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Rural Pokémon Trainers Face Unique Game Challenges

People who live in the country who want to play Pokémon Go have a problem.

There are a lot of techie reasons why Pokémon stops are found more often in cities. But generally speaking, where there are more players or people there is usually more Pokémon activity on the game -- it just works better.

That’s of small consolation to Jim Heising. He and his family live on a farm outside of Finley, Washington. They just moved here from the Bay Area a month ago.

And then Pokémon Go came out.

“The experience has been a little bit frustrating because it seems like everyone else in the world is having this great fun with it,” Heising said. “But out in the middle of nowhere -- it’s not that easy.”

Not easy, because there are no Pokémon to catch. Just a blank map. A yawning blue and green screen.

Still determined to play, he and two of his sons threw down some scent traps in the game that attract Pokémon toward players. And they got excited when they actually spotted a Pokémon near their trap.

“And for whatever reason, we kept walking and walking and walking and it didn’t get any closer,” Heising said. “So it was like the GPS signal or the wifi signal or something wasn’t really really good out there.”

Not to mention the spotty cell service way out here.

Desperately seeking Pikachu

But even some players in fairly large towns are having trouble. Like the fast-growing cities of Kennewick and Pasco. So, some players are just commuting to the hot Pokémon spots. Like Howard Amon park in Richland.

Jennifer Orellana is a Pokémon nerd to the hilt.

“I’ve been following it since my childhood basically,” she said. “So, I’ve shamelessly just been liking Pokémon since then.”

The 27-year-old even sports an original Pokémon baseball cap. Orellana dragged her dog and her brother, Jose, to the park from Pasco and Kennewick -- where there’s a dearth of pocket monsters. Jose said you can only play in the Tri-Cities if you can drive or catch a ride.

“I mean unless you live, like, near downtown Pasco or near a park or anything,” he said. “That’s the only way you’ll be able to get a Poké stop at all.”

Jose said a car load of his friends even drove four hours to Seattle just to play.

A different game

Not far away was Jenn Turner. She’s a freelance writer in Brooklyn who’s visiting her folks in the Tri-Cities. She started playing Pokémon Go in Queens the first day it came out.

The biggest difference between the Big Apple and the apple capital? The amount of Poké stops -- where players can restock their potions and Poké balls -- and the gyms where players and their Pokémon throw down. In Brooklyn they’re everywhere.

“I’ll open up my map and I’ll just see stops, like stop after stop after stop,” Turner said.

In Richland, with her parents, it’s a different game.

“I had to walk, like, a mile, to the first Poké stop,” she said. “And my parents asked me to look at the map and tell which direction we should head … and I was like, ‘I don’t know; maybe a half a mile before the next gym or stop or anything.’”

Heising said his kids were disappointed in the Pokémon rural experience. But, it wasn’t long before they returned to other pastimes.

“Lots of walks, riding bikes, shooting bb guns, lots of barbeques, mowing the lawn, taking 4-wheel drives,” Heising said. “All sorts of fun stuff like that.”

John Go contributed to this report.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.