RIO DE JANEIRO – Forget beach volleyball, soccer or tennis, not to mention the steeplechase or discus. “Pokemon Go” is challenging the Olympics for most popular game among some young Brazilians.
Hundreds of them turned out in a Rio de Janeiro park on Saturday holding their mobile phones to hunt for virtual creatures in the hyper-reality game app that has become a craze in Brazil since its release two days before the Games.
“I went to a soccer game to see Brazil play Sweden, but after ‘Pokemon Go’ started I lost interest,” said student Lourdes Drummond at the Quinta da Boa Vista park, once the gardens of the Brazilian royal family.
The blockbuster game developed by Niantic, in which Nintendo Co. has a large stake, uses augmented reality and GPS mapping to make animated characters appear in the real world. Players see creatures overlaid on the nearby landscape that they see through a mobile phone camera.
Brazil’s third-largest mobile phone company, Claro, estimates that close to 2 million of its users have downloaded the game just in the Rio area since it was released on Aug. 3. An executive of the company owned by Carlos Slim’s America Movil said more than half of those users had been inside or near Olympic venues hunting for Pokemon characters.
As Rio residents rode paddle boats on the lake of the Boa Vista park, youths explored the grounds seeking the Dragon Knight and other prized Pokemon characters to add to their collection. They huddled in the shade of the 19th-century royal palace to swap tips.
“There is no interest in the Olympics here, just how to get to the next stop where there are the most Pokemon,” said sociologist, Joao Carlos Barssani, 31, himself joining the hunt.
When a boy shouted “I found one!” dozens sprinted after him in pursuit.
It may not be a physical sport, but the novelty of “Pokemon Go” is the mobility involved compared to traditional video games. You have to get up and go outside to search your city cellphone in hand to accumulate as many characters as you can.
“Before I never left home. Now every time my mother wants me to do any shopping, I’m out the door,” said Rafael Moura Barros, an IT student who believes the game will help reduce obesity in Brazil.
Barssani said the game was changing the way Brazilian were using their urban space in cities long plagued with high crime rates. People are frequenting parks and squares that had been abandoned for fear of getting mugged, he said.
“It’s good to have lots of people around you, so your phone doesn’t get robbed,” said student Leonardo Perreira.