An Anecdotal Reflection on the Latest Phenomenon in Gaming Called Pokémon Go
I live in a city by the sea, one with a world-famous park and a world-famous seawall that I have never been to. I have lived here all my life, heard all the stories of how beautiful it was, and I had never been. I’ve just never had to go.
That was, until my friend invited me to go Pokéhunting. Yes, that is a term I regularly use now. “We could catch a Snorlax in the park,” he said. He didn’t need to convince me beyond that — I was already in love with wandering the streets, meeting new people, and turning over the stones to discover the secrets of a city I thought I knew. We brought along my sister (who didn’t even have the game yet) and off we went.
We were well-versed in the rules of the game by now. Find the lures to find the Pokémon. Find exactly where the lures are quicker than concentrating on the in-game map by looking up. See the guaranteed crowd of people with their phones out.
There — three lures nestled like eggs along the curve of where green met blue, according to my Pokémon map. Along the way, a woman reading beneath a tree glances at the three of us. “Looking for Pokémon?” she asks, grinning. “Not the first, today.”
And sure enough, ahead of us was the crowd of dozens we’ve grown to expect. I meet the eyes of many and we smile like we’re all in on the worst-kept secret in the world. My friend and I sit on the edge of the seawall, feet dangling above grey sand and real-life sleeping geese, phones held tightly in our hands. I catch a Staryu.
“So I don’t love Pokémon Go because of the game itself, but because of everything it has built in such a short amount of time.”
A truck rolls up by the crowd. “You all catching Pokémon?!” the passenger yells. “You know it!” I yell back, and our neighbouring Pokémon trainers grin. My friend groans in embarrassment.
This was one of the most beautiful spots in the park. Just across the water, the biggest and brightest of the city’s glass towers rose high. Pleasure boats swayed almost imperceptibly on the still water, which at once reflected the emerald green of the trees, the silver of the office buildings, and the deep blue of the sky. I catch a Magikarp. I know I need a hundred more.
Behind us, I hear the whirl of bikes whizzing past, the murmur of tourists on a morning walk. I overhear a family passing by. “Why are there so many people here?” I can’t help but laugh uncontrollably with my friend. “They’re like Muggles,” he says, and he’s not wrong. They are the exception in this rare case in gaming — they’re the minority not in on it. But they can be, if they wish.
“Look up from your phones — I promise you the world around you is better!” A biker hollers this as she goes past. “No! We have to catch Pokémon!” our neighbour shouts back, and a ripple of laughter goes through the crowd.
They’re both right, I think. But I know that without this silly little game, I would never have been on the seawall that day. I have walked my share of kilometers to hatch my clutch of digital eggs, I have visited landmarks my eyes have skimmed over countless times. Suddenly, the city seems new.
So I don’t love Pokémon Go because of the game itself, but because of everything it has built in such a short amount of time. I have never seen a game bring together a community like this — one so widespread, so fast-moving, so joyous. Maybe it’s a fad, maybe this is foolish, but all I care about is how much fun we’re having. And right now, the city streets seem to glow with happiness, from the crowds gathered at Pokéstops to mutual complaints about glitches to the knowing glances passersby give one another now. I love the petty team fights and ridiculous memes and hearing a stranger shout with joy to her friends because she can finally evolve her Pokémon. I love hearing about all of this on the news, the newscasters sounding as amused as we are; I even love hearing the bewilderment of the older folks out of the loop. A few chastise, but we’re having too much fun to care. And all of it is going into gaming history.
Before our day is done on the seawall, my sister, who has never played a Pokémon game in her life, has caught her first Pikachu. She seems more excited about it than even my friend and I, and as he is explaining to her the rules of the game, she notices something on the “nearby” tracking grid.
“Look at this shadow,” she says. “It’s like, a dragon.”
“That’s a Dragonite,” I reply. The silhouette was right, and it had three footprints underneath it.
“Oh,” she says. She looks up at the two of us. “Shouldn’t we… go catch it or something?”
My friend and I look at each other, realization dawning. There was a Dragonite nearby. A pseudo-legendary Pokémon was with us somewhere in this enormous park.
“It’s utterly infectious. It’s exciting, unreserved fun on such a wide scale.”
Murmurings surge around us as everyone notices this development as well. Suddenly, the entire crowd by the lures, once content with sitting by the sea, was up and moving. We began roving in packs, a new excitement in the air. “If you find it, call it out!” I hear a girl shout, her friends laughing with delight. “We’re going this way!” I hear another group yell.
A man stops us on one of the trails, gives us tips on how the grid works. The Pokémon in the top left of the grid meant it was close, while the bottom right meant it was far. The Dragonite was quite far. We thank him, and we run.
We all spend the next half hour searching, but our time in the park was running out. We don’t find the Dragonite, and I do not know if anyone else had that day, but that is not the point.
The point is that I have never seen the city like this. I have never seen so many strangers willing to chat with one another, even if it is to just compare teams or give tips to beginners. And I know it is like this in cities all over the world. I love the stories of people kayaking out to battle gyms, of police stations asking budding trainers to look both ways before crossing the street, of people learning about local history on city plaques. I find it fascinating how businesses are using lures as a marketing strategy, how this little game has lead to the discovery of dead bodies, how animal shelters are encouraging players to take their dogs on walks while catching Pokémon.
It’s utterly infectious. It’s exciting, unreserved fun on such a wide scale. Some may call it a nostalgic return to the past, to the good old days of Pokémon, but I believe it is something new. Whatever your stance is on Pokémon Go, it is undeniable that we are seeing something special here, the likes of which we may never see again.
Now, I must venture out to fight my traitorous friend. He is on Team Valor, and I must retake my favourite gym for Team Mystic. And if I cannot hold onto that, then I must at least beat him to evolving a Gyarados.
I look forward to everything I will see along the way, my phone in hand, for however long this lasts.
Have you played Pokémon Go? Tell us about your experiences.