Pokémon Go helping monster trainers explore Hamilton
New 'augmented reality' smartphone game rising in popularity even before official Canadian release
For once, a video game is actually getting people up off the couch.
The new mobile game Pokémon Go has erupted into a bona fide worldwide phenomenon, even though it's only officially available in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand right now.
The once overwhelmingly popular Nintendo property has resurfaced, and Hamiltonians are playing in droves, before the game is even officially released in Canada.
(We won't explain how to circumvent your phone's location restrictions here so you can play early, but if you do download the game before its official Canadian release, watch out for malware.)
"It's kind of like living your dream as a kid — you're five and wishing you had a Charmander, and now you're 25 and can go outside and catch one," said Hamilton resident Kaialise Mattiozzi, who started playing when the game was released on iOS and Android last week.
Pokémon's North American roots go back to Nintendo's Game Boy handheld console in the late 1990s, before expanding into several sequels and TV shows.
While those games usually stuck to common role playing game fare, Pokémon Go is what's called an "augmented reality" (or AR) game – which blends real life and the game's world.
The game uses your smartphone's GPS to detect where you are in the game and on Earth, and then has little creatures appear in the world around you, which can be seen using your phone's camera. You can then capture the Pokémon and square off against others in battles.
Like many role playing games, Pokémon Go's premise encourages exploration, but of the real world.
You look like a dork
It's easy to spot a group of people playing the game — on Sunday night, a handful of players roaming around Gore Park were impossible to miss, with their smartphones in hand and taking steps gingerly around the grassy area near King and John Streets.
"You get to know your city a lot more," Mattiozzi said. "I've met a lot of people in the last few days."
A recent transplant to the downtown core from the suburbs, Mattiozzi found herself discovering things about the city she had never seen before in her quest for pocket monsters.
When she wasn't hurling Pokeballs in the hopes of snagging a Squirtle, Mattiozzi was reading the plaques at Whitehern Historic Site, or taking in the Gore Park war memorial.
"There are so many murals downtown too that I had never seen before," she said.
While the community aspect of the game should be lauded, predictably, mashing the real world together with a digital one hasn't been seamless.
Muggings, accidents and pleas from police
The game has gotten players into a whole bunch of weird situations.
Nineteen-year-old Shayla Wiggins was looking for an in-game Pokestop down by the river last week in her hometown of Riverton, Wyo., when she stumbled upon a man's body in the water — the victim of a suspected drowning.
Police in Darwin, Australia, put out a plea telling players to stop coming into the police station. They said the station was featured as a Pokestop and that users were coming inside to gather Pokeballs. "You don't actually have to step inside in order to gain the Pokeballs," the Northern Territory Police, Fire and Emergency Services posted on Facebook.
Then there's the police department in O'Fallon, Mo., which said the game may have been used to facilitate an armed robbery early Sunday morning.
They explained in a Facebook post: "You can add a beacon to a Pokestop to lure more players. Apparently they were using the app to locate people standing around in the middle of a parking lot or whatever other location they were in."
Even with those cautionary tales, the game's popularity has shown no signs of slowing down.
'It obviously struck a nerve'
John Hanke, the CEO of the company that created the game alongside Nintendo, told Business Insider that the international rollout of the game is currently on pause.
That's because so many people are playing Pokémon Go that the game's servers couldn't handle the strain of another mass rollout, the Niantic head said. An official Canadian release date hasn't been set.
"We thought the game would be popular, but it obviously struck a nerve," Hanke said.
According to Digital Vision, Pokémon Go will likely have more daily active users on Android devices than Twitter in the coming days. Shares in Nintendo even jumped by 25 per cent in Tokyo on Monday thanks to the popularity of the company's new game.
Gotta catch 'em all, indeed.
With files from the Associated Press