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'Gotta catch 'em all!' - Downham Market's pandemic Poke-fest

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ince the start of the pandemic last year, the various Covid lockdowns have meant the adult population of the UK had to come up with new and inventive ways to occupy the space once filled with shopping, Costa Coffee and haircuts.

Some tried to bake that peach and prosecco cheesecake they saw in Good Housekeeping a decade ago. Some got to grips with their garden.

Others took to the world of gaming, punctuated by Netflix and takeaway.

Pokemon Go is a hit in Downham Market (45131848)
Pokemon Go is a hit in Downham Market (45131848)

Mobile games were downloaded in their thousands. The Nintendo switch sold out on Amazon.

But, for some Downham residents, the way to get through lockdown was to revive the quest to "Catch 'em all".

Niantic, creator of mobile game Pokemon Go, released the unique RPG back in 2016, much to the delight of millennials who grew up watching and playing Pokemon.

However, the game proved troublesome upon its release - with disgruntled pensioners shooing away avid Poke-hunters from their gardens.

There was a "disproportionate increase" in collisions near PokeĢStops, of people playing the game whilst driving.

While the game had many fans, popularity decreased over the years as the game didn't hold players with the same old school charm of the 90s, pixelated version. Plus, it encouraged people to walk around outside, why would they want to do that when they could curl up on the sofa with a bag of Doritos?

But, in lockdown, walking became more important. Suddenly, pet dogs were being dragged out five times a day and the local woodlands became the new Spoons.

With that, came the re-emergence of Pokemon Go.

Pokemon Go is a hit in Downham Market (45131856)
Pokemon Go is a hit in Downham Market (45131856)

The game had a perfect interface for pandemic players. Not only that, but it adapted itself for the Covid era, with Niantic holding its first ever virtual "Poke Fest", usually held in places like Chicago.

Downham's adult population saw a surge in Go users.

Steve Hewitt, 35, an IT consultant, once scoffed at the idea of a game that turned professional men into eager hunters of cute virtual critters.

He said : "I'm not a big gamer to be honest, but during lockdown I found myself drawn into the game.

"It's a great excuse to go outside, and makes walks less boring.

"I couldn't even name a Pokemon before and now I'd like to think of myself as an expert!"

Kat Brady, 38, a writer, was also lured into the game.

She told the Lynn News: "I used to laugh at the group of people who hung out on the town Square playing Pokemon!

"Now look at me, it's my secret shame! Obviously I knew about Pikachu and Charizard, everyone knows them, but now I know all about the different type of Pokemon.

"I had walked around the town so many times and was getting bored, I said I would stop playing after lockdown finished and a year later I'm still at it."

Emily Taylor, 29, a shopkeeper from Wimbotsham downloaded the game in 2016.

She said: "I was always a Pokemon fan and the game made me so excited! But I soon got bored of it and life got so busy I forgot.

During lockdown I re-downloaded it and I'm hooked! Me and my boyfriend have gone out at night just to walk about and catch Pokemon! He didn't even like it at first but I got him into it."

Many people in Downham have downloaded the game, as players have noticed when joining in local raids to catch rare Pokemon.

The Whalebone, a "Pokestop" attracts people looking to battle in a "Gym" or catch a special legendary Pokemon.

Mr Hewitt said: "Sometimes there are upwards of ten people at a local raid, I didn't even know so many people played it!"

However, all is not well in the land of Pandemic Pokemon.

Players are split into blue, red and yellow teams and some believe a small number of others may have "hacked the game" to dominate the Downham poke-gyms.

Miss Taylor said: "Every gym in the town is now blue, and other players don't have a chance to win, we just get booted out of the gyms.

"You can see it's a hack because no matter the time of day or night you can't take over the gym. They were really hot on it during the first lockdown.

"No one knows who these players are and it's a bit of a mystery in the Pokemon Go community."

Mr Hewitt said: "It's not fair play at all, I mean I like the game but I wouldn't go that far to win."

Cameron Brown, 44, said: "It's happened less as the pandemic has gone on but it was really annoying when I started the game.

"They clearly have too much time on their hands, even more so than the rest of us during Covid."

With the lockdown easing, who knows whether this resurrected trend will continue on as life gets back to normal?

One thing is for certain, the thought of a shiny Pikachu in their back garden has certainly put a smile on people's faces, no matter how old they are.

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