Corey Vreeling (far right) and friends play the game in SJB Park. – Stephen Dafoe Photos

by Stephen Dafoe

“Enjoying an evening stroll in the park, or are you trying to catch Pokémon?” I ask the 20-something looking at his phone as he makes his way through St. Jean Baptiste Park on a Tuesday night. “Looking for Pokémon,” he replies, perhaps unsure why this middle-aged bearded guy carrying a camera is asking the question.

But it is as likely to be a middle-aged man or woman as a child playing the augmented reality game that has been catching headlines and social media memes over the past few weeks.

St. Jean Baptiste Park, Belle Park, Sunshine Park, and many other locations in and around town have seen higher than normal numbers of individuals, families, and groups wandering around. The difference is they are all playing Pokémon GO. There were no less than 15 people in SJB Park shortly after supper July 19 when Morinville News set out to talk to some of the players.

Pokémon GO is a free-to-play mobile app game that uses augmented reality. Through the game player’s smartphone they see their real world surroundings with overlays of the Pokémon fantasy world, characters they must try to capture or fight.

Unlike the majority of games on the market that allow you to explore virtual worlds, Pokémon GO requires that you physically explore the real world to play the game’s virtual world.

Scattered throughout that world, including small town Morinville, there are PokéStops and gyms, both of which allow the players to catch or battle the various creatures called Pokémon.

web-pokemon1Two decades of fun revisited

Pokémon was created in 1995 by Satoshi Tajiri. Originally, the franchise kicked off with a pair of Gameboy video games, but more than two decades later, Pokémon has made its way through each evolution of console devices, as well as trading cards, cartoons, and comic books. Twenty years after Game Freak and Nintendo released Pokémon Red and Blue, Niantic has developed the Pokémon Company’s asset into a game that is getting people out of the house and playing together.

Twenty-two-year-old Corey Vreeling was only one when the game first hit the market, but picked it up when he was old enough to play computer games. He said he had been playing Pokémon GO for a couple of days and was enjoying the experience.

“It brings back my childhood, I guess,” he said. “I grew up with Pokémon and always wanted to go and catch them. Then they came out with augmented reality. Conventionally, it’d be stationary on your handheld. But now you actually go out and get tonnes of exercise in real life.

For 29-year-old Clifford Verge, it is also a connection to an earlier time.

“I grew up with it, so it is something I played on the original Gameboy back in the day or on the computer,” Verge said. “It was an action, adventure RPG [role playing game].

But there is more to the appeal of Pokémon GO than recapturing a piece of a childhood game; Verge is enjoying getting out and meeting people who are also enjoying the experience.
“It’s a game where you go out and find what you find, and meet some people,” Verge said, adding his July 19 outing involved joining a Pokémon GO team. “It’s a great way to get out and interact with some people and have some fun.”

But not everyone out playing the game has played before.

web-pokemon3Christian Moskalyk and his mom Colleen were in the park after recently downloading the popular game. It was their first day playing.

“It’s because it’s fun,” Moskalyk said of the reason for getting and playing the game. “You catch Pokémon, and the Pokémon I want to catch is Pikachu.”

Christian’s mother Colleen is supportive of the game. “It get’s him out of the house. It’s not that bad,” she said. “A lot of people don’t like it. There are a lot of people criticizing it. But it gets him out of the house, and we get to spend time together.”

Criticism of Pokémon GO ranges from social media head shaking as news stories emerge about players falling into holes, over cliff edges or quitting their jobs to play full time. Beyond that, the criticism falls largely into the category of not understanding why people would devote time to trivial pastimes. These comments are frequently posted to social media sites, the writers perhaps missing the fact their own social media commentary may be considered a trivial pastime to those not involved with social media.

But not all Facebook input on Pokémon GO is in opposition to the game. Many players are sharing their results and gameplay on the platform.

One collective of players locally is Pokémon GO Morinville And Area, a Facebook group with more than 100 members sharing information on the game and locations around the area.

Above: Christian Moskalyk and his mom Colleen hunt for Pokémon in St. Jean Baptiste Park July 19. A disappointed Clifford Verge shows his frozen smartphone, a device that malfunctioned just as he was about to capture an elusive Pokémon.

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