How does Pokemon Go know about all these cool spots in Denver?

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo

The cool new thing to do is wander around your city collecting Pokemon monsters, which you can locate using the most popular app of the moment, Pokemon Go. Everybody knows that.

Everybody also knows that Pokemon for some reason like to congregate at unique local spots, like Union Station. Why is that?

Wait, what?

Pokemon Go is a mobile app that creates an “augmented reality.” Essentially, the game’s characters reside at real-world locations.

You can only see them if you bring your phone to the actual place where they virtually are. Aim your phone’s camera at the right spot, and you’ll see the Pokemon overlaid on the physical world.

Like this!

The Pokemon themselves seem to turn up fairly randomly, but you’ll also be looking for PokeStops, which provide supplies. These PokeStops tend to be specific places in the real world. Some are really obvious landmarks, but others are remarkably subtle spots.

Murals and street art are a frequent choice, as are public buildings, such as the Downtown Denver Public Library. I’ve seen reports of Pokemon at Denver International Airport.

OK, so why does Pokemon Go know my own city better than me?

Pokemon Go is active in cities all over the world, and it would have been impossible for Niantic Labs, the developer, to manually select so many points of interest.

Instead, the game’s developer did something really clever. They convinced thousands of people to create the map for them – by playing an entirely separate game.

That game, called Ingress, challenged players to identify interesting spots and then compete virtually to control them. The game seems to have been popular in Denver.

Not so much anymore, but all those players left behind a valuable bunch of data about interesting spots. It’s also worth noting that Niantic Labs once was a part of Google, and Google invested in the company’s latest venture round.

A Pokestop along Cherry Creek in Denver, as shown in the app Pokemon Go.

A Pokestop along Cherry Creek in Denver, as shown in the app Pokemon Go.

This clever combination of virtual and real is getting people into the city.

Pokemon Go is a very unusual video game. Its connection to the physical world means that it plays very differently depending on where you are, and that gives players a reason to explore. Just in the process of writing this, I was compelled to go check out a sculpture near our office that I’d simply passed by dozens of times already.

Because it’s a large city, Denver has more points of interests than many of its neighbors or rural areas. People are coming downtown specifically for Pokemon.

The same areas that naturally attract people and events – like 16th Street Mall – now have gained this strange extra virtual layer.

The best way to explore is to go outside.

Seriously, the app is free, trends are fun – just get it. Especially in central Denver, the app should give you all the tools you need to find Pokemon.

However, if you need a little boost, the Denver Post is compiling a map, embedded below, of Pokemon spots around Denver. (They also have a full article on the phenomenon here.) It’s built off of user suggestions, so it’s incomplete, but it will get you started.

Polygon also has a guide to getting a more complete map, but it sounds like a pain.

Meanwhile, we’ll be waiting to hear the most unusual Pokemon stories to emerge from Denver. Let me know: