Pokemon Go comes to the Highlands
Imagine a scenario where strange and powerful creatures walked the earth and you’re out to find and capture them. This isn’t a historical fantasy so much as the premise behind the Pokemon Go, a free cellphone app game developed by Niantic available for Android and iOS devices.
It’s like a fantastical bug catching expedition and a dream come true for Nintendo’s Pokemon fans, as it mixes the real and the virtual world.
With an avatar, players explore using their phone’s GPS, which tracks their movements in search of 151 creatures, a diverse collection of dinosaurs, dragons, birds, plants and eggs. Creatures are found in areas relevant to their species: water-types are found near lakes and rivers while nocturnal creatures will only be found in the evening hours. The real world comes into play when capturing a Pokemon. The player sees the Pokemon through the phone’s camera. A Pokemon is caught by flicking a “Pokeball,” which are collected at “Pokestops,” usually public buildings such as libraries – Haliburton County libraries included.
Based on the Nintendo handheld games, television show and trading cards popular in the late-1990s, the new game is available in more than 30 countries.
The game has grabbed headlines for more than just its popularity, as players have been known to become so immersed they forget where they are. A pair of Canadian youth wandered unknowingly into Montana and were eventually picked up by border patrol and returned to Canada. One man was stabbed while out hunting for Pokemon and didn’t admit himself into hospital until after he played the game a little more and bought some chips and a beer from a convenience store.
Pokemon articles also include benefits related to playing: some people become more active as they add walking to their daily routine, for example. One story highlighted the case of a wheelchair-bound man who left his house to play the game. Previously, he would only leave twice a year for medical appointment and Christmas.
Thirty-seven-year-old Jake Raynard of Haliburton considers the game a nice addition to his usual walks around town. Without a car, he was walking everywhere anyway and now has a game to play and people to meet.
“What I like most about it is the social aspect. They don’t necessarily give you all the information you need to know on the app itself how to play so you, in fact, do need to talk to other players to figure out how to play the game properly,” he said.
Before the game, Raynard didn’t know much about Pokemon. He learned of the app through a friend and since playing it been looking into Pokemon more.
This isn’t the first game of its kind. Lacking the full immersion of virtual reality, this game is slightly different and is part of the augmented reality games like Ingress, also developed by Niantic.
Raynard characterizes the game as “one half Facebook and one half a game.”
When a “lure” is put out at a Pokestop to draw other players he said he has seen 20 other people show up.
“I’ve never met so many people in my entire life that I had no relationship to whatsoever,” he said.
Twenty-two-year-old Hayley Sullivan, a Haliburton Highlands Secondary School graduate going into a graduate program, says nostalgia plays into why she likes the game.
“So for people [like me], roughly the 19 to 30 age range, we grew up watching the shows, playing the games, having the cards and wanting to be Pokemon trainers in real life. Now that we can be Pokemon trainers, it sort of brings back that facet of childhood,” she wrote in an email.
She recommends beginners play or watch others play to learn about the game. Her dad had made fun of it until he saw her play and subsequently became intrigued.
Her younger brother, Angus, who is studying at Trent University, loved Pokemon as a child and played it on the Nintendo Game Boy when riding to school on the bus. This taps into the affection he had for the game and the Pokemon.
When the game was released in the U.S. he remembers the buzz on social media.
“Then the night it came out in Canada, my friends who aren’t even into Pokemon anymore asked me to go play it with them,” he wrote in an email.
He doesn’t believe this is a children’s game.
“I don’t think this game seems like it was designed for kids. It involves an understanding of your phone, being able to move independently in your neighborhood, and it feels like you need to be able to drive places to get the full experience,” he said.
From playing the game, he has visited places in Haliburton more than he ever imagined he would.
“Well, I’ve walked through the sculpture forest more times in the past two weeks than my past three years in Haliburton. I’ve discovered that there are more people my age playing than I expected. And I’ve discovered where all the free wifi is in Haliburton so I don’t have to use data,” he said.
Raynard points out in Japan there are Pokestops being setup in front of McDonald’s locations.
However he said Pokestops could just as easily be set up in front of Salvation Army donation bins.
“Who knows what kind of causes it could be used for?” he said. “For such an innocent little game seemingly there’s a lot of potential for social change. It could be used as a vehicle for a lot of really interesting things,” he said.
Raynard has captured 49 Pokemon and will continue until he gets all 151. When that happens he expects the game to evolve and have added features of trading and battling.
He never knew he walked so much. The game rewards players for their walking, giving them a level for every five kilometres walked. Raynard was at level 13 several days after downloading the game, which translates to close to 65 kilometres.
“I walk this much? This is crazy,” he said.
The higher the level the more things are available to players.
In the beginning, Raynard admits he was out in the wee hours of the morning the first couple of days he had it on his phone.
“That happened the first couple of days. I was like I got to shut this down,” he said.
Raynard was pleasantly surprised at how the game appeals to a broad range of people.
While playing he thought he’d cross paths with mainly children, but has seen people older than him and even children with their parents playing.
“I watched a kid and his mom wander around the park in front of my house. Just playing Pokemon. It’s interesting. I don’t know. I don’t know how a game can bring so many people together,” he said.
Pokedex, the list of collected Pokemon.
Pokeball, used to capture and store Pokemon
Pokestop (usually monuments or public buildings like libraries), place where items such as pokeballs and eggs are collected.
Poketrainers, the avatars for players
Incense, used to lure Pokemon for a certain amount of time
Gyms, place to battle and train other Pokemon
CP (Combat Points), the higher the number the stronger a Pokemon is
Candy, used to evolve Pokemon and increase CP
Egg, an item that rewards players with a new Pokemon when they are hatched, which happens after a certain distance is travelled.
Incubator, used to hatch eggs
Evolution, when a Pokemon becomes more powerful.
Lure modules, a rare and powerful item, used to help capture Pokemon at Pokestops