First published on GameSpot.
It was nine o'clock on a Wednesday night and dense crowds of people had gathered in a public park. The low rumble of casual conversation could be heard throughout, punctuated every ten minutes with a loud, excited cry of "Oh my god!"
It was not a festival. There was no special event happening. Hundreds of people had flocked to an otherwise ordinary park for the sole purpose of playing Pokemon Go. Named Peg Paterson Park, the area is located in a suburb named Rhodes, situated 30 minutes away from Sydney's central business district.
Described by its residents as a normally a quiet suburb primarily populated by families with young children, Rhodes saw an upsurge in visitors in the last few weeks thanks to Pokemon Go. And although the influx has since been stemmed with the removal of three PokeStops, the area is still recovering from the impact of the game.
Many players flocked to the area following reports that Peg Paterson Park was a hotspot of rare Pokemon--partly due to the three overlapping PokeStops which frequently had lures activated, creating an area nicknamed by players the "Safari Zone." Hundreds of people regularly turned up at the park despite the cold weather; Sydney is in the midst of winter, with reports that the city is being hit with near-record levels of cold spells.
GameSpot quizzed players in the park, with some claiming to have travelled more than 20 kilometres (12.5 miles) via public transport to scope out the area, drawn by the rumours of rare Pokemon in the area. The reputation of Rhodes as a Pokemon Go hub spread throughout Sydney via social media and mainstream news channels, which triggered an influx of new players.
"Around peak times, there [were] so many people in the park that they spill out on to the roads," local resident John* told GameSpot. "When I get home from work I need to walk past the park… people just stop on the sidewalk and they don't move, and that's every three steps."
The influx of visitors put a strain on the physical condition of the park--grass was trampled to mud, a public recreational chess set was removed after it was vandalized, and an increased amount of litter appeared. According to long-time resident Tom*, the deterioration of the environment had "taken place as a direct result of having large numbers of people congregate within confined areas," with the increased amount of cigarette butts strewn throughout the playground especially noticeable.
Nearby residents reported noise from the crowds persisting until the early hours of the morning every day of the week. The park sits in the middle of several large blocks of apartments, meaning that the noise generated by hundreds of people gathered could easily be heard by hundreds of locals who lived nearby.
"I've had times when people yell and run across the street because there was a Gyrados there. At 2AM, people were yelling near my balcony for no reason… they don't care what time of night it is, they just do it," John described to GameSpot. Following complaints about noise and an increased amount of litter, the local council installed signs asking visitors to refrain from being too loud, and placed additional garbage bins around the area. The signage also asked the park's attendees to restrict use of play equipment to children, and to refrain from smoking too close to the playground.
"To be fair, I think the majority of players are respectful of noise levels, but like with anything that attracts people in large numbers, it's often the minority that tend to stand out for the wrong reasons," Tom commented.
John described an incident where the glass door which provided entry to his apartment block was smashed one evening. "It may or may not have anything to do with Pokemon Go, but I'm leaning towards yes," he said. Residents also shared photos on social media showing players breaking into local construction zones marked as off-limits--all in the name of catching Pokemon.
The noise didn't just come from people yelling; the honking from cars persisted late into the night. The sudden influx of traffic presented its own problems for the suburb, with some of its two-lane roads that normally serve light, local traffic "very easily [becoming] bottlenecked with no alternate ways around."
"This results in traffic being backed up for hundreds of metres, snaking around the blocks of apartments with residents being subjected to long and prolonged beeps and occasional yelling," Tom said.
Due to the increased traffic, a fire truck had difficulties reaching an apartment where a fire was occurring one day and some motorcyclists had taken to riding on footpaths to get around the congestions. Police officers were brought in on some evenings to help control the surge in traffic. Last weekend, the council shut down entry to a particular street to help ease congestion. The increased numbers of cars has also meant less parking, with residents reporting incidents ranging from parked cars obstructing driveways to non-residents illegally entering private carparks.
"The driveway entry to my apartment complex [was] partially blocked on a daily basis, especially in the evenings… cars will often illegally park in the half-space of 'no parking' on either side of the driveway, resulting in their tail or front end obstructing cars entering and leaving the complex. So when you're exiting the driveway, not only is visibility up and down the road almost non-existent, but one must cross into the opposing lane while turning in order to avoid the illegally parked car," Tom described.
Locals have also reported break-ins to private car parks, with Pokemon Go players allegedly parking in spots reserved for residents and/or disabled parking spots. The local council reported issuing over 250 fines to enforce parking violations.
"We have written a submission to Niantic asking for the removal of two of the three PokeStops in Peg Paterson Park, Rhodes as we consider the volume of both traffic and pedestrians to be potentially dangerous," the local council's general manager Gary Sawyer stated in a press release.
GameSpot reached out to Niantic for comment on the issue, but has not yet heard a response. Despite the lack of communication from the developer the issues were seemingly heard, as a recent update to the game saw all three PokeStops from Peg Paterson Park removed, effectively nerfing the fabled Safari Zone. Residents described the update as a "welcome relief" and were thankful that action was eventually taken. The park has returned to its formerly quiet state, although it will likely be a while before its physical condition is fully restored.
Tom described the sudden change as "strange, even a little surreal."
"There were no Pokemon Go players around any more. No more crowds. No more traffic jams. So is this it? Is it finally over? I felt both a sense of freedom as Rhodes returned to a state of normality but, in a weird twist of events, I also a feel sense of loss. Perhaps I'm suffering a kind of Stockholm Syndrome as a result of my experience over the past few weeks, but one thing is for sure--I'm happy to have my suburb back."
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