NEW YORK >> Devin Reams stepped out of the bar where his girlfriend works into the afternoon heat. He walked near the intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Broadway in Brooklyn, a hot zone for addicts whose overdoses from the drug K2 brought ambulances and the police in swarms last week.
But it was not drugs that Reams was looking for. It was something harder to find in the area — a character called a Charmander that he was trying to capture while playing Pokemon Go.
“It’s a nice distraction from what’s going on outside,” Reams, 22, a musician, said on Thursday.
The game has proved an instant phenomenon, sending players into the streets with their smartphones in search of creatures called Pokemon. They visit virtual “Pokestops,” fixed locations, often linked to landmarks, where players can gather items used in the game, and “gyms,” where they can join teams and train and battle Pokémon.
There are Pokestops and gyms in every neighborhood in New York City, and countless cheery little Pokemon to capture, animated and flying or bouncing on a phone’s camera screen with the real world in the background.
That real world includes spots like this corner on the border of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, where the sight of addled men and women passed out, nodding off or stumbling has become so common that they have gotten a nickname: “zombies.” On Tuesday, 33 people from the area were hospitalized after overdosing on what the police described as a bad batch of K2, or “spice.” The police raided five bodegas suspected of selling K2 the following day, but found none of the drug.
At the same time, the police issued an advisory to Pokemon Go players to be alert at all times and aware of their surroundings. The corner where Reams was on Thursday would seem like a place to be avoided if possible, but he said otherwise.
“There are a lot of Pokestops in the area,” he said. “At night, it’s a little bit unsafe. You can find yourself in a tough situation, especially right there at that corner.”
Another player, Joshua Talton, 29, said he regularly paused outside a pizzeria near the corner to pull out his phone and collect a few Pokeballs, which are used to catch the creatures, on the way to the Myrtle Avenue subway station, a Pokestop.
“You see people with their phones out and addicts there,” he said. “They don’t bother each other. We occupy the same space.”
Pokémon turn up in other unlikely locations.
Visitors at the police tow pound in Manhattan seeking to reclaim their vehicles may be pleasantly surprised to find that the lot, on 12th Avenue by the Hudson River, is a Pokemon gym as well as a Pokéstop. I was there on Friday and scooped up a creature called a Magikarp nearby.
Another place one would not associate with smartphone games, or smartphones at all, since they are forbidden: Rikers Island. But there is a Pokestop at the entrance to the bridge to the jail complex, and relatives visiting inmates can pause there for Pokeballs.
There is even a Pokemon Go gym just outside the visitor parking lot. The Q100 bus stops at the lot to take visitors onto the island, and I boarded it on Thursday. I passed the time waiting for the return bus by capturing, against a background of barbed-wire fencing, a Paras and a Pinsir. (“Congratulations!” the screen read. “You earned a medal!”) I also encountered a Tentacool, a creature that loosely resembles a jellyfish. It escaped.
A Rikers employee, leaving the island, shook her head upon hearing that the entrance to the jail was a part of Pokemon Go. “People are going to be bringing their phones inside?” she said. “They’re going to get arrested.”
It is not difficult to identify people playing Pokemon Go, with their telltale start-and-stop pace and swipes on their phone screens. In Brooklyn, Vincent Nardone, 24, a concert promoter, paused at a Pokestop at Bushwick Avenue and Jefferson Street and pointed to a creature flying on his screen, above the sidewalk. “That’s a Zubat,” he said.
A block away, a group of people had gathered outside one of the bodegas raided on Wednesday. They were not playing Pokemon Go. “No more spice!” they chanted. “Spice kills!”
Talton, who grew up in the neighborhood and discusses current events on a podcast called Public Service Announcement, said he recently saw a sort of parity on the streets he called “our skid row.”
“You see people of all different races playing Pokemon Go,” he said. “You see people of all different races passed out.”