Pokémon Go captures Orlando’s heart and makes a brutal summer a little sweeter

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Pokémon Go captures Orlando’s heart and makes a brutal summer a little sweeter

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You see the City Beautiful, and the trainers who call it home, differently after playing Pokémon Go, through a more intimate, wondrous lens. Last year, the swan boats were just an innocuous swatch of downtown Orlando's cultural wallpaper. Now I'm Googling "swan boat rentals" on my lunch break. When someone strikes up conversation at a bar, I don't fumble for a reply: I ask what they've caught today.

Orlandoans needed this game. Given the hellish summer Orlando has endured – a barrage of deranged gunmen locally and public executions by and of policemen nationally – it would be insulting to declare Pokémon Go part of the zeitgeist. But Niantic's little phenomenon gives trainers a staycation from a month's worth of abominable push notifications and Facebook newsfeeds. We couldn't have asked for a sweeter reprieve, or a better reminder that we share so much in common.

A Pokémon Go event at Cranes Roost Park on Sunday, July 10, attracted more than 1,200 trainers. A Lake Eola Park meet-up scheduled for Saturday, July 30 [UPDATED: The event organizer contacted us July 24 to say that this meet-up has been rescheduled to Sept. 24], is expected to draw more than 1,300 people – all to play a far-from-perfect (if not glitch-ridden) mobile game together. Pokémon Go's server crashes, battery drain and finicky GPS have become memes in their own right. Tech bloggers like Adam Reeve have raised concerns about Go's protections against cybercriminals, branding the mobile game "a huge security risk." The Buzzfeed News article "You Should Probably Check Your Pokémon Go Privacy Settings" posits that Niantic could read – and write! – Go players' emails, Google docs and more. And that doesn't even touch the public safety hazards a game like Go creates.

"I can't tell you how many people I've run into because they've stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to catch something," Austin says.

An overzealous trainer in Auburn, Alabama, slammed his car into a tree while catching and driving, according to USA Today. Two San Diego hikers went viral when they fell 50 feet off a cliff while playing Pokémon Go. The game's inherent risks and pitfalls are as exhaustive as a well-stocked Pokédex, but millions of people in our tumultuous world have spoken: We need this simple, saccharine thing for a while.

I leave the bar after hurling Pokéballs at a feisty Pikachu for a few minutes, taking a moment to watch a flock of pedal-powered swans glide toward the fountain. One of them slowly turns in my direction, its occupants obscured by the setting Florida sun, but the swan head-shaped bow locks eyes with me as if to say, "Life's a gift, love your neighbor, and you've gotta catch 'em all. Never forget that."

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