2016-08-11 / Front Page

Pokemon invades Biddeford parks

By Ben Meiklejohn
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – A popular game played on mobile devices has attracted crowds of residents into city parks and historical landmarks. In Mechanics Park, as many as 40 people may be seen congregating in the park playing the game, Pokemon “Go”, in which users attempt to catch virtual reality “creatures” and to collect one of each of 147 different creature “species.”

School Committee member Heather Mills, who is married to Ward 5 City Councilor Bob Mills, said she and her children frequently attend the park after dinner to congregate with others and catch the creatures.

“All these years we’ve been trying to promote the parks, and Pokemon has brought us together outside in the parks socializing,” said Heather Mills.

Ryan Plante, who has lived in Biddeford for almost three years, said it is nice to see people using the parks now.

“They were almost always empty before,” Plante said.

Plante’s wife Brittany Plante, said she has lived in Biddeford for seven years, first as a student at University of New England, and then remaining in the city after graduation. Brittany Plante said Ryan Plante moved to Biddeford to live with her and the couple married and settled in the city.

“Biddeford is up and coming,” Brittany Plante said. “It’s nice to see kids actually playing ball in the parks and people having picnics.”

Brittany Plante said Pokemon ‘Go” is a big reason people are now inhabiting the city’s parks.

Heather and Bob Mills’ son, Trenton, who is 14 and will be a freshman at Biddeford High School next year, said of Pokemon “Go”, “You just get to walk around and find things that aren’t really there … It’s more of people getting together and actually doing something and getting along.”

Trenton said he has captured 47 of the game’s 147 species.

“How do I have more than you do?” asked his mother, who said she also caught a creature that was in her cup of coffee the other day while she was eating breakfast at a restaurant. The game uses the cell phone camera to view the creatures embedded within the actual image viewable by the lens.

Heather Mills said there are two “PokeStops” in Mechanics

Park, where gamers can place virtual “lures” or use virtual “incense” to attract creatures.

“Once you collect them all, then that’s basically the end of the game, but you can still battle them in the gym,” said Heather Mills.

The Mills’ other son, Cooper, who is 7 and going into second grade, said he enjoys collecting the Pokemon cards, but his iPod does not have enough memory to download the Pokemon “go” app.

Heather Mills said the game is using recreation to build community and educate people about historical landmarks.

There is also a health element, she added, because in order to hatch creature eggs, users have to incubate them by walking either two, five or 10 kilometers while the app is on.

“There’s no driving, they know when you’re driving,” she added.

Heather Mills said all of the PokeStops, where people can lure creatures, are in public parks and at historical landmarks.

“All of the PokeStops are part of the Museums in the Streets,” she said. “The opera house, the fire department … It’s really getting kids out in the community and learning about their community and walking around and not sitting in front of their television playing a video game anymore.”

Heather Mills said there are PokeGyms, where creatures can battle each other to claim the gym on behalf of one of the game’s three teams, in the style of King of the Hill, at Second Congregational Church and at the Lincoln Mill clock tower.

The three teams in the game are named Mystic, Valor and Instinct.

“So everything has something to do with the history of the city of Biddeford,” she said.

Trenton said he learned about the Biddeford mills by reading a plaque that was posted where one of the PokeStops was located.

“It’s all these places kids never really knew existed in the city and now they’re going there,” Heather Mills said.

“The World War II dedication monument, that’s one of them. It’s bringing kids all over the city.”

Heather Mills said you can collect items at PokeStops such as potions, balls and “revives,” and the more PokeStops you get to in one day, the more items you can collect.

“We do a tour, and try to hit as many as we can on the way to the park,” she said.

Heather Mills said the game is simliar to Geocaching, an app where people use GPS to find objects.

“It’s the same as Geocaching, but easier,” she said. “Instead of looking for a piece of paper in a tree, I can find a Pokemon on my phone.”

Although, she added, “It kills your (phone) battery. It’s the worst thing for your battery.”

Heather Mills said people she knows go out on Poke-dates with each other.

“We keep joking about a Poke-cab, where we can hire a cab that will just drive us around to all the PokeStops.”

Of the people that gather in the parks, the gamers are among all ages, from young kids to people in their 40’s.

Heather Mills said people who complain about the game have never played it and don’t understand it. “It’s funny, someone had been complaining about it, saying, ‘Take your face out of your phone and go out and do something,’” she said. “Well, actually, that’s what we’re doing. We’re going out into our town, going to places, learning about them and meeting other people.

“And I think people end up talking about other things. I met a woman with a chameleon and we chatted about her chameleon. It changed colors while it walked between us. We just kind of hang out and socialize to meet other people.”

Ryan Plante said people using the park to play the game are friendly to each other, even if they don’t know each other.

Brittany Plante said there is a neighborly sense of community in the parks that didn’t exist in the city before the game became popular.

Heather Mills said, “All it took was Pokemon. It was one of my first moments when I went down to Mechanics Park and I realized, ‘Wow, this is all it took.’”

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