It’s 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning and my phone is blowing up with messages about a Pokémon Go raid.

A year after the release of this “free” mobile game, game developer Niantic and Pokemon creator Nintendo allowed players to catch “legendary” Pokémon through the use of gym “raids,” which involves cooperative play with several players. I’m rarely awake before 10 a.m. on Sundays, but here I am hopping in my car in hopes of catching an Articuno or a Lugia.

You may be asking yourself, “People still play Pokémon Go?” They absolutely do. The augmented reality game still sees an average of 5 million players each day and 65 million each month since the summer of 2016. In that time, the game has been downloaded 750 million times and generated a whopping $1.2 billion dollars and counting.

If you still doubt that people play Pokémon Go, go to Voinovich Park on a Friday night, a Pokemon hotspot where you can find several people with phones in hand cheering “gotcha!” after catching a rare monster.

Like many other players, I downloaded the game last summer in search of nostalgia. I loved the original Pokémon games in the ‘90s and dreamt what it would be like if the game was actually “real.” Pokémon Go was mainly a solo activity that I played while running, which I found myself doing more often with the game.

The introduction of raids allowed players to finally come together to achieve the common goal of fighting and catching hard-to-find or “legendary” Pokémon. One might think that just kids or nerdy dudes play Pokemon Go, but I learned of the diverse group of Pokémon masters out there at one of these raids.

Marjorie Preston, 45, a swim instructor and mom, often goes “raiding” with her daughter Emma, age 9. Preston enjoys the game because she is “competitive” and likes battling with and against friends, whereas her daughter simply likes to “just catch Pokémon.”

Preston prides herself as a “Poke Mom.” Pokémon Go raids often happen in odd locations or at businesses that may be bombarded with several people standing in a circle with their eyes on their phones. Preston reminds other players that life still occurs outside of Pokémon Go.

All players can agree that the game has forced them to go outside and walk more. “It gives me some motivation to go outside and walk around. I also get to see a lot of things that I might not otherwise have seen,” says Rachel Zimmerman, 24.

“You can’t get the full experience of the game by sitting on the couch,” adds B.J. Halsall, a 37-year-old professional actor.

The game may be a free-to-download game but many spend money on in-game coins to advance in the game quicker. When asked how much she has spent, Preston states, “Hundreds, sadly. If you include data plan, gas, power pack and cords, parking, and other expenses, it adds up.”

Alex Jordan, the highest-level player I have encountered in Cleveland, said he spent $2,500 so far on the game.

Pokémon Go can “give” and “take away” in the sense that all players can share great stories of catching a rare or strong monster and the Pokémon “that got away.”

If the game were to end tomorrow, Preston says, “My house would be cleaner. I’d sleep more. I would really miss it. The virtual world superimposed makes the real world more interesting.”

As we head into the fall, all players are excited for the big release of well known legendary Pokémon, Mewtwo. But will this game be replaced with another trendy fad?

“Yes, but it’s more than that,” Halsall shares. “It’s not like the slap bracelet I got in sixth grade, which I slapped to my wrist once and never used again. It’s a game that keeps giving, albeit too slowly for a majority of players, which is probably why it keeps dying and resurrecting.”

If you’ve never played Pokémon Go or any Pokémon game, treat yourself and ignore what others think. You don’t know what you’ll catch and which interesting people you’ll meet.

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