News Local

Ottawa Valley Pokémon Go fans unite to catch 'em all

By Ryan Paulsen, The Daily Observer

With the game making headlines in virtually all corners of international media -- economic, video game, cultural, 'wierd news', and more -- and scores of millions worldwide logging on every day, it's hardly surprising that the Pokémon Go phenomenon has found an enthusiastic fan base here in the Ottawa Valley.

The game is the latest installment in the decades-long Pokémon franchise, which started in 1995 as a pair of Nintendo Game Boy games, and has since evolved and spread into the world of TV, movies, short films, trading cards and more.

In Pokémon Go, players are engaging in much the same basic play as in earlier versions of the game: exploring a virtual world hunting and catching 'pocket monsters' (where the series gets its name) to pitch against one another in battle. The key difference is that this augmented reality version of the game overlays the virtual Pokémon world with the real world, forcing players to physically move from place to place in cities and towns to collect their Pokémon.

"You see a lot more people outside now," says Jay Renaud, who was Pokémon hunting with his family at Riverside in Pembroke, surrounded by fellow players, on Friday afternoon. "They're walking anywhere from four to 10 kilometres a day."

While conceptually it's not much of a leap, given the available augmented reality technology, to bring the game "into" the real world, it's had a dramatic impact in just a few short weeks on what people think of when they talk about playing video games.

"I have a friend that lost seven pounds in four days," says Jay's wife, Amanda Renaud. "She walked 10 kilometres yesterday, another buddy and his girlfriend walked 14 kilometres the other day."

For Amanda, part of the almost unbelievable success of the game stems from its universality among fans.

"It's hitting three different generations. You have our generation who are in their 30s, and who played it when they were kids, and then there are the 20s and the teens today, and they can all play it. It's been huge since the '90s, and this is what we've been asking for since we've had the technology. Everyone's wanted a Pokemon MMO [massive multiplayer online game], and now we have it."

Considering the overnight ubiquity of the new game, it's perhaps hardly surprising that it has its share of detractors and nay-sayers, who snickeringly share photos of parks swelled with people hunting the invisible monsters and videos of the older players clamouring for a chance to catch a rarer specimen.

Overall, however, with millions of users daily, and the game's suddenly eyebrow-raising economic impact (the game's release has added billions to Nintendo's overall market value), it's clear that Pokémon Go stands a chance of changing the way video games are seen, and played, from now on.

When you ask the youngest of players, like Jay and Amanda's five-year-old son Maddox, the appeal of the game is far more straightforward and simple.

"I like Pikachu," he says gleefully, before charging off to another part of the park as more wild Pidgeys, Rattatas and Spearows appear along the waterfront.

rpaulsen@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/PRyanPaulsen