Alex Wendover

Alex Wendover

Pokémon app drawing Nanaimo players outside

NANAIMO – Others criticize designers for marking memorials as game gathering places.

For Alex Wendover, getting out of the house and being socially active with strangers is not something she would normally consider, much less embrace.

Wendover, 21, has autism, depression, anxiety and also deals with a number of physical disabilities, including fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes musculoskeletal pain.

“I have a lot of physical disabilities as well as a mental disabilities, so for me, I don’t exactly want to leave the house,” Wendover said.

But lately, Wendover has been exploring parts of Nanaimo she’s never been to before and meeting complete strangers with her fiancé, thanks to the new smartphone app Pokémon Go.

“I am actually going out and doing things and meeting people and meeting people is huge for me because I usually shy away from people because I don’t have anything to relate to them with,” Wendover said. “I’ve been going out two to three times a day actually.”

Wendover is just one of the hundreds of Nanaimoites who have been playing Pokémon Go, a location-based augmented reality game that is available for free on Android and Apple devices. Developed by Niantic Inc., players catch Pokémon by walking around their communities and following an in-game map, which shows players where Pokémon might appear.

The game’s developers established PokéStops, or areas where users have a higher chance of catching Pokémon and performing other features in the game.

PokéStops are typically points of interests such as museums, parks, monuments and historical buildings. Players can also join teams and battle each other at places known as gyms.

Since downloading Pokémon Go, Wendover has walked about three kilometres a day, caught more than 80 Pokémon and met new people of all ages.

“For me to actually get the Pokémon I want, I actually have to go out and get exercise,” she said. “I’ve actually asked my fiancé that I want to go out of the house and do stuff. It’s great. I’ve met some really good friends so far and that is really awesome.”

The popularity of Pokémon Go has resulted in swaths of people hanging around various landmarks throughout the city including the Frank Ney statue at Maffeo Sutton Park, a popular PokéStop.Story continues below

Local businesses are trying to capitalize on the Pokémon Go craze.

Boston Pizza, in the city’s north end, is a Pokégym and owner Jim Mercier said his restaurant is offering 20 per cent discounts on pizza orders to anyone who shows staff members their Pokémon Go account.

However, the craze around Pokémon Go has left some people confused and angry as swaths of players crowd popular areas and memorials.

Nanaimo resident Jenny Latimer told the News Bulletin that a memorial for her baby son, Kevin, has somehow become a PokéStop.

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I started crying. It was pretty upsetting.”

Kevin Latimer was just a few months short of his second birthday when he died after falling out of a window in Ontario in 2004. To honour him, Latimer had a stained glass memorial installed outside of St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Burlington, Ont.

Latimer is now worried that the memorial will be vandalized or turn into a “circus” as dozens of people show to catch Pokémon.

“I just really wanted it as a sacred place,” she said.

She has since reached out to Niantic Inc., and asked them to remove her son’s memorial as a PokéStop, but has not heard back from them.

“I just wish they had some way of better controlling where these spots are … I don’t think cemeteries, churches or any place like that is an appropriate place,” Latimer said.