Our intern, Natalie DeFord, has caught the bug. This is her account of playing Pokemon Go, the now-viral augmented reality mobile game released by Nintendo just one week ago.

As midnight hits, I walk through my the front door and finally look up from my cellphone. I’ve been mindlessly wandering around Lakewood in the dark for hours searching for rare Pokemon. Even better, I check my pedometer and discover I accidentally walked 10.5 miles.

I hunted for Pokemon on a morning stroll, while at Safeway, at Target, in my backyard, and on a long exploration of the neighborhood with my roommate. (It was nice to spend so much time with her!)

The next day – a work day! – I clocked 7 miles.

My first Charmander! Screen capture by Natalie Deford.

My first Charmander! Screen capture by Natalie Deford.

Since I downloaded Pokemon Go, each day has been similar. I didn’t jump on the bandwagon until July 7 and then only after I gave in to my friends who were insisting I play. I’m not sure why it took so much convincing, but my life essentially has since revolved around the game. I can’t stop thinking about it.

I set up my account and was so excited to see a Charmander appear in my living room. Thanks, augmented reality! I found several Pokemon at my night job and continued to play when my shift ended, exploring Downtown Tacoma until the wee hours of the morning.

It’s not like me to “accidentally” walk 10 miles or spend the whole day exploring the outdoors, but that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. It’s my latest obsession and people say my inner geek is showing. But I’m not alone.

The game has been downloaded approximately 7.5 million times and was churning up some $1.6 million in daily revenue within four days of launch. That success hits close to home since The Pokemon Company International and Nintendo of America are headquartered in Bellevue and Redmond, respectively.

Such popularity has sent Nintendo shares skyrocketing and raised the company’s net worth by more than $9 billion.

The game has been so popular that servers have been slow, even kicking people off at times, and causing some frustration. I lost several good catches that way, but luckily a few updates since have rolled out.

Masses of people are taking to the street on the hunt. Everywhere you go, you’ll find hunters in strange places at all hours staring at their phones, even more than usual, and walking like zombies.

IMG_5491My friends and I – and all of the other players – have been stopped by police or security several times. Polices getting lots of phone calls reporting suspicious activity lately, but that they’re usually relieved it’s just the “Pokemon apocalypse.”

Police around the country are issuing warnings about distracted driving and being aware of your surroundings. A sign in San Francisco says “Pokemon Go is a no-go when driving.” Many people already have reported injuries and car crashes. Firefighters speculate that two people walked off a cliff while playing the game in San Diego. People are catching Pokemon at work, in the bathroom, at night, and while hiking.

I even hit up a Pokestop in Downtown Bellevue while on assignment this week.

Many people are praising the game for its unexpected health benefits, such as being happier from spending more time outside or walking more. There are some pretty inspirational stories out there, and several friends of mine are claiming to have lost weight.

Personally, I feel pretty great. Aside from being slightly freaked out by my obvious addiction to the playing the game around the clock, I’m very happy with how much time I spent outside, my increased activity level, meeting new people, and discovering new locations in my community. There’s even a sense of victory every time I successfully hunt down and catch something cool.

It’s amazing that we can play this game everywhere and with everyone. The sense of community it has created is a beautiful thing. The game is a great conversation starter and it’s uniting people who want to share tips and tricks and plan group Pokemon excursions. I’ve been spending more time with my friends, especially my roommates. We have a friendly competition going.

While two friends wandered the neighborhood, my roommates and I were so excited to have caught a Squirtle. We thought we’d beaten the boys we compete with, who put in a tremendous effort to catch water Pokemon that day.

On the hunt for water Pokemon. Photo by Natalie DeFord.

In an effort to catch water Pokemon, they patched up an old canoe, created makeshift paddles out of plywood, protected their cellphones in plastic baggies and Tupperware in order to float on Steilacoom Lake. Sadly, they didn’t catch a single water Pokemon. But they were back on dry land by the time we’d caught the Squirtle, and they caught it, too.

There are three teams in the game and my roommates and I are on the red team, Valor. We work together as a squad to try to take over a Pokemon Gym. The teams have a lot of people creating cliques. There are many Facebook groups and community groups to connect with people on your team playing the game in your area.

That’s just one way the game has taken over social media. People are posting about it non-stop and there are memes everywhere. I couldn’t possibly escape all the talk about this game if I wanted to. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are even trying to use the game to catch voters.

There’s a big focus on real-life pets, too, in contrast to these fake creatures. People are taking dogs on more walks because they are walking more. It’s crazy how many people I’ve seen blindly walking with their phones in one hand and a leashed pet or a stroller in the other hand. Several animal shelters have started asking people to walk dogs for them while they play.

That’s just one example of how a business can benefit. Some places have seen a rise in sales by paying for lures at Pokestops nearby. The same method reportedly has been used in some cases to rob people, though. So you have to be careful when you travel, searching far and wide across the land.

When a stop is glowing pink with a lure, my squad and I do run to it. And it’s amazing how many players you will see there. I’m only slightly embarrassed to say I’m more excited about how many fictional creatures I have saved in my phone than I am about anything else.

But in the seven days of playing Pokemon Go, I have learned essentially one thing – people are crazy.

I don’t know how long my obsession will last, but right now I am having fun. I’ve been playing this game 24/7 and I’m not going to stop until I catch ’em all.