The augmented-reality mobile game Pokemon Go launched in Canada on Sunday afternoon, and player presence at popular Winnipeg attractions has been marked.
All weekend, groups of Pokemon players — smartphones in hand, some with extra battery packs attached — were spotted at Assiniboine Park and The Forks, which have been among the most popular hotspots for the game.
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"You usually see them in clumps or groups and usually looking at their phones, but at the same time, they are taking in and interacting with the things around them, and it's really neat to see," said Kristin Pauls, marketing and communications co-ordinator with The Forks.
Pauls said while officials do not have firm numbers of people coming to The Forks to play Pokemon Go, they did notice more people entering the Forks Market over the weekend.
As well, she said she saw more people wandering around the site on Sunday evening, not long after the game was officially available in Canada. Many keen players in Winnipeg and across Canada had already downloaded the game before Sunday through workarounds.
Also known as trainers, players use their phones to find, catch and train cartoon characters called Pokemon in the game, which places the virtual creatures on a map of the real world.
Pokemon seekers are discovering parts of the The Forks that may be new to them, Pauls said, including the revamped food hall and its new craft beer and wine kiosk, The Common, inside the Forks Market.
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"It is bringing in a different group of people that haven't been, or maybe haven't been in a while, and it's really neat to see them take a look," she said.
"They'll usually be wandering outside, catching Pokemon, coming inside, wondering if there's Pokemon in there, and then all of a sudden stumbling onto something new, whether it's some of the restaurants in The Common, or even just exploring the site."
It makes sense for The Forks, which has historically been known as a meeting place, to bring Pokemon (and their human trainers) together, Pauls said.
"We ourselves are excited to have people come and meet up here and use this space … whether it's [to] catch Pokemon or catch up over coffee."
An Assiniboine Park Conservancy official said it also does not have exact numbers from the weekend, but staff anecdotally noticed "an increase in traffic within the park playing Pokemon Go."
Players posting in the Winnipeg Pokemon Go page on social media site Reddit noted access to wifi and vending machines in parts of the park. Pizza was also spotted being delivered to busy Pokemon trainers there.
So why are these places popular? Both the park and The Forks are known to have several PokeStops, where players can collect Pokeballs and other necessities, as well as "gyms" where trainers and their Pokemon do battle.
Some of the stops also have "lures" attached to them, designed to draw out more of the virtual creatures for players to catch.
Clusters of trainers have also been spotted on the University of Manitoba campus and on the grounds outside the provincial legislative building.
The game's popularity has prompted police in Manitoba to warn people to play safely — for example, by not trying to catch Pokemon while driving.
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There have also been concerns that keen trainers, in their efforts to "catch 'em all," may trespass at places that are off-limits, such as Stony Mountain Institution.