Last night at around 11:00 p.m., a day after downloading Pokemon Go, my girlfriend and I had a sudden pressing inclination to go to the park and try and level up our trainers. We don’t live in the safest town of all time, so when we noticed several men walking behind us we became cautious but trekked on, crossing our fingers they weren’t up to no good. It took us a few minutes to realize that everyone there was up to the same non-mischief.
A girl walked past us as we got closer and reached a landmark, loudly exclaiming and pointing behind her, “There was an Eevee right back there.”
There we were, standing in the dark in a place we wouldn’t normally feel entirely safe, surrounded by harmless gamers with the same purpose, the small square lights of their phone screens encompassing us. I usually associate strangers on their phones with isolation, but this was different. We were all being socially antisocial. We were unified. Awkward, yet connected.
The same girl who called out the Eevee’s location shouted this time,”Bulbasaur! Bulbasaur over here!” Everyone in the park came running, and most of us thanked her.
For those who haven’t played, Pokemon Go uses augmented reality, a combination of CGI and real life. The app shows a cartoon map of where you are and once a Pokemon (collectible creatures that you trap and level-up) appears on the map, you click on it and see via your phone’s rear-facing camera where it is. Sometimes they’re inside, bouncing around on a table or mischievously blocking your view of the TV. Sometimes they’re next to a river bank or on top of a car, and other times they’re interrupting this blog post.
While it’s always possibly to catch a few Magikarps from the comfort of home, the game rewards you for visiting real-life locations. You can’t make real progress without going outside. So, besides uniting gamers, it’s also making us walk.