HUNTINGTON - For decades, video games have been decried as a major enabler to an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle, with serious players often caricatured as solitary basement-dwellers.
As "Pokemon Go" continues its success - obvious by the increase in pedestrian foot traffic - Tri-State groups are at work organizing the worldwide phenomenon into public meetups, bringing hundreds of local gamers into the light and face-to-face like no other video game has before.
When The Standard Nerds, a group of local pop culture bloggers in Huntington, put out a Facebook event for local "Pokemon Go" players to meet up for some casual hunting Friday evening at Ritter Park, they weren't expecting much. What they got, as TSN member Adam Kipp said, blew them away.
"When we made the event we thought maybe upwards of 50 people would come out," Kipp said Saturday via Facebook. "But what we got was closer to 500."
With around eight PokeStops, which are real-world public landmarks players must approach to collect helpful in-game items, Ritter Park is prime Pokemon-hunting territory. Despite damages and some impassibility caused by Thursday night's flash flooding, hundreds of Pokemon "trainers" turned out to the casual event for nothing more than the camaraderie in the world's hottest game.
"Our biggest expectations for these events are to provide the Pokemon trainers of our area an environment to be around like-minded individuals and have an enjoyable experience while playing the game," Kipp said. "It also helps to get people out and enjoy the different parts of our beautiful region."
The next local "Pokemon Go" meetup organized by The Standard Nerds will be 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 22-23, at Harris Riverfront Park and the surrounding area, which features around 20 PokeStops and a handful of Pokemon Gyms, real-world landmarks which players battle over for control.
The meetup runs concurrent with the Huntington Classic Regatta, also at Harris Riverfront Park over the weekend. In the game's spirit of exploration, Kipp said he hopes players experience a local event they would have otherwise likely never seen.
"We think the game is an awesome way to introduce people to these types of events. Encouraging people to get out and 'catch them all' is already inspiring people to check out places they've not been to on a regular basis," Kipp said. "We think that catching Pokemon is just the added bonus on top of getting to experience some of the rich, cultural events in our town."
During the meetup, The Standard Nerds will also have its Mobile Pokemon Center, which offers free sunscreen, bug spray and water to players, set up at Heritage Station. Kipp added the group hopes to host future events at Pullman Square, Marshall University, Barboursville, and other places across the Tri-State.
Follow reporter Bishop Nash on Twitter at @BishopNash.