Pokémon Go was released in the U.S. on Wednesday, to much excitement from those who were born in the 80’s and 90’s. Pokémon originally came to the U.S. in September of 1998, bringing us Blue and Red, and they quickly became extremely popular games for the Nintendo Game Boy. Nintendo, realizing how huge this franchise could be, continued to back the Pokémon brand by putting out many other versions, and types, of games across many of their systems. There were cartoons, movies, manga, and merchandise galore. All of these still exist today, but with the release of Pokémon Go we are seeing a game do something that few others have dared to do.
Pokémon Go wants you to go outside, brave the weather, get some exercise, and meet new people as a side effect.
There are some similarities in this game to the original ones, such as finding and collecting Pokémon, and battling other Pokémon to be the best. The main difference is that you cannot battle just anyone, you catch Pokémon by actually moving around in the world, and you can take over Gyms that are scattered all over your home town.
The technology comes from Niantic, the company that brought the hugely popular game Ingress to cell phones back in 2013. It is an augmented reality game, just as Pokémon Go is, and the places marked in that game have become Pokestops in this one. Niantic has put this technology to good use, with over 50,000 downloads in the first hour of launching the app, and quickly growing into the number 1 app on iPhone in just days.
But this article is not about the tech, as neat as it may be. I wanted to write about my experience yesterday while playing this game. I woke up early, the sun was out, and I wanted to do something with my friends. I hadn’t had much of a chance to check out the game, so I decided I was going to grab some food to power up for my Pokémon hunting, and head out into the surrounding areas and see what it was really all about. I was joined by 3 friends, and we chose where we would go looking first.
We ended up at Bishop Park, which is on the water and quite beautiful for our little town of Wyandotte. We get to park and the first thing I noticed was how chaotic the parking lot was. Even for a beautiful Sunday afternoon, it seemed oddly full. We got out, turned our games on, and went to go hunt Pokémon. Right away we noticed that there were many other people doing the exact same thing. People of all ages, ranging from five years old to 50 years old, were hunting together in groups. People were dropping lures by the water, which attract more Pokémon to the area, so that everyone could get more of the elusive creatures. The park was alive in such a unique way that I couldn’t help but feel excited. These were my people.
Now, I am very introverted, and I don’t like strangers, but I found myself chatting with all sorts of new people as we were all helping each other find where the more rare Pokémon were showing up, sharing our big finds, and mourning when the servers kicked us off. But it went beyond just that. We started talking about our lives. I learned about a 20-something’s tattoos, I spoke with an old man who was asking me what we were all doing on our phones, and I had conversations with several young children about the game while their eyes lit up and they smiled at me with pride while showing me their Pokedex. I met my neighbors, who I have failed to meet in the last 6 years that I have lived in this community, all because of a game that encourages people to get outside, and walk.
The most beautiful thing to me was that I looked across the park and could see all ages, nationalities, both male and females, all talking. All coexisting. It’s the world that I want to live in, and it was happening before my very eyes. Yes, the catalyst may have been a cell phone game, but it showed me a world that can find common ground, that can use that common ground to start a dialogue, and create a community, instead of just strangers living next to each other.
The point I’m getting at is this: love it or hate it, this game creates a space for people to feel comfortable outside of their shells. To talk to people they would never talk to due to fear, or lack of interest. To build community and come together for the sake of catching them all. While it may not be a huge thing, it is the start of something good in my neighborhood.
I will remember that day very fondly, even if I decide to hang up my trainer hat, which I am sure won’t be for quite some time. Even with the glitches, the 100 spf sunblock I had to bathe my pasty skin in, and the initial learning curve, this has been a wonderful experience for me, and has helped me to be a little less introverted, and a little more open to the possibility that there are good people left in the world.