Entertainment, Feature, Local News

Homewood Pokémon trainers still going strong

Every Wednesday, a diverse group of people meets in downtown Homewood. They walk around the area battling monsters only visible to phones and mobile devices. In addition to digital rewards, these players are finding joy, camaraderie and unexpected adventures in the world of Pokémon GO.

In the summer of 2016, Pokémon GO took the world by storm captivating millions with its unique blend of augmented reality, nostalgia and adventure. The game’s popularity skyrocketed as people of all ages roamed the streets, searching for virtual creatures to catch. The game’s marketing slogan was “You’ve gotta catch ‘em all.” A throwback to the first theme song for the English version of an anime show called “Pokémon.”  

Homewood Pokémon GO players, from left, Aquila Wilks, Kathleen Kallend and Gary Weisenberger. (Chris Weber/H-F Chronicle)

Fast forward to the present day, and while the initial frenzy may have subsided, a dedicated group of trainers continues to roam the digital landscape. The Homewood Pokémon GO group is no exception. While the objectives in Pokémon GO originally involved capturing creatures, new features have made cooperation necessary. 

One of the most remarkable aspects of Pokémon GO is its ability to bring people together. The game’s mechanics promote social interaction through features like “Raid Battles” and “Community Days,” which encourage trainers to team up and tackle powerful Pokémon in a cooperative setting. Friendships have blossomed, and communities have formed as players meet and bond over their shared passion.

Raids involve larger creatures invading virtual gyms that trainers must work together to defend. A group of players in Homewood formed around this new concept almost immediately. The COVID-19 pandemic bolstered the community as people were forced to look for outdoor activities while socially distancing. Players can participate in the raids from the comfort of their vehicles or walk along with the group.

Some of the Homewood Pokémon GO players have relocated over the years but still play remotely with the group on occasion. Two players now live in Costa Rica and invite their friends from Homewood to defend their gyms from time to time. The ability for players to participate remotely makes the game much more inclusive.

For many trainers, Pokémon GO offered a gateway into the world of Pokémon, reigniting childhood memories and fostering a sense of exploration. The game encourages players to step outside their comfort zones and discover hidden treasures in their own neighborhoods and cities. From community parks to historic landmarks, these dedicated trainers embrace the joy of discovery, venturing to new places in search of rare Pokémon and engaging in battles with other players.

“It’s changed how we interact with our community,” said Homewood resident Sarah Young. “I lived here for 10 years before I learned all the places in the area.” Young credited Pokémon GO for getting her out of the house and learning more about Homewood.

The Homewood group has grown to include nearly 200 people. Weekly meetups may attract 25-50 trainers. 

Local Pokémon GO groups have become tight-knit communities, organizing regular meetups and events. Trainers exchange tips, trade Pokémon and share stories of their most thrilling encounters. The game has transcended the virtual realm, fostering real-world connections that extend far beyond the screen.

“We can’t go anywhere in Homewood without running into someone that plays,” said a player known by the community as Shadow Redbeard. Many players know each other by their in-game names. This feature isolates the game world from the player’s everyday lives.

While some may consider Pokémon GO a mere mobile game, dedicated trainers see it as an ongoing challenge that pushes them to explore their limits. Niantic, the game’s developer, regularly introduces new features, events and Pokémon to keep players engaged. Trainers find motivation in completing the Pokédex, reaching higher levels and conquering difficult raids.

Pokémon GO serves as an excellent tool for promoting physical activity and mental well-being. The game incentivizes walking, jogging and exploring outdoor spaces, encouraging a healthier lifestyle while offering a welcome escape from the monotony of daily routines. For example, players that walk at least 50 kilometers can win top-tier awards.

What keeps these trainers coming back day after day, year after year? For many, Pokémon GO represents more than just a game; it’s a bridge between generations. Parents share the adventure with their children, reliving their own Pokémon memories while creating new ones together. It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Pokémon, and the power of nostalgia to transcend time and connect people across different ages.

While the initial Pokémon GO phenomenon may have faded from the headlines, a passionate community of trainers continues to embrace the game’s immersive world. Pokémon GO remains a source of joy, friendship and exploration for these dedicated individuals who find solace and excitement in the pursuit of virtual creatures. Beyond the hype, Pokémon GO stands as a reminder of the transformative power of technology, bringing people together and fueling their sense of adventure, even years after its launch. So, next time you see a group of trainers huddled around a landmark, remember that they’re not just catching Pokémon—they’re creating memories and forging connections that could last a lifetime.

The Homewood Pokémon GO group meets every Wednesday. Interested trainers can usually catch them near St. Paul Community Church around 6 p.m. They welcome anyone who wants to play and consider themselves a friendly group. Lucky new members might even get a free button to commemorate their first adventure.

Homewood Pokémon Trainers use an alley to reach the next battle. (Chris Weber/H-F Chronicle)

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