How is Pokémon Go affecting St Albans?

There are various Pokémon popping up around St Albans

There are various Pokémon popping up around St Albans - Credit: Archant

A worldwide phenomenon hit the district last week and has affected the community in more ways than one.

Pokemon Go players in St Albans city centre

Pokemon Go players in St Albans city centre - Credit: Archant

The Pokémon Go app officially launched in the UK on Wednesday (13) and hundreds of people are now parading the streets of the district hoping to ‘catch them all’.

The app uses GPS signal and the camera from your smartphone to show Pokémon in real time, but users can’t remain in one place if they hope to advance in the game.

Players must walk around in search of the animated monsters, which have varying powers and strengths, trying to catch them and eventually battle other users at ‘gyms’ based in local landmarks.

But it is all in good fun says Chaos City Comics manager Luke Ridge, who is an avid player himself.

Pokemon Go players at St Albans Abbey

Pokemon Go players at St Albans Abbey - Credit: Archant

He said: “It is what every fan of Pokémon has always wanted, especially if you grew up playing the game. In the back of your mind you always wanted it to be real life and that’s what it is. It merges virtual reality with real life.

“It’s a community, it’s bringing people together. I went for a 12km walk with a friend of mine playing the game and we must have had conversations with 15/20 different people. Different social groups that you would never normally come across in your daily life but you just end up talking because you’re all after the same Pokémon.”

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Luke, who suffers with anxiety and depression, said that the game has also helped with his mental health.

He added: “It has helped me with my anxiety and depression already. You jump onto it and it gives you something to concentrate on. Especially if you grew up with the game it gives you that sense of excitement so when you catch something it gives you a sense of achievement.”

There are various Poké-stops based in shops and other smaller landmarks where users can top up on items which they need to catch the Pokémon.

Bigger landmarks, such as the St Albans Cathedral, house the ‘gyms’ where users go to battle and have seen an increased footfall as a result.

Helena O’Sullivan, the cathedral’s marketing and friends assistant, said; “There has been a noticeable presence of Pokémon Go Players in the building and around it.

“We’ve had a few battles at the West End of the Cathedral where the gym is and lots of Pokémon sightings around the building including in the virgers vestry and next to the organ loft.

“It’s nice to see people having fun around the building and we hope if they’re playing outside, it will encourage them to visit.”

Despite many positive experiences, there has been some criticism of the app over safety fears and the NSPCC called for it not to be launched in the UK last week.

An NSPCC spokesman said: “There are loads of good things about the game, and there’s a reason it’s become so popular. But it’s important to learn the risks involved. Users can draw other players to certain spots by using ‘beacons’ [lures] to flag up other Pokémon. This means that adults could physically meet up with children. There’s a physical risk and also the app asks for personal details like date of birth and email addresses.”

In response to some scepticism a local woman, Hannah Knight, took to popular Facebook page St Albans Mums to voice her approval of the app and said that keeping safe was about being responsible.

Hannah was quick to praise the app because of the way it had brought her family together. She wrote: “My son, who many of you know is low functioning non verbal ASD, had an operation on both legs last year, he is meant to walk a certain distance every day as part of his physio - it’s a fight daily for his SEN teachers (try explaining to a NV child, who is already struggling with walking and his weight, why he has to do it). However, since the game came out, he’s reaching his targets every day.”

Hannah also wrote about people she had met during her family game-play. They include a man who had been struggling with weight loss but has dropped 7lbs since downloading the app.

She added: “You’ll notice from my points, that I have met and held conversations with a lot of people over the last few days - the app is getting the community talking and communicating again! As trivial as it may be, it doesn’t matter! It’s a pleasure to be walking around my block and see people of all ages smiling, laughing and talking to one another.”