Possibly the most compelling video game craze ever, Pokemon Go is attracting large numbers of smart-phone poking players to the Ashland Plaza and Lithia Park, where many "Poke Stops" have been planted — enough to rouse nostalgic childhood memories and bring new commerce to the town.

It’s fascinating, fulfilling fun that roused Ashland High School student Nick Morris out of bed early, when he spotted an elusive Charmander character on his iPhone screen and forced his mom to drive rapidly to the spot, where he could throw digital balls at it, capturing it to his corral.

“I was obsessed with Pokemon when I was 8 or 9 and had all the cards, but my mom made me sell them for $100. She said they took up too much space,” says Morris. “Now this is bringing it all back but out here in real life, not just with cards and on my old Game Boy.”

His pal Scott Stover crowed that “today I took over two gyms and caught a Rhyhorn … It’s all kind of like a Drowzee came in and hypnotized us!”

“Right,” says Morris. “There’s only 151 Pokemons now, but if they keep bringing in six or eight more generations, this could last forever.”

It’s not hard to spot the players. They are bent over their little screens, walking this way and that in unison and conferring and laughing over what creatures are appearing and disappearing.

“Today has been very good,” says Conlan Ellis, 17, an AHS senior. “You never know what you’re going to get and what new friends you’re going to meet. You have a limited amount of Poke balls to catch them with and you can run out.”

Ashland is so rich in “monuments” (PokeStops) that Ellis has met students here from University of Oregon who made the trip to Ashland to revel in the Poke-scape, especially around the Plaza fountain and, on Winburn Way, the Community Center and arched bridge over the creek.

“I’ve met a lot of cool people. A lot are from Talent because they don’t have much there. We have 50 in Ashland … It attracts mostly people in teens and 20s who grew up with Pokemon cards and board games. It’s a super big cultural thing and makes you get out and meet people.”

Jessica Longerbeam, 33, says the craze brought her and her family down from Central Point and — a boon to Ashland commerce — already has led them to breakfast and lunch in town, with a trip planned next to the chocolate shop.

“I’m trying to get the family out of the house and interact with something besides television. Pokemon came out when I was 7 and I played it on my Game Boy. River (her young daughter) loves it. It socializes people and makes you get lots of exercise walking around looking for PokeStops. It (odometer in iPhone) says we’ve already walked 10 miles today. It’s great and you’re never too old to be a kid.”

Her boyfriend, Michael Pinto, notes, “It brings back such childhood joys.”

Poking around on the Plaza, Abe Torres, 21, says, “It gives me great opportunities to talk to new people. Everyone is doing it. It’s way easier than social media. It gives you something in common right away.”

Colby Johnson, a history senior at Southern Oregon University, says he grabbed a few eevees but the catch of the day was a Golden Een.

“It’s fun. You get to go back to your childhood. It’s what we wanted when we were 8. It was one of the more fun things I did as a kid, growing up with Pokemon and your little friends and the euphoria of trading cards.”

His pal Bubba Rylance, 24, echoes the thought, noting, “It brings back all those memories, having fun and good times, like in the old days.”

“It’s really fun, the game and socializing with other people downtown,” says Cashel Ellis, 12. “You spot them randomly. It’s funnest not to be playing games by yourself. You’re usually in the same spot with more than one person. I’ve been doing it since the second day out and have a long way to go yet.”

The mom of the Ellis boys, Ashland filmmaker Michele Carnes Ellis, captured the fun in downtown Ashland for a video on her teen website, http://pirl.com/pirl/pokemon-go-real-life-reactions/. Speaking in the film, Heather Loschen of Redmond, Washington, chirps that she’s “meeting a lot more friends in downtown Ashland than on her dating site … and if I get all the Pokemon creatures, what do I get? Bragging rights, I guess.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.