Driving home to my apartment last month, I spotted a crowd of adults staring intermittently at their phones in Kitchener Park. Kitchener is usually filled with frolicking children and the occasional couple walking their dog, so this was a most unusual site. As I pulled over and walked up to the nearby hill, other drivers—in nurses scrubs and dress shirts—followed suit. “What’s going on?” I asked the nurse.
“Pokémon Go,” he said. As he explained it, it was a location based augmented reality game, and it had just been released that morning.
It’s been two months since the most popular mobile game in history turned every street in Edmonton—and the world—into a virtual safari, so it hardly feels necessary to explain its premise. But for anyone who’s just emerged from a coma, Pokémon Go is like a standard game, in that you play as a virtual character on a virtual adventure in a virtual world. Only, the developers removed the virtual component—now you are the one physically going on the adventure by walking your neighbourhood. To replenish your supplies that catch and heal the wild Pokémon that you discover through your screen, you must get to a Pokéstop, give it a whirl, a la Wheel of Fortune, and collect your booty.
Pokéstops are located at real life landmarks, thus there are probably over 100 Pokéstops in Oliver, as there are in Downtown and the Whyte Ave. area. The age of these neighbourhoods mean they’re rich with big and small monuments of note. So while a “Poké Trainer” (the player) in the new northeast neighbourhood of Ozerna could walk a mile just to discover a tiny memorial plaque on a park bench, in Oliver that same trainer can discover hidden gems merely metres apart.
As someone new to Oliver, this was a great way for me to discover my new community. When catching Pokémon in the Kitchener Park field, I joined forces with strangers running the field after some rustling bushes on-screen led us to a Drowzee by a playground. My curveball absolutely missed it and the lil’ bugger escaped, but then I looked up to an impressive of the old neighbourhood with train tracks and carriages. I’d never seen it before. In fact, I wasn’t even aware that Oliver had a community garden until our squad was catching Caterpies hiding between the rhubarb stalks.
The two main hubs for players in Oliver are Railtown (the park near west of Save On Foods) and Grant Notley Park (around the Gazebo at the top of Victoria Hill). These Pokéstop-riddled parks have been transformed to areas where crowds of players hang out at all hours of the day. Despite making parking in the area harder than finding a Snorlax sometimes, the crowds have helped vitalize these areas and tear down some of the typical barriers to talking to random strangers.
Recently, I was in Grant Notley Park, a place I’d passed through many times but never sat down to enjoy the incredible river valley vista. That is, until someone dropped a “lure” there to attract some digital wildlife. Suddenly every bench was occupied and a few dozen people were standing around or laying in the grass. A thickly bearded trainer even brought a power bar for people to charge their phones. Oddly, it was fairly silent despite the crowds. Maybe this can be seen as antisocial to some, but that’s not necessarily true. One player in the gazebo broke his silence to tell me that he usually spends his evenings at home by himself anyway, and suddenly seeing other players outside reinforced to him that he’s not alone.
Later, strolling along Victoria Promenade, where lie eight Pokéstops in a row, I asked trainers if they’ve learned anything new about Oliver through the app lens. One trainer enjoys reading up on all of the busts and memorials converted into Pokéstops. Another said her favourite discovery was the woodpecker graffiti on the side of Mountain Equipment Co-op. A couple in the middle of sending their Pokémon into battle at On The Rocks (now a “Pokémon gym” — sparser but grander landmarks than Pokéstops) told me how much safer they feel being out after dark, with many more people out and about. By joining with other players, they were able to see Oliver at night—something they weren’t comfortable doing before.
The next time I went to Grant Notley Park, the trainers were much chattier and comfortable with each other. When a guy casually mentioned to two women that it was he who laid down the lures, someone screamed, “There’s an Aerodactyl two blocks away! Follow me, muggles!” Like firefighters called to the scene of an accident, a dozen trainers, myself included, jumped up from our grassy spots and sprinted in the direction of that man towards Jasper Ave.
It truly felt like I was on an adventure with my neighbours.
Oliver’s Top 4 Pokémon Hot Spots
Railtown: Pokéstops fill this park bustling with bikers, joggers, dog-walkers and, now, dozens of trainers. Keep your eyes peeled for the Ekans nest, which has seemingly invaded a Pikachu nest. I guess snakes do eat mice, right?
Grant Notley Park: Here lie two Pokéstops atop one of the most beautiful views of the city. The gazebo is particularly useful in protecting yourself from the rain, plus available power outlets mean you can catch Pokémon all day and night.
Victoria Promenade: One of the best spots in Edmonton to restock on Pokeballs. Check out the many busts, sculptures and a fountain, while getting some good mileage on hatching your eggs.
124th Street: Over a dozen Pokéstops riddle this main street. Catch these critters while enjoying coffee and pastries on any one of the nearby café patios, or check out some of the many independent art galleries here, while waiting for the Pokéstops to recharge.