A wild Oddish wanders down Lincoln Street. Photo by KCAW/Katherine Rose

A zombie horde has taken to Sitka’s streets. But instead of hunting for blood, they’re using their smartphones to capture creatures, with names like Pikachu and Charmander. KCAW’S Katherine Rose went out into the night to figure out how to play like a Pokemon master.

Downloadable audio.

So I’m standing outside of the radio station. It’s dark out. There’s a single security light casting a yellow glow on the pavement. And in the shadows, I see a group of guys huddled next to a large, black dumpster. A police officer pulls up. Rolls down his window, and sticks his head out. He knows what they’re up to.

“You guys playing Pokemon GO?” he asks.

(Pokemon theme song rises)

Pokemon GO is based on an incredibly popular Japanese franchise. There are video games and trading cards, TV shows and toys. And now, there’s a game for smart phones that’s taking the world – and Sitka – by storm.

“I’d say the best thing I’ve caught is a high level squirtle.”

“Downtown is pretty lousy with pigeons and rats.”

“I caught a Pikachu. I was leaving work, and there was group of people and they were like ‘There’s a Pikachu behind Ernie’s!’ and I was like well I might as well follow this crowd.”

But what IS Pokemon GO, exactly?

It’s a game for your smart phone, that brings together GPS and camera technology. You’re a Pokemon trainer. You walk around on what is essentially a colorful google map of your location, looking for little creatures known as Pokemon. They appear on your screen as they would in real life. When you get close to one, your phone buzzes.

(Buzz sound)

Using your finger, you swipe the screen. This flicks a Pokeball at the Pokemon, and if your aim is good the Pokemon is yours! You can use it to fight other Pokemon and claim gyms. There are gyms at the Russian Orthodox Church, at SEARHC, even at the post office. But what’s the app user’s biggest battle in Sitka?

“Well you’re fighting for 4G access when the tourist are here…and then you’re fighting the entire world to get on the servers,” says Josh Joseph. He plays in his spare time, and as an assessor in city hall he can’t fully escape the allure of the little critters.

“There’s a gym right above my office. During a break I’ll check just to see who owns it. It’s not enough time to fight it. Usually at night time is when the servers get good, you’ll see a lot of people wandering around town trying to battle those things,” says Joseph.

And, in fact, there’s a cluster of kids outside city hall. They weren’t super into talking to me. They were just trying to catch all of the Squirtles. But there are other benefits to using Pokemon Go. Namely, that it forces you to move.

“You can hatch eggs which are based off of kilometers that you walk. It’s kind of a fitness app in a way. I’ve seen people geek out just as hard for a Fitbit or any other fitness app,” says Joseph.

Not everyone feels so fondly about the app, though. At the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, when the app was released, phone-use skyrocketed. And that is a problem, says Autumn McCumiskey, the camp’s director of students, because phones generally aren’t allowed during class time.

“Every time I went into the counseling office, it was Pokemon this, and wiggly hoo-haa is doing this thing,” says McCumiskey. “It just felt like it was something that was taking over every conversation. It felt like instead of talking about “what did you paint today, or how did your dance class go, or did you finally stick that mount in partner acrobatics, it was ‘have you seen that Orthodox Church Gym? Isn’t that funny?”

McCumiskey adds that the app was released during the high school camp, which is a bit more relaxed,  But the camp is cracking down on game use this week, for a camp-wide production of Guys and Dolls. Here’s student Jack Hale.

“I downloaded it, and it took, like, an hour because “Sitka” and it’s been really fun. There’s been a lot of opportunity to play it, but then again you’re constantly in rehearsal, doing stuff. When you come to Sitka, Musical Theater, everyone is really sort of devoted to be there, so you don’t want to waste time on your phone.”

There’s one place the campers probably won’t be going though, and it’s unfortunate because it seems like it’s chock full of Snorlax and Jigglypuffs.

Joseph: “If we go near Ernie’s, I’m sure we’ll find something.”

KCAW:  “Why Ernies?”

Joseph: “I don’t know, they’re just lousy birds that like to hang out at bars, I guess.”

So if you’re looking for a beer and a Pidgey, maybe you could kill two birds with one stone…or capture two Pokemon with one flick of the wrist.