There are virtual creatures hiding all over Stornoway and some residents are having great fun trying to catch and train them.
They’re called Pokemon, short for pocket monsters, and the game is called Pokeman Go. Local players have joined the tens of millions of people around the world who have fallen hard for the game.
At the weekend, Niall Bryden was out with three of his friends on the first sunny day in weeks. The young men are in their early to mid-20s and remember Pokemon from their childhood.
“I guess it’s nostalgic in a way,” said Niall. “I grew up watching the cartoons and playing the games on the Game Boy. “
Back in the late 1990s Pokemon was played on video games and with trading cards. The biggest dream of Pokeman devotees back then was What if Pokemon were real?
Pokemon Go creators have come close to making that dream come true.
The game uses the camera and GPS on the player’s phone to create a virtual world called augmented reality where players can interact with the Pokemon in real-world surroundings.
Playing Pokemon Go is also nostalgic for Lewis Macaskill and although he does spend some dedicated time playing the game, he finds that he mostly plays it while going about his normal day.
“It’s good to have something to do when you’re walking about. You can casually whip out your phone and take part,” he said.
Lewis and his friends see others playing the game around Stornoway. They reckon there are maybe 50 people playing Pokemon Go in the local area and of those, around 20 are advanced players.
“We were out last night and it seems that someone was taking gyms really quickly,” said Lewis. Only advanced players can enter gyms.
Along with the Pokemon characters, the virtual world of Pokemon Go is populated with destinations like Pokestops and gyms.
Gyms are where teams battle for control. A player must reach level five to enter a gym. When players enter a gym for the first time they are asked to join a team. There are three teams to choose from – yellow, blue and red. In Stornoway there are gyms at the Herring Girl statue in Perceval Square, the clock tower at the Nicolson Institute and other locations.
At Pokestops players can load up on tools that will help them play the game. Pokestops are usually located in culturally important places. There’s a Pokestop at the Town Hall and a concentrated group of Pokestops between the Town Hall and the Ferry Terminal in Stornoway.
“There is an ongoing war for the gyms of Stornoway,” said Lewis.
Lewis is happily surprised that the game is catching on in Stornoway.
“There’s quite a lot of activity. You see a lot of people walking around or riding their bikes playing. It gets people out of the house and off the couch.”
Kay Matheson was walking with her children Tyler and Shannon Robertson and their dog, Coco. Tyler is nine years old and has been playing Pokemon Go for two days. He has reached level four and is excited about level five when he can enter a gym.
Kay thinks the game is “good for the kids. It’s fun for the family. We’re not stuck in the house with the kids playing video games.”