Culture
Oriena Vuong
Oriena Vuong

The Gold Range Is a Pokéstop: Pokémon GO Hits Yellowknife

The wildly popular game has millennials roaming the streets of downtown on the hunt for Eevees, Vaporeons and Charmanders

You can’t catch’em all…

Unless you have endless hours of your day to devote to running around Yellowknife, through every park and past every piece of public art. If you’re not willing to go far, you’ll just keep stumbling into Rattata, the equivalent of an annoying rat, over and over again.

Pokémon Go – an augmented-reality game app – was finally released in Canada on Sunday, weeks after its launch in America and much of the world. It’s already a viral phenomenon, in which stories of people stampeding through the streets because a rare Pokémon had appeared, or being hit by cars while out Pokémon hunting, or being robbed at Pokémon lures set by tech-savvy criminals, have made headlines around the globe.

Attention City Hall: Pokémon might just help save our downtown, bringing more people into the area, since most Pokéstops are found in areas with higher peaks of interests, like the Visitors Centre or Somba K’e Park.

For people wondering what the fuss is about: it’s a game that forces you to walk around town searching for coveted Pokémon characters that are hidden in plain sight, waiting to be captured and trained for future battles. Once you’ve found one, it will appear in a real life setting, seen through the lens of your smartphone. You catch it with a Pokeball by flicking your screen.

Trying it out myself, I started on 52nd, hitting every mural along the way — public art, thanks to the game’s use of Google Maps, are Pokéstops, which are locations to load up on Pokeballs and other goodies. Any notable spot likely to be labelled by Google is a potential Pokéstop. The Gold Range is now a Pokéstop, for instance.

As I ran in the summer heat, my eyes barely left the phone in my hand in search of any movement. I almost lost track of the sidewalk because my phone had buzzed, notifying that there was a Nidoran nearby and I just had to catch it before it disappeared. I could see packs of kids roaming the city on their scooters playing the game as well, judging by how they held their phones flat on hand with their heads hunched over it as they crossed the street. By the time I got to City Hall, I was sweating with exhaustion. Even though the walk was actually less than 10 minutes, the multiple detours I took to get there because of the random Pokéstops along the way made it feel much longer.

Popularity in the city

Here in Yellowknife, the trend has already taken off at full speed — there were already about 200 millennials playing the game before it was available officially in Canada. And attention City Hall: Pokémon might just help save our downtown! It’s bringing more people into the area, since most Pokéstops are found in areas with higher peaks of interests, like the Visitor’s Centre or Somba K’e Park.

Reigh Foster, of local gaming organization Ptarmicon, says that people have already mapped out areas and met up into teams to play the game together, especially in the parking lot of the Visitor’s Centre.

“Since it's a parking lot, people are just converging there after business hours.” She says. “Last night, people even had a portable barbeque out. They were making burgers for everybody… people had their lawn chairs, they were sitting there and everybody's just coming together talking about this game.”

“I'm telling you it's crazy these people… some of these guys, they're unemployed for the summer because they're students, so they don't have anything to do all day long… they're wandering around Yellowknife until 2-3 in the morning just playing this game 24 hours a day"

While businesses around the world, from bookstores to restaurants to malls are taking advantage of the game by setting off “lures” (a catnip feature for Pokémons) to get foot traffic into their establishments, we couldn’t find any canny businesses in Yellowknife that had invested in lures yet. But it’s early days.  

Tips on playing in the city

Touristy areas: From City Hall to the museum, you’ll find tons of Pokéstops – at landmarks like the Nootka Totem Pole, Fireweed Studio and other monuments. Foster says there’s even water Pokémon “spawn spots” on the path towards the Legislative Assembly. Once you get to level 5, Somba K’e Park is also where a Pokémon training gym is located.

Public art: With less density in Yellowknife, many of the Pokéstops are spread out, unless you hit mural after mural. However, even the random inukshuks outside Adam’s Dental Clinic are a stop. These are the best places to collect extra pokeballs and eggs.

Google Maps is your friend: Essentially the game’s format is a replication of Google Maps. If you’re wise, all you need to do is look on Google Maps and scope out the stops that have the most reviews, pictures or ratings. Places like Pilot’s Monument are Pokéstops because they’ve been visited often.

Parks = Tall grass: “Tall grass” is a term used in the game for every greenspace shown on the map. Rare Pokémons and spawn spots have been spotted in most parks.

Don’t bother with the suburbs: Sorry, but it seems they are just not that popular due to lack of points-of-interest on Google Maps. Pokémon trainers are just going to have to trek their way downtown in order to get the most of the game, otherwise it’s just barren land.

So Pokémon trainers, if you “wanna be the very best,” you’re going to have to walk far and wide to the ends of the city and with an extra battery pack in hand to find those really crazy Pokémons, because, as I found out, your phone will die within two hours of hunting.