The myths, reality and poetry of Pokémon Go

“We were somewhere around the PokéStop, on the edge of High Park, when the game began to take hold….”

Pokémon Go is everywhere. In the parks, in the schools, at your work and in the pools. Someone even tried playing it in Auschwitz, much to the chagrin of the rest of humanity.

But what is it? Who’s playing it? Is it really the health menace that some (hysterical media types) are making it out to be? Since I’m intrepid, fearless and a nerd, I was asked to find out.

Unsurprisingly, for a game that has more active users than What’sApp, SnapChat or even Twitter, Pokémon Go has a varied user base. In order to find out more about the Pokémon Go craze I interviewed a wide swathe of people. From 20-something musicians in college to 30-something doctors, all are entranced with the game.

“My happiest Pokémon Go experience was simply realizing that it wasn’t a joke, that it actually exists. That I could really go out into the world and catch Pokémon,” says Rebecca Thomas, the poet laureate of Halifax.

However, while players are generally enthusiastic about the game, they do have some concerns. A surprising number of people I spoke with are worried that their love of Pokémon Go could affect them professionally. One young woman, who works at a major financial institution, attends Pokémon lure parties in the office with her co-workers and is afraid of what her boss might do if they’re ever caught in the act. Another interviewee, a doctor and researcher, is worried that her search for a tenured professorship could be in jeopardy if I use her name in this article. Apparently being excited about living above a PokéStop and catching Pokémon off old ladies’ laps on public transit is enough to get one exiled from the ivory towers of academia.

But why so much fear over a silly little game that gets people outside, together? Doctoral candidate Matt Cooper says that his “best [Pokémon] experiences have been getting excited with total strangers when you both find a rare Pokémon at the same time.” Many players I interviewed echoed his sentiments. To those who have bought into the narrative of gamers being loners who would rather be kicked in the shins then have to interact with another real, live human being, this can be surprising news. But it’s true: Pokémon Go is bringing people together.

But the stereotype of gamers being allergic to nature and physical activity seems a bit more accurate. Pokémon Go has received some criticism from players for its demands that they venture out in public and brave the infernal day-star. A woman who holds an MBA and is an enthusiastic supporter of Persian music said that her biggest lament with the game is kilometres on end “without seeing any Pokémon, not even common ones.” Because, as the wisest of us know, fresh air and exercise are for suckers. And sometimes the rewards are meagre: “The saddest Pokémon experience I ever had was incubating an egg and walking five kilometres only to have it hatch into a Weedle,” says musician Brad Long, in words that are clearly English but formed into a sentence that doesn’t quite resemble any I’ve encountered before.

However, some intrepid Pokémon Go players have found a way to play the game without resorting to bipedal locomotion. Accountant and former firefighter Rene Bellemare relayed this story of efficient Pokémon hunting: “After family dinner, my mom [drove] out of the way to grab every [PokéStop] on the way home.” So, Pokémon Go may not actually guarantee exercise, but it certainly stimulates devious life-hacks.

Fresh air, camaraderie and gaming the system? Pokémon Go sounds all right to me. Just get someone else to drive the car while you play.

Japan releases the Houndooms

Japan’s National Centre for Incident Readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity, which is in a constant state of rivalry with Japan’s Centre for Brevity in Names, has created a list of nine helpful tips for playing Pokémon Go responsibly and safely. These include not using your real name but a “cool nickname” instead, not playing during dangerous weather conditions, and trying not to be robbed or hit by cars or trains while playing the game (which is generally something you should be mind- ful of even when not playing Pokémon Go, I think).

p32-imageWant fries with rat?

In a brilliant marketing move, McDonald’s Japan has partnered with the game to turn 400 of their restaurants into 400 Pokémon gyms. While I’m sure McDonald’s Japan is hoping for many pictures involving Lickitung and fries, if musician and fantasy baseball expert Mark Pineo’s experience is any indication, social media will soon be blowing up with pictures of Rattatain-fested Big Macs.

Picture: Courtesy of Mark Pineo

D’arcy Mulligan has written about video games for gaming websites, sports for his blog, and cats anywhere and everywhere he can. He once spent his entire life’s savings on beer at the ball game. It was a very good pint.