They’ve arrived. Hundreds of billions of tiny, invisible creatures, visible only through a specialized module downloaded on the phone you carry. Ignore them at your peril, but these Pocket Monsters – these Pokemon – have once again changed the face of the land they invade. And they’re kinda cute, too. Well, the ones that aren’t ugly.
That’s right, I’m talking about Pokemon GO, the app I swore I’d never download, because I didn’t want to deal with the stupid. So what does my husband do? He comes home talking about the Pokemon he caught during his breaks on campus, and oh, by the way, there are these three outside right now, and I kinda want to go find them. Really? REALLY?!
So I spent the next hour cleaning up useless junk from my phone to download more useless junk – or so I thought. I’ve had more social time outside in the real world, often with total strangers just trying to hunt down the same elusive Chansey (which ran way) in the last week than in the last three months. Beautiful, really. Hundreds of people spontaneously congregating at memorials, monuments, public gardens, and parks. Entire families hunting for Pokemon. Stories of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder being so excited by the game, they’re communicating with strangers, because of a furry little bit of data on the screen.
Yes, plenty of negative stories exist, including the woman who claims playing Pokemon GO isn’t an invitation to talk to her. Really? That’s what this game was designed for! Personally, I think it’s beautiful. I live in a small town in Idaho (for the next week, anyway) and we were out of town for a dinner with friends. After dinner, they headed home, tired, and we took a walk by the river, something I’d wanted to do for a long time, but “the opportunity was never there.” Now for the interesting part.
Ever met a celebrity, told a friend or acquaintance about it, and gotten that look? The one of awe that you’ve actually had a face to face conversation with the celebrity in question, and thus are, for a moment, equal in celebrity status?
Part of the game involves Gyms. Well, a gentleman by the game name of sparkywarwizard managed to take over one of these Gyms for our team, Team Instinct. So, my sister, husband, and I took our strongest Pokemon, leveled up that Gym, and reinforced it. I dropped a Vaporeon in, and a tattooed skater dude came over and asked us if we all had Pokemon at that Gym.
“Yeah, we do.”
“Someone just dropped a Vaporeon in there. Don’t know who that was!”
I raised my hand, “That would be me.” I then introduced us to him by our game names, and he introduced himself as the current Gym Leader, sparkywarwizard. We chatted for a bit before he took his leave to overtake another Gym.
A few minutes later, another group of players passed by us in the river park, and one young man exclaimed, “What is happening to society?”
Being me, I couldn’t help replying, “Awesome things. People are outside. We’ve never met before and we’re having a conversation. It’s amazing.”
He agreed, and when he learned I was DrowPhoenix, owner of the Vaporeon at the Gym, asked if we knew who sparkywarwizard was. Cue the look of awe when I said we’d met and spoken to him.
And that was last Saturday, within three days of game launch.
See, here’s the thing. Pokemon is a huge fandom that spans at least two generations. Pokemon GO is a game that invites even more people to enjoy that fandom, and join in the fun. Additionally, it gives us all a visual, real sense of community. As a gamer, I can say it is difficult to see the avatar of a player as a real person sitting at a keyboard playing. It’s so much more powerful to see over a thousand people, live, breathing, chatting, gathered in one spot because of something they have in common.
That’s why this game, glitchy and temperamental as it is, is already such a force for community and for good. See, when I meet someone playing the game, I don’t have to wonder, Are they gonna freak that I’m trans? Do we have anything in common? Do I dare talk to this person? No, I know we have at least one thing in common, and the intimidation factor goes down by a thousand. Even better, I’ve found a ton of like-minded people already in the Lugia Alliance on Facebook. Yes, our teams are rivals, but rivals in fun. Let’s keep the fun and community spirit of this game alive and well and growing, and keep our community lives growing with it and outside of it as well.