Since the launch of Pokemon Go on July 6, kids nationwide have taken to the streets of their neighborhoods on a quest to catch as many Pokemon characters as they can.

The app, which is available for download on Apple and Android devices, is a free game developed by Niantic Inc. and The Pokemon Company where players can capture, battle and train virtual Pokemon characters on mobile devices as they appear to be placed in the real world. 

The app is a location-based augmented reality game relying on GPS and camera features, leading players to travel with their devices and find virtual Pokemon on their screens as they pass real-life landmarks including parks, shopping centers and other public places.

Across Riverside and North Riverside, kids of all ages have spent the past few weeks walking around outside staring down at their mobile devices on the hunt for Pokemon.

In North Riverside, 16-year-old Gabriella Watylyk decided to give the app a try after being a Pokemon fan for many years.

“I played the video games, collected the cards and watched the TV show as a kid, so when Pokemon Go came out, it was like you get to relive your childhood,” Watylyk said. “And, you get to experience it for yourself, not just through a screen.”

Since the app’s launch, Watylyk has played both by herself and with friends while walking and biking. While she’s had luck finding many Pokemon in North Riverside, she has also ventured out into neighboring communities including LaGrange and Brookfield.

“Depending on what area you’re in, you can find different types of Pokemon,” she explained. “For me personally, I like to go around the forest preserve and right by the creek because then you can find a bunch of water Pokemon.”

Fellow North Riversider Chloe Floros never really gave Pokemon much thought until the app was released but says so far, she has enjoyed getting to know how the Pokemon world works.

“I started playing it because it seemed like fun,” 12-year-old Floros said. “Everyone was doing it and I thought it would be a good way to get exercise and do something fun.”

Like Watylyk, Floros says she has ventured outside North Riverside to mix up how she plays the game and even checks to see what characters she can catch while being a passenger in her sister’s car. 

She also particularly enjoys how the app is a great way for people to get off the couch and get some exercise.

“I like that it gets people to go outside. It’s interesting how you can actually walk outside to places,” she said.

Because of recent stories regarding players getting into dangerous situations while playing from ignoring their surroundings, including Riverside police ushering a group of boys away from the Des Plaines River last Wednesday, Floros says she remains vigilant of where she is while playing.

“I feel like if I did see a stop that was close to the river, I don’t think it’d be worth it and I’d just rather stay away and go somewhere where it’s much more safe,” Floros said.

An experienced Pokemon gamer, 11-year-old Alex Hrody of Riverside says he also practices caution when playing around town, especially since his younger brother, Daniel, usually accompanies him.

“We’ve been watching where we’re going,” Hrody said.

Dangers aside, Hrody remains amazed like Watylyk with how the game makes you feel like you’re immersed in the Pokemon world.

“I like how it’s so interactive with the world,” he said. “In the Nintendo DS games, you’re in this different world, but I like how in this game, it’s in your world.”

But, like all new things, Pokemon Go has come with some notable troubles, including problems with loading.

“There are a lot of bugs because it’s new, so it glitches out sometimes, but I’m sure that as the game is around longer, they’ll fix it,” Watylyk said. 

Hrody said he has only run into minor issues with the app.

“Sometimes, when you throw the Poke Ball, it will sometimes lag and you have to reset the app,” he said.

However, for the rest of the summer, it seems the area’s youngest residents will continue virtually training to become the best Pokemon masters they can be.