant to catch Pokémon.
In Greenport Village, 14-year-old Brandon Clark was walking with a group of four friends near Front Street, all playing Pokémon.
“It’s great because I have people on my team owning the gyms around my town,” he said. “You need to download the game; it’s great.”
So far, police in Riverhead and Southold haven’t reported any issues related to the game. But some say that while there are limits meant to prevent the game from working if players are driving, Pokémon Go may still be a distraction.
“It’s bad because I see much more people on their phones while they are driving,” said 17-year-old Liam McShane of Cutchogue, who was playing the game while walking a dog with a friend on Case’s Lane in Cutchogue. “I think they are catching Pokémon while they are driving.”
Libraries play along
On Wednesday, Rachel Johnson was playing the game near Cutchogue New Suffolk Library with her two children, Wiatt and Hannah. The Cutchogue resident had just downloaded the app that morning and was shocked by how many kids were out running around.
“It is crazy,” she said. “I think it’s fun, as long as they have supervision.”
Many of the North Fork’s libraries are locations or gyms in the game, making them popular with players. And now libraries are getting in on the fun.
In a Facebook post, Riverhead Free Library said players are welcome to “catch Pokémon while attending programs or grabbing some books, movies and music.”
A few hamlets away, at Mattituck-Laurel Library, the children’s department has 3-D-printed special badges to distribute to players who drop lures at the library’s stop.
Elizabeth Grohoski, who works in the department, said the badges are a unique design modeled after badges that are handed out in Pokémon games by “gym leaders.” Ms. Grohoski said the badges were just printed Wednesday.
The area around the library is popular with gamers, she said, since the parking lot at the church next door is a Pokémon gym.
“It’s actually kind of cool,” Ms. Grohoski said. “We’d be foolish not to take advantage of it.”
Ms. Grohoski said the library has other kinds of Pokémon material, like books and movies, for players who want to learn more about the game.
Even if they don’t read, she said, the library is letting players “interact with other people who are using the app in a safe environment.”
Ms. Grohoski said the library may also give badges to players who read or check out books.
“It’s a reward,” she said. “Anything to get them in the doors.”
Photo: (L-R) Nick Shann of Westhampton, Sarah Cook of Wading River and Sam Colt of Riverhead check their smartphones for Pokémon outside the Long Island Aquarium in downtown Riverhead Wednesday afternoon. (Credit: Paul Squire)