Catching Pokémon in the real world

A family affair, Adama Motala, 13, with parents Fazila and Mohamed of Rondebosch.

Don’t be alarmed if you see people wondering around aimlessly, some running, smartphones held high, making an upward swipe gesture and possibly shouting “Gotta catch ‘em all!”

It’s the latest craze sweeping the world and Groot Constantia is one of the cool places you are likely to see people playing the game.

Asked if it would be good for Groot Constantia, CEO of Constantia Valley Tourism Jooles Kilbride gasped, “No, not unless they have control over the family car.”

Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game inspired by the popular TV show that allows users to catch Pokémon in the real world. It uses all aspects of Android or iOS: GPS to find areas populated with Pokémon, the camera to see virtual Pokémon in front of you, a built-in pedometer (you can’t cheat by driving around), and internet connectivity, all making a smartphone smarter.

And everyone is playing, all ages and both genders, such as Justin and Leanne Hewitt of Mowbray. “It’s stupendously addictive,” they said after having played for three days. They are already on levels nine and 10 respectively.

Paddling furiously off Mouille Point lighthouse, Leanne squealed, “My egg hatched, look it’s a squirtle.”

Holding her phone high, she explained that she had caught the egg the previous day on Rondebosch Common and had to cover ground for it to hatch.

And that’s the beauty of the game: cyber games such as World of Warcraft and Candy Crush have always been popular, played on cellphones, computers, television and consoles, but Pokémon Go combines smartphones with being outdoors, taking players to places of interest that double as Poké Stops: parks, beaches, train stations, national monuments, churches, mosques and librararies.

Adama Motala, 13, of Rondebosch, was dawdling around the Company’s Garden, his mom and dad in tow.

Mom Fazila said she likes the game because the Pokémons are located in safe areas, so there’s less danger of someone snatching the phone or the player walking into unseen things, like manholes, or falling off very visible things, like mountains, as recently happened in California, where two men fell off a cliff while playing. She said the game was also taking them to new places they wouldn’t normally visit.

Dad Mohamed said the game was similar to geocaching, an activity in which an item, or a container holding a number of treasures, is hidden at a particular location for GPS users to find by means of coordinates posted on the internet. But with Pokémon, the treasure is virtual. Adam, on level four, says he enjoyed it because he was trying to beat his friends.

Justin said Nintendo’s value has hit $11 billion since Pokémon Go’s release. With its success it has crashed the game titles’ machines and triggered its designers to pause its global roll-out. Officially it is only open to gamers in America, Australia, and New Zealand, but this has not stopped a slew of South Africans getting their hands on it. Adam downloaded the app the same way the Hewitts had, through an American app store account.

According to media reports, the idea for the game is based on an old April Fools’ Day joke by Google: the company released a video to say that for one day only, Google Maps would allow people to find virtual Pokémon in the wild. The joke was so popular that Pokémon fans around the world frantically went searching for Pikachu and friends in their neighbourhoods. On Wednesday July 6, Niantic (formerly owned by Google) released Pokémon Go and it became a global success within hours. In fact it’s so popular that it keeps crashing but this does not appear to put users off, they merely groan and reboot.

Over the weekend, Justin and Leanne visited Rondebosch Common, Green Point Park – a first for them – Sea Point promenade and had breakfast and played in the Company’s Garden.

Justin said he had never seen that tearoom so busy. He said some venues put in lures by getting Poké creatures to come. “It’s a good gimmick, a registered Pokémon hot spot or hub, called Poké Stop,” said Justin.

In the virtual Pokémon world, there are also gyms where the Pokémon battles go down, but Leanne said they don’t want to fight because they would get beaten up.

Ms Kilbride suggests that parents use Pokémon Go as an excuse to get the little darlings excited about a day of wine tasting … for the parents, that is.

“Seriously, Groot Constantia was around long before Pikachu was a twinkle in his dad’s eye, so no, I don’t think the game will have any major effect on visitor numbers to the estate,” she said.

Other Poké Stops are Century City, UCT’s Upper Campus, V&A Waterfront, the City centre and Simon’s Town.

Justin said players are gathering, chatting, sharing places where they’ve caught characters, encouraging others to visit those hot spots.