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    Categories: Lifestyle

Pokemon trainers are Blaziken through St. Albert

Pokemon Go player Graham Charles

With most video game releases, gamers will hunker down in their homes to conquer the latest virtual challenge. Pokemon Go takes gamers in a different direction.

The game encourages players to get out of the house to capture Pokemon and St. Albert citizens have been trying to catch them all.

Droves of slowpokes of all ages have been wandering around glued to their smartphones or iPads, existing in an augmented reality.

“It’s unbelievable, the traffic,” Stephen Bourdeau, Cultural Business & Events Manager at St. Albert Place said. “It’s good though to see all the kids out and about enjoying the summer. Literally, we have hundreds of kids every day that come by city hall searching for their Pokemon.”

Pokemon Go is a free app that overlays a virtual world full of Pokemon on a map of the real world. The game uses GPS and the smartphone camera to provide an interaction between virtual Pokemon and trainers (players) who are in the same real world location. The goal is to capture the Pokemon, either at random or through lures dropped at hot spots throughout the city. Hot spots are created in high traffic and unique areas and the more trainers that congregate in the area, the more the Pokemon are likely to show up.

Graham Charles, co-creator of the St. Albert Pokemon Go Facebook page, said that was one of the reasons he founded the page.

“We were getting together with a bunch of people down at the library every night and we wanted to increase our chances of finding better Pokemon and increase the community awareness about it,” said Charles, a level 24 trainer. “Sometimes you get some rare spawns around there so that is where everybody congregates together and helps each other out.”

The game officially launched in Canada on July 17 and has been sending people of all ages on expeditions outdoors to try to catch ’em all. Developed by American company Niantic, the game has capitalized on the childhood Nintendo nostalgia to get gamers out and exploring their local communities. The app has turned public places and landmarks into playing areas and has brought throngs of trainers out into public spaces, such as parks and libraries.

Since its release, the game has broken the Apple app store record for the most downloads during the first week in Apple’s history. App analytics company Sensor Tower said that the app is now being used daily more than Facebook.

Millennial nostalgia may be a big factor driving the success of the game. Young kids who imagined being able to capture Pokemon in the ’90s now suddenly get a chance to live their childhood dreams through augmented reality.

“It feels like the grown up version of what everybody played as kids,” 24-year-old Charles said.

With so many app downloads, the game’s success can’t solely be attributed to millennial madness. A new generation has found a passion for pocket monsters and older players are eager to take part, but millennials seem to be the driving force. Older millennials, 25- to 34-year-olds, are talking about the game the most online according to Taykey Analytics Firm.

Charles said that the international trend is consistent with the St. Albert Pokemon crowd, with most of the trainers between the ages of 20 and 40.

“It is a big mix but oddly enough it’s not a ton of young kids,” Charles said. “Even when this game was unofficially released in Canada there was a 50 or 60-year-old that was playing every single night with us until two in the morning. It was super cool.”

Part of the appeal of the game is the social aspect to it. Every night the trails behind St. Albert Place fill with hundreds of gamers eager to fight for their team in a virtual gym with a Clefairy or Tentacool. The St. Albert Pokemon Go Facebook page has over 500 members dedicated to celebrating triumphs and sharing locations to catch the 151 original Pokemon characters. They coordinate lures at the library where they meet up nightly and catch characters together.

“It’s such a nice way to be able to talk to anyone who has a phone out,” Charles said. “Everybody is playing it and it’s a great way to socialize.”

Along with facilitating community interaction, the game has also got people accidentally exercising. Twitter is full of testimonials of stiff bodies and sore legs after hours of hunting Pokemon. The game requires exercise and movement to hatch the eggs. Each egg will require travelling a few kilometres for the Pokemon to hatch and the game tracks the distances travelled by each player.

Many players have walked hundreds of kilometres to foster their hatchlings. Qualtrics Analytics found that 43 per cent of trainers have lost weight while playing and the average is 3.2 pounds. On average the gamers are spending almost two more hours outside per day now than they previously were.

Charles has travelled 160 km on his bike and by foot in two-and-a-half weeks playing the new game, and has lost a couple of pounds on the way.

At night the trails fill up with trackers of all ages searching for the invisible characters using their phones.

“Its cool to see,” Bourdeau said. “It’s fun to see the youth out and about. It’s like the good old days on summer holidays.”

Although the response to the game has been mostly positive, there have been some mishaps. In San Diego, two men fell off a 50 ft. cliff after climbing on an unstable fence attempting to catch pocket monsters. Four teenagers in the United Kingdom had to be rescued after getting lost underground for five hours in a cave complex while on the hunt for the elusive anime characters. There have also been many reports of trespassing and distracted driving incidents since the game has been released.

St. Albert RCMP have had no reported public safety issues associated with the game so far but they encourage the public to continue to be safe.

“If people are out exercising or just walking their dogs we recommend being vigilant and being aware of their surroundings at all times and making sure that they are being in the community in a safe way,” said Cpl. Laurel Kading.

The local Pokemon group has also taken some considerate steps of their own by posting some guidelines that include always throwing trash in the garbage bins and keeping any music to a minimum. They also ask that everybody “please travel with a poke-buddy after dark” to avoid any dangerous situations.

If new gamers are looking for a buddy to travel with, Charles recommends hanging around the library and looking for lures or checking out the St. Albert Pokemon Go Facebook page.

“We try to keep it a nice safe and healthy atmosphere around here,” Charles said. “We have to watch out for our poke-homies.”

Jennifer Henderson: Jennifer Henderson joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2016. She writes about municipal, provincial and federal politics; court and crime; general news and features.