Pokemon craze meets Haweater Weekend 2016

Dan and Aiden pause at a Pokéstop at St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church to stock up on things for their Pokémon. photo by Michael Erskine

LITTLE CURRENT—It’s hard to escape the Pokémon Go craze sweeping the globe, as hordes of mobile phone waving walkers seek out the Pokémon balls, eggs and other virtual items associated with the location-based augmented reality game. This Lions Haweater Weekend plenty of Pokémon Go players of all ages could be seen wandering the streets of Manitoulin communities in pursuit of their digital prey.

So successful is the Pokémon Go mobile game, with its built-in market based on two generations of game players and a plethora of familiar toys, cartoons and other marketing merchandise associated with the highly successful brand, its much anticipated recent launch in Canada took down the company’s servers, despite the company’s best preparations.

Dan and Aiden, two visitors from Thunder Bay, were spotted in the parking lot of St. Bernard’s Roman Catholic Church, a local Pokéstop.

“This is a Pokéstop,” explained Aiden, a pre-teen Pokémon veteran who was tutoring the white-haired Dan in the intricacies of the game. “Here you can get all your Pokémon things you need.”

The duo turn the usual master and student relationship on its head, like much of the digital revolution, with the younger leading the elder through the intricacies of the virtual world.

“I don’t know anything about this,” admitted Dan as he scratched his white hair with a bemused expression. “He’s the expert,” he said, pointing at his younger companion.

The two gaze down at the tiny screen of a smartphone, where a virtual egg is showing signs of cracking. Upon hatching, Aiden exclaims excitedly, “It’s a Snorlax! That’s a ‘rare’!”

The higher the level of trainer, the better the chance of hatching a rare and powerful Pokémon.

Okay, let’s back up a bit for the benefit of the uninitiated.

Pokémon was a game launched in the early days of computer gaming, created in 1996 by Japan gaming giant Nintendo (remember Game Boy?) and was a role-playing game (remember Dungeons and Dragons?) that involved game cards and a related television program. Pokémon is short for pocket monster, of which there are about 150 instances that were collected on cards. These “monsters” have special powers that the trainers help hone into battle readiness. The Pokémon gain levels and powers through time and training. There are bug, fighting, fire, flying, dragon, electric, ghost, grass, ground, ice, normal, poison, psychic, rock and water Pokémon and within each of these types are several critters that have different abilities. There are various ways in which the Pokémon can “evolve” into more powerful forms. Okay, that’s the basics of the history.

Now fast forward through two generations of Japanese anime style cartoon program aficionados of all ages (no seriously, literally Pokémon has a pre-school to adult fan base), and there you have the base market for Pokémon Go.

But Pokémon Go takes that fan base and melds it with the new geo-location gaming and augmented reality, where players use the GPS location ability of their smartphones to map progress through the real world and a map of an overlaid virtual world filled with Pokéstops where you can locate Pokéballs (used to capture Pokémon), Pokémon and the other tools and paraphilia needed to play the game.

It seems that St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Little Current is just such a Pokéstop (best not to let Father George Gardner catch you playing in the pews during a sermon though), as is Three Cows and a Cone (where staying glued to your smartphone screen is fine).

It’s the combination of movement through the real world as you play in the virtual world that makes Pokémon Go so different, albeit providing some controversy. Luckily, it is not necessary to get inside buildings or onto properties to collect the Pokestop bounty.

Pokémon Go is the antithesis of the static digital game play, as you have to move to groove. “Pokémon eggs, where do you get eggs?” asks Dan. “I got you one at the last stop,” replies Aiden, just a hint of virtual world weariness in his voice, taking the phone from his mature student and deftly navigating through the screens as Dan’s eyes and mind frantically try to keep pace with the movements. “Here it is.”

In order to get the egg to hatch, Dan will have to walk for two kilometres. The program knows if you are travelling at mechanized speed, so no shortcuts allowed.

“It’s great,” says David Erskine of Sudbury, who plays the game with his wife Francine. “I have mapped out a whole route and we walk every day.” The game has inspired generations of often too sedentary people to get out and explore the world.

Since so many Pokéstops are located at historical signs and markers an added bonus is that players who normally ignore those signs are now stopping and reading about them, bringing an educational aspect to the game.

Pokémon Go is a free downloadable game, although there are monetizing aspects to it where players can advance faster and higher by spending real dollars on the virtual world. It is currently being touted as a game changer, pun somewhat intended, and points to a future where the digital and real worlds will continue to interact and become meshed.

Oh, and the Snorlax? According to the Internet, it “is a huge, bipedal, dark blue-green Pokémon with a cream-colored face, belly, and feet. Its body is composed of mostly its belly, where most of its fat reserves accumulate. Its head is large, with small, pointed ears and two pointed teeth protruding from its lower jaw. It has large, hind feet with three claws and a circular brown paw pad, and its arms and five foreclaws are short. Snorlax are often found in mountains and forests and wake up only to eat and seldom for exercises. It is not a picky eater, as its strong stomach allows it to eat even moldy food without feeling any ill effects. When hungry, it is not satisfied until it consumes 900 lbs. (400 kg) of food. Snorlax is docile enough to let children and small Pokémon bounce on its large stomach.”

Now get out there, snag a Pokéball and capture one, or hatch one like Aiden, your Fitbit will thank you for it.