Chasing Pokemon on Canadian streets

Chasing Pokemon

‘I will be back soon,” said my elder son, pulling on his T-shirt and rushing out into Rue Tupper in downtown Montreal late in the evening.

I wondered what interesting food place he had discovered online as Montreal is said to have the second highest number of restaurants per person in North America, and we are both dedicated foodies who try out anything new.

“He’s found a Pokemon nearby,” said my younger son disdainfully, and I wondered why the snootiness since he plans to study software engineering and Augmented Reality (AR) should be of interest to him. (AR, unlike virtual reality, is your real-world environment whose elements are enhanced by computer-generated input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. Virtual reality on the other hand replaces the real world with a simulated one).

Earlier in the day, as we were lugging groceries that we had picked up from Adonis (a Canadian-Lebanese store that has yummy Mediterranean foodstuffs such as sheesh taouk, pita bread and olives), I saw a large group of people at a bus stop looking at their smartphones. Not a single person was looking down the street for a bus.

“Haha, look at this,” I said, putting down the grocery bags to take a picture of the group. “Everyone’s living in virtual reality.”

“Dad,” said my son, pointing to the Evangelical Church across the road. High above the entrance was a huge familiar sign in yellow lettering and blue outline. “It’s a Pokestop” he said.

Nearby on the pavement, the church members had set up a stall offering free snacks and free charge-up for water bottles from large containers as the sun was shining bright and it was hot.

I learnt later that Pokestops are locations shown in local maps in Pokemon Go where you can hunt for the monsters and these places are usually prominent landmarks.

This Pokestop is located near Cabot Square, that has a statue honouring explorer John Cabot, and is surrounded by trees and there are benches and places to sit and enjoy your day.

Here you can see the elderly dozing off as large squirrels search for snacks. Nearby I heard a woman shouting at her tiny tot son, “I see a Pokemon,” and they both started running.

I read a news report that a month before we landed in Tupper Street, police were called as residents were worried about seeing groups of people around the square late into the night. The police, much to their surprise, only found that the groups were searching for a rare monster called Dragonite and had to chase away the crazy mob as they were disturbing the peace.

For those who do not know what Pokemon Go is all about, it is a free app for your smartphone that connects with your GPS. You, the trainer, can then track down and capture the monsters in public places.

The game has not been officially launched in the UAE, but my son somehow managed to download it on his Android phone using a .exe file called an APK Mirror and that ruined his phone and he begged his mum to buy him a refurbished phone online. Some people are doing foolish things like playing while driving and one motorist in Jumeirah, Dubai, stopped his car in mid-traffic, got down and started chasing Pokemon.

But the game is meant to get players out of the house and make them see things other than their screens. Seniors here are being taught how to be Pokemon trainers so that they can get out and about. Businesses in Montreal are cashing in on the craze and putting up lures to help patrons catch the monsters. “You’re physically meeting people, finding where your friends live and planning hangouts,” says one enthusiast.

Mahmood Saberi is a freelance journalist based in Dubai.