If you’ve noticed a recent surge of people gathering around town while staring mindlessly at their cellphones—fear not.
They’re simply playing a popular new mobile game called “Pokémon Go.”
“‘Pokémon Go’ is a mobile game where you walk around the real world catching and training creatures called ‘Pokémon,’” explained Andrew Hanson, one of many local residents who have been enthralled by the game.
“You can go to locations around town to get free items and battle with other players,” he noted.
“Pokémon Go” first was revealed in September. After numerous delays, it was released in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand back on July 6.
Technical difficulties postponed an official launch in Canada until July 17, but that didn’t stop local residents from enjoying the game early.
“People were able to create an Apple or Google account that said they were in the U.S. so that they could download the game to their phones,” Hanson said.
“Even though the game knew we were in Canada because it uses the GPS, it never prevented us from playing,” he added.
The game is free to download and play while additional in-app purchases can be made using real money to buy in-game items.
Once the game was released, word-of-mouth quickly spread and plenty of people across town were among the millions of people around the globe who were playing it.
“I heard about it at work from one of my friends,” Hanson said. “He was really excited for it and he got me excited for it.
“I saw the trailers for it online and I thought it looked awesome,” he enthused.
Deidrick Smith first heard about the game from a friend in Vancouver, then encouraged his friends to play along, too.
“I played Pokémon growing up a lot and I’ve always loved it,” he recalled.
“I thought it was pretty cool that you actually had to walk around to get Pokémon,” Smith added.
“So it’s a lot better for your fitness and I’m all for it.”
Players find Pokémon in the game by walking around and using a tracker to determine the proximity of nearby creatures.
They also can hatch critters from eggs after walking two, five-, or 10 km depending on which egg they have.
“I’ve gone for five-kilometre runs to hatch the eggs,” Hanson noted.
“I’m getting extra steps in, for sure.”
Hanson said his favourite aspect of the game is exploring the town and trying to catch all the Pokémon in the game.
“I want to be the best, like no one ever was,” he laughed.
“I also like how it brings the community together,” Hanson added. “I’ve run into so many people while playing.”
Players also can earn free items by visiting real locations called “Pokéstops” and battle each other at “Gyms.”
The locations are determined using data from Google Maps. Landmarks such as parks and church often are locations that players are encouraged to visit in the game.
Dr. Bruce Lidkea, another local player, has found the game is a great activity to do with his family.
“My daughter and I get to spend a lot of time walking around together,” Dr. Lidkea noted.
“It’s really fun to catch [Pokémon] and throw the ‘Pokéballs’ at the creatures,” enthused his daughter, Piper.
Dr. Lidkea said he’s seen plenty of people around town playing the game and believes it is one of many positive activities for youth to take part in.
“My kids play soccer so I go watch soccer. My daughter dances and sings so I go to performances,” he explained.
“If they want to walk around town on a virtual scavenger hunt, I will walk around with them.
“There are a lot of worse things they could be doing,” he reasoned.
The Fort Frances Museum is one of the local in-game locations that players visit, and curator Sherry George believes the game could benefit the museum.
“I like the idea because quite often museums tend to attract older people, adults and seniors,” she noted.
“So this would be a way of attracting younger people so I think it’s great.”
Jason Kabel, Community Services manager with the Town of Fort Frances, said he’s seen plenty of kids at the Memorial Sports Centre recently, which also serves as an in-game location.
“I did notice a little bit more activity in the building on Friday,” Kabel recalled. “But with our summer programs, I thought it was most of those kids.
“I think in the summertime, it’s great,” he enthused.
“It seems like it’s going to promote physical activity for kids and active lifestyles.”