Pokémon trainer Monica Kelly rushed to the intersection of Princess Street and King Street East in downtown Toronto, already swiping her phone screen in an upwards motion. She arrived just in time to meet with her local group to catch a Pokémon creature and collect items from their first stop.
As Kelly walked down King, she chatted with her group of five about their favourite Pokémon characters and their obsession for cyber battles.
She and her group are among trainers gearing up in preparation Pokémon Go’s Community Day on July 8, and for the augmented reality game where they battle and catch creatures from Nintendo’s famous video game franchise. Although the worldwide event takes place in augmented reality, the places local communities visit and the relationships they create are very much real.
Kelly said her group travels throughout Toronto in the Beach, Stan Wadlow Park in East York or the area known as the PK Loop, an area bounded by Adelaide Street in the north, King in the south, Princess on the east and Jarvis Street to the west.
Karlie Rogerson, who works in community development and engagement for McQuesten Youth Opportunity Creators in Hamilton, also travels to Toronto’s PK loop to catch Pokémon and visit local historical sites.
Rogerson is amazed by the organic growth of the city’s Pokémon Go community, which is comparable to the one in Hamilton.
“Pokémon Go is a community phenomenon unlike one I have ever seen before,” she said.
“We see individuals in the community stepping up to help other communities in terms of fundraisers. We see individuals being recognized for the skills and knowledge they bring to the table. We have people who document [Pokémon location] changes, others who organize raids, and others who manage our communication channels,” Rogerson said.
When it comes to raids, which are battles where players work together to defeat a powerful Pokémon, Rogerson is a leader who actively makes sure community participants don’t get left behind.
“I have spent a lot of time learning about Pokémon and their stats and I enjoy passing on this knowledge to newer players and seeing how far they have come in this game,” she said.
Rogerson loves that the game caters to different types of players, from the more casual to the highly competitive.
“There is so much room for people to play at their own pace and comfort level, and that’s extremely important to incorporate in any community,” she said.
Andrew Steven, an Urban and Regional Planning student at Ryerson University with a professional background in community engagement and public space development, agrees.
To him, the design of the game helps build relationships with others based on common interests and aids people who are either a bit shy or have social anxiety.
“People can tell you to go to YouTube and watch a video about it, but I really just like talking to people, learning new things from conversations,” Steven said.
He once caught 21 shiny Pokémon, which are Pokémon with a different colour scheme.
“It was kinda funny. It was an equalization — you can have that kind of experience, and it doesn’t matter if you’re brand new to the game, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been playing for years,” he said.
Kaitlyn Hollander and Liv Taylor both enjoy this aspect of the game, as even children and new players can easily hop into the game and enjoy it.
“Just telling people about it and explaining how to evolve or how to do certain things — the best part is seeing others playing the game and you both give this look to each other,” Taylor said.
“It really helps kids that maybe aren’t able to access the community — whether or not that’s just their parents saying, ‘you can’t go [online], because those are strangers.’ It really does help them feel included and gives them something to discover about the game, which makes me happy,” she said.
“It makes people look at it with new eyes. It’s interesting for people who come to a city for the first time as well, because they’re looking at all these cool little things,” Steven said.
Steven said an assigned value in a location for the game can also depend on its accessibility.
“I think people who are differently abled — they’re at a disadvantage. There’s a lot of motion involved, and you can’t really just be in one place for the entire time that you’re playing. So it’s a matter or how much can they get from the experience,” Steven said. “Four inches can be the difference of somebody who is differently abled using your business — your service or not.”
Rogerson believes a healthy community needs strong, dedicated core members that are open to growing and developing their own skills, so that they can aid in the development of the individuals around them.