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Pokemon Go takes Belfast gamers on a cultural tour to catch 'em all

By Christopher Woodhouse

Published 26/07/2016

Christopher Woodhouse at Stormont
Christopher Woodhouse at Stormont

When I heard everybody was wandering about capturing monsters on their mobile phones I decided it merited a Sunday Life investigation – or at least a couple of hours skive from the office.

Although it sounds like the plot of the latest straight to DVD horror movie to be shot here it’s actually Pokemon GO - the Japanese reality based phone game sweeping the planet.

Everywhere from Stormont and Belfast City Hall to the back doors of pubs and shopping centres have been selected as sites where players can collect the 151 creatures of the Pokemon universe.

The game has attracted millions of players worldwide in just over two weeks since its release with some early addicts reportedly giving up their jobs to become dedicated Pokemon hunters.

At first sight it looks deceptively simple, even to a techo-dunce like me who doesn’t know their apps from their elbow.

After downloading the game you walk about the real world like a drunk lemming, looking at your phone screen which displays where the monsters are to be found.

Upon finding one of the creatures you toss a red and white Poke Ball to capture it by flicking from the bottom of the phone screen.

OPTED

Before monster bagging can begin you pick a character, in my case a knee-breaches wearing bloke rendered in the Japanese anime cartoon style.

The game then asks you to pick a nickname for your character but it would not accept any variation of “Christopher” or “Woodhouse” so I opted for “Sunday Life”.

The Pokemon are nearly as common as pigeons in Belfast city centre so I didn’t have to go far to find my first one, nestling beside the desk of Sunday Life Chief Reporter Ciaran Barnes.

Despite Ciaran’s scoffs of derision at an allegedly grown-up man playing such a thing, I was eager to pocket my first monster, a Bulbasaur.

I easily snapped up the happy looking reptile with a clumsy opening pitch of a Poke Ball, which rekindled a long forgotten sense of childish glee.

I was keen to get out on the streets to find further creatures and the photographer was more than happy to be dragged out into the hottest day of the year to watch me play a video game.

Our first stop was Buoy Park, just across the road from the Belfast Telegraph building.

Some of the games teething problems and, to be honest, the meagre technical abilities of my bargain basement smart phone made for some frustrating pacing up and down.

POPPED

Before long a creature called a Pidgeotto, which resembled a chicken crossed with a nightclub bouncer, suddenly popped into view near the statue of legendary Belfast boxer Rinty Monaghan.

The taps, heat and limited power of my phone made this one a bit harder to nab with the game skipping about and freezing repeatedly as the processor felt like it was about to burn through the casing.

However, perseverance accompanied by more than a little blue language saw the hard lad bird captured.

Hot on the back of the second success we rushed round to the Albert Clock but sadly the monument to the Victorian father-of-nine was absent of any Pokemon.

I then headed to the City Hall via Victoria Square where en route I encountered a Pidgey hiding in amongst the empty kegs outside Bittles Bar.

John Bittles, the bar’s owner, took it all in his stride when I told him that his barrel store was the nesting site for a digital bird but some of the patrons looked at me as if I was three-sheets to the wind.

Belfast can be frustrating to walk around at the best of times but staring at your phone while on the look-out for monsters made it all the harder to dodge the summer droves of lost tourists and near feral school children off for the summer.

Unlike the towering clock tribute to her husband, the statue of Queen Victoria at the front of the City Hall has been honoured as the site of a gym in the game.

Here you can train your captured Pokemon and fight them against those of other players.

Sadly you have to reach Level 5 before you can check in and do battle with your mates beneath the monument to the former Empress of India.

The visit to City Hall wasn’t entirely fruitless as some careful stepping among the lunchtime sun worshippers lounging on the lawns was rewarded with a Drowzee.

Drowzee, which looks like an Anteater with jaundice, was hiding to one side of the austere statue of the former Lord Mayor and MP Sir James Horner Haslett.

TICKLED

Working on the basis that notable civic buildings might provide further success, I decided to escape the suffocating heat of Belfast with a trip to Stormont.

I’m sure Edward Carson would be tickled pink to know that he has been acknowledged by the creators of Pokemon GO as you can pick up more Poke Balls at his statue.

While no Pokemon appeared while we were dandering around Carson’s feet, Parliament Building’s are on the map as a gym which raises the exciting prospect of Pokemon battles with MLAs after the summer recess.

Though perhaps not with the new Assembly speaker, Robin Newton, who gave me an odd look as I circled the statue of the unionist icon.

The last bag of the day was a Poliwag, a blueberry shaped creature with an hypnotic spiral on it chest.

With what felt like the onset of a spectacular case of sunburn and only at Level 3 I decided to call it a day.

While I’m not quite smitten enough to jack in the day job I reckon there’ll be plenty of bemused gamers bumping into people on their quest to catch ’em all for some time to come.

Online Editors

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