It’s 1999 all over again.
Except this time, instead of trading cards, Game Boy cartridges and after-school cartoons, it’s a smartphone app.
The Pokémon craze has returned with a vengeance, and while the franchise has never really gone away (it’s consistently one of Nintendo’s biggest brands), it’s seemingly on a no-end-in-sight, world headline dominating path once again.
Pokémon Go, the newest game from the franchise is the latest accessible and addicting entry on Android devices and IOS platforms. Despite not even being officially launched in Canada until this past Sunday, hundreds of Prince Rupert gamers young and old have found a way to download the game on their phone to join the hundreds of thousands in Canada who have already started playing.
“For me, it gets me out of the house and gives me exercise, it’s definitely about walking around and catching Pokémon, something that I used to play as a young man, 20 years ago,” said Prince Rupert’s Cecil Chetwynd.
“I think a lot of it right now is you get to share that excitement with everyone around you. The [older games], like the Pokémon on the Nintendo DS, was centred to you, so you play it by yourself and now, watching all the kids come running by as a group looking for the same Pokémon, it’s good to see that,” added Ryan Last of Good Times Games, a Rupert store that sells Pokémon cards, games and accessories.
The premise of the game centres around augmented reality, with the game utilizing a smartphone’s camera to incorporate 3D Pokémon into the screen of the world around you. Players then catch the pocket monsters with a Pokéball and raise their character’s level by catching more Pokémon, battling gyms and feeding their monsters virtual candy. Additionally, various sites around the world have been set up by Niantic (the game’s developer) as “Pokéstops” or “Gyms”, where players can pick up more Pokéballs and other items needed to continue playing.
The game has become pervasive throughout the world thanks to its ability to get pure strangers to meet and bond over the game.
In Canada, when the game officially launched on Sunday, Niantic’s servers crashed as thousands upon thousands downloaded the game and were off immediately hunting for rare and elusive Pokémon.
“People you wouldn’t normally meet – you’ll stop and talk to them because you have the same interests,” said Chetwynd.
Many public access areas have been set up by Niantic as these Pokéstops and gyms, such as public parks or open areas through working with technology from Google Maps, and in Prince Rupert it seems Mariner’s Park is Ground Zero for catching the critters.
“Over the last four nights I’ve actually been down there, I could say you’re getting anywhere from 30 – 50 people standing around over the course of a few hours. They come in, they park their cars, and you know they’re playing because their head is down and the light’s reflecting [from the phone],” said Chetwynd.
“The No. 1 thing you hear is ‘What team are you on?’ or ‘How big is that Pokémon you just caught?’ … There’s a camaraderie there and again, with people you might not have normally talked to, you would have passed them on the street without another word, and now you’re talking to people you never would have.”
The game asks the player to choose what team they’d like to side with, Team Valor, Team Mystic and Team Instinct, with the Pokémon legendary bird trio representing the mascots of each team, Moltres, Articuno and Zapdos respectively.
The team aspect has added a whole other dimension to the game.
“Here, it’s a friendly rivalry, we’ll say,” said Chetwynd, though power struggles to hold down gyms throughout the city are constantly taking place between the three teams.
And while stories from the U.S. and other countries with official releases have popped up involving accidents or robberies, safety hasn’t been an issue yet with the game in Rupert, thanks to the in-game screen that tells players to be aware of their surroundings and advisory notices on the Facebook group, Pokémon Go Prince Rupert.
“We always recommend to the kids that get set up to play, to play in groups. Don’t go wandering down the streets by yourself, you shouldn’t be down at the waterfront by yourself. It’s just common sense,” said Last.
“The game itself is for a group of people. I haven’t met anyone yet that hasn’t enjoyed the game or given me a sense of ‘Uh oh, there could be a problem here,’” said Chetwynd.
Already, businesses are pondering the possibilities of attracting customers who may be lingering outside their door because of a nearby creature.
This week, Good Times Games is hosting Pokémon Go excursions from Tuesday to Thursday, 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. for 12 kids aged six and up and features healthy snacks and Pokémon figures, stickers and cards. For more information, contact the store.
“I think we definitely would be interested, when it officially launches in Canada, to hold some information sessions and find out how businesses can get on board,” said Simone Clark, Prince Rupert and District Chamber of Commerce manager of communications.
“There’s a definite advantage for these businesses to be running these opportunities. Clearly, the kids are going to want to play it, you might as well learn how to do it yourself.”
The City of Prince Rupert is also open to using the app as a potential way to keep tourists engaged in the City.
“Pokémon Go is definitely on our radar – especially considering City Hall is a ‘gym’ where players can challenge each other in the game,” said Veronika Stewart last week.
“We are tentatively researching opportunities with local partners that capitalize on the fact that the game can really showcase a city’s monuments and other key locations, and can also encourage physical activity. Once the game officially launches in Canada, we’ll look a little more deeply at those options. For now, we’d just like to encourage players to stay safe when they are out walking the streets playing the game, and to be sure to be aware of your surroundings.”