Late Tuesday evening about 60 people gathered spontaneously in the darkness at Bower Ponds and stood staring at their glowing smartphones.
Then something unusual happened for people who are glued to their electronic devices — they all began to walk about.
It was a sure sign that Pokémon Go — a super hit new mobile online game — had arrived in Red Deer, even though it hasn’t officially arrived in Canada. It might become the biggest mobile application yet.
Edward McIntyre, 31, a freelance website designer and developer from Sylvan Lake, was one of the people at Bower Ponds who showed up to play the game. It involves getting points and hunting for Pokémon — Japanese cartoon characters, perhaps best described as “cute.”
Pokémon Go is really attracting the late ’80s and ’90s kids that grew up with the original Pokémon video games, McIntyre said, adding it’s Nintendo’s first foray into a mobile game. Up until now the company’s games have only been on consoles.
The game has actually only been officially released in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and Japan, but people have found ways to access it in Canada.
“It’s pretty incredible that there were that many people playing the game at Bower Ponds when Pokémon Go was only released about one week ago,” McIntyre said.
The game, which is overlaid on a real world map, involves physically going to different locations to digitally collect points and Pokémon, and even doing digital combat in “Pokémon gyms.” The real locations to collect are public landmarks such as signs, art and plaques.
When players hold up their iOS or Android phones at the locations, the creatures appear on their screens.
“It’s really gamification of fitness,” said McIntyre. You have to walk to play. The game can detect if a person is riding a bike, on a long board or in a car.
“The thing that I love is it’s based on public art. So when you’re standing there chatting, talking to people, I really hope people are taking in the art.”
McIntyre said that there are predictions Pokémon Go is going to be, if not already, the most used digital application in the world. “It’s already passed Facebook and Instagram for installs.”
He got involved last weekend when his two children, ages 7 and 10, heard about Pokémon Go and wanted him to play it. They spent last weekend exploring the parks in Sylvan Lake and Red Deer. “We were walking around for two hours as a family.”
Jonathan Strome, who manages Bower Ponds Recreation, said the ponds are a good spot for Pokémon Go because there are numerous stops in close proximity. “It’s unreal. … It’s augmented reality.”
“And you’re not paying attention to the exercise. You’re paying attention to the game.”
Strome said there will be a Pokémon Go meet-up at the Bower Ponds pavilion on July 21 from 8 to 11 p.m.