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Pokemon GO Live: The Adventure We’ve Been Waiting For

When Pokémon GO launched, I braced myself.  My fiancee was about to escape into a world I had never dared venture into, having had Pokemon-obsessed cousins and a sibling since the game debuted.  I knew that he’d be out with his friends, catching Pokemon, on the nights we typically spent gaming, going out, and laughing together.

So I did what made me cringe most: I agreed to go on a Pokemon outing.

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“Diddle agrees: Catch ’em all.”  My fiancee at the end of our Pokemon adventure.
One fateful Sunday evening, I joined 9 Pokemon trainers as they scoured our local college campus hoping to “catch ’em all.”  As we gathered at a friend’s house to begin the walk, a thought struck: What if I live-tweeted my experience? 

It would be a way to participate without installing the app (and descending into potential madness akin to what I experienced when Fallout Shelter first launched).  I’d be able to converse about what was happening, engaging with these new friends and my fiancee.

#PokemonGoLive was born.

2.5 hours and 4 kilometers later, what I found would…in its own weird way… “catch” me.

The Adventure Begins…

We began by walking from a friend’s house to the college campus, accompanied by my friend’s adorable dog.  It was a fairly walk-stop-walk-stop time, with a major stop by the aptly-named “Forrest” drive. (Get it? Wild Pokemon? HA.)

I watched as they caught the “leaf hair dude!” and pondered what “Playing Raspberries” could possibly mean.  I still think it might allude to doing that weird blow-on-a-Pokemon’s-tummy thing…

10 steps later. 10 STEPS.  And we were catching Clefairy. I was getting a little annoyed that the game was so stop-and-go when it came to crossing streets and getting up hills.  My hopes for a good pace and potentially making this a workout were in question.  But it was quickly dissipated by realizing that we were walking on with one of our trainers having disappeared into the wilds…

As we finally got on campus, I realized that others were out too.  It seemed like a slow night, with just random groups and a few cars…

But then…BAM!  Hello, people.

Now, it was time to play.  There were people everywhere – groups of friends trying to catch Pokemon.  Players exchanging tips.  And the ever present Lures awaiting my friends in the darkness…

A Poke Surprise…

But this is where my evening took an unexpected turn.  When you hear “Pokemon Go,” you probably think of tons of players staring at their phones until servers crash or batteries die.  You think of them hopping fences, breaking rules, or other foul deeds in their quest to catch all the Pokemon.

What you don’t expect – and what’s actually far more common – is for players to look up from their phones and discover the world.  In fact, this is what the game was made for, as detailed in Pokemon’s March press release, which states,

Explore cities and towns around where you live and even around the globe to capture as many Pokémon as you can…. Also look for PokéStops located at interesting places, such as public art installations, historical markers, and monuments, where you can collect more Poké Balls and other items.

I quickly found out that the players were looking up.

Everywhere we went, it wasn’t just about the Pokemon.  My friends looked up from their screens – seeking out the statues, buildings, and other landmarks that the app had designated as stops or gyms.  They wanted to see the actual objects represented on their screen.  On the college campus, it led to surprising discoveries:

 

 

 

Pokemon Go managed to accomplish something that museums, historic sites, and others have struggled with for years: Getting a generation of nerds into the world to discover it, and its stories, anew.
As a non-player witnessing these first steps in engagement and discovery, it was incredible.  My fiancee and his friends were fascinated by their finds – whether strange art installations, a memorial to loved ones, or towering architecture.  Some had never visited campus before, and marveled at the green spaces, blooming trees, and well-lit, inviting walkways that turned a Sunday night into an outdoor adventure.

Inviting the World into Our Hearts

The awe I felt at this accomplishment didn’t stop there.  Beyond the engagement with places, the game was accomplishing something far more profound.  After weeks of violence and fear, when you’d think that we’d all be terrified of the world outside our doors, Pokemon Go brought strangers together.

It wasn’t just our group of friends.  It was everyone we met along the way.  Players were genuinely concerned for one another.  People I had only just met wanted to be sure we were well hydrated and fully involved.  As a non-player, they welcomed me in to document their experience, sharing with me the Pokemon they found, the funny stories being shared on social media, and the bond that they felt as players.

Beyond our group, we talked with others.  It wasn’t hard to spot them – the music on their phones, the stopping at landmarks or art installations, and the groups huddled together excitedly talking.  The campus was full of them.

At each stop, there were more people saying, “Hi.”  Asking if a stop had crashed and was inactive, if a rare Pokemon had been found, or if that art installation was pretty cool.

That creepy guy?  Turns out he was an exchange student, whose English was muddled by a heavy accent.  He was getting frustrated at the game – unsure of what “lures” were or how to manage all the different stops.  My group gave him some pointers.  It was a beautiful moment – reminding me that in this time of fear, there are so many good people in the world.  So many people who are misunderstood or ignored because we’re being conditioned to fear strangers, to fear the unknown and ignore or run from it.  All that guy needed was someone to help him.  As soon as that happened, he walked off happy and ready to keep going, feeling a part of a caring community.

That isn’t to say we shouldn’t be wary of strangers.  The app itself reminds us to be vigilant of our surroundings, because there will inevitably be people who take advantage of the app’s potential for evil.  But overwhelmingly, I’d say that the app will do more good than harm.  It may even prove a vital tool to getting previously home-favoring individuals out into the world, watching for the evil, and mobilizing together to bring a bit more kindness and light into this world.  It’s something the world needs a lot more of.

Lessons Learned

In short, my adventure was nothing short of extraordinary.  As someone who enjoys games, I knew the power games held in bringing people together.  What Nintendo has done is show us that there’s so much more potential than we realized.

Potential to combat depression and social anxiety.  To help individuals who thought the larger world held nothing for them.  To bring a new generation into museums, historic sites, downtown districts, and other places and introduce them to a world full of adventure, wonder, and discovery.  To bring people together, as passionate and caring communities who just want to have a good time, to bring a little more laughter and fun into the world, and maybe discover something meaningful along the way.

I’m still in awe.  And I can’t wait to go again.

So what are you waiting for?  Go catch ’em all!

You might even see me out there… 😉

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