Mobile Gaming: If you see people young and old wandering the streets of Thimphu with their heads buried deep in their smartphones, they are not checking emails or texting but hunting for Pokémon, the animated characters from the Pokémon Go game that have taken the world by storm.

Despite not being released in Asia at the moment except for Japan, where it was released yesterday, Bhutanese gamers/trainers have managed to download the game into their smartphones and have been playing the game for the past week.

Pokémon Go is one of Nintendo’s first smartphone games. It was released in the US, Australia, New Zealand and Germany and other European countries since July 6.

What the trainers (referred to the gamers) have to do after downloading the game is to capture the characters that pop into existence alongside real-world physical objects. For the game to work, the trainers need Internet connection that works with the GPS map in the smartphone.

The Pokémon characters will appear in front of the trainers, which can be captured using the Poké balls. Different Pokémon characters appear at unexpected locations – bat-like Zubat hovers near the Clock Tower Square while a miniature dragon called Charmander appears inside a car. The characters appears in different and in unexpected places.

The game is perhaps one of the first popular games that blend the digital and real world together. This combined effect is perhaps the reason why many are hooked on to it with a heavy dose of mid-1990s nostalgia.

Tandin Tshering, 21, is a college student who has been playing Pokémon in Nintendo game since the fifth grade.

Wearing comfortable clothes, sneakers and a cap, Tandin Tshering looks like he’s ready to go anywhere the game takes him, but his attention is on his smartphone. Upon a closer look, Tandin Tshering is trying to catch a Pokémon character that has appeared in front of him.

He is with a group of friends who are equally engrossed in the game. They are at the Clock Tower Square – a Poké stop where they can get Poké balls and Poké eggs. Memorial choeten, Trashichhoedzong and Buddha Point at Kuenselphodrang are some of the Poké stops in Thimphu.

This game is interesting because it is adventurous, Tandin Tshering said.

“Many trainers like me are hooked in the game probably because it was well-advertised and everyone had been impatiently waiting for it. Many have grown up watching and playing Pokémon games so we have a connection with it as well,” Tandin Tshering said.

So far, he has captured more than 80 characters and he is evolving these characters when he is not capturing them.

“Sometimes I spend more than four hours walking around town playing the game. The best thing is that we have to move from one place to another, which gives us a good physical exercise,” Tandin Tshering said.

Tandin Tshering and his friends advice to visit #PokémonGotips if a trainer wants more tips on Instagram.

Tobden Wangchuk, 17, who is studying in Thailand, has created a Facebook page called Pokémon Go Bhutan where the trainers are sharing their experiences and tips on how to go about with the game.

“The game is familiar for everyone since we have grown up watching it. It takes me to places where I never thought of going. There’s a group of community formed that interacts with each other because of the common interest of the game,” Tobden Wangchuk said. “I’ve certainly met many new people and made friends because of the game.”

The only drawback of the game at present is the lack of Poké gyms – a place to battle one’s Pokémon with another for level ups and powers.

Tobden Wangchuk and his friends are visiting the Paro Taktshang next weekend since a trainer has pointed out as a Poké gym in the country.

“We are going on a pilgrimage and hopefully catch more Pokémons as well. We hope we can use the gym too,” he said.

Choying Lhamo, 21, is another ardent Pokémon trainer. She has captured more than 30 characters.

“I always wanted to lose some weight but not through any physical exercises or gym. This game is a perfect opportunity for me to do just that,” she said. “I get to visit different places, especially the Memorial Choeten and reap some spiritual benefits along with the characters. What a better way to spend one’s free time!”

While Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm, there are also concerns about the app’s effects such as security issues posed by the game, potential danger to pedestrians playing the game and cases of robbers exploiting the game to lure unsuspecting victims, among others.

Thinley Zangmo