Yes, that’s right. A year after the height of the hype, after almost all of civilized human society has deleted the app and moved on with their lives, I’m still right on track to be the very best like no one ever was, a level 36 trainer crawling slowly but steadily toward 37.
I downloaded the app only a little behind the crowds in a Delray Beach coffee shop, spurred on by the advice of a friend who’d suddenly found himself obsessed. My parents were persuaded, in turn, by my sister, and Pokemon Go quickly became a family crusade.
My mom and I couldn’t agree on anything of substance, half the time arguing for as much as a half hour over even what appetizer to split, but what we could always agree on is that we ought to eat at a Pokestop. BJ’s Brewhouse, which boasted two, quickly became a family favorite, as did Burger Bar, which was in swiping distance of three.
Shopping trips would turn into lap after lap around the mall, replenishing our supply of balls until our energy waned. Stoplights weren’t always just stoplights- sometimes they were chances to catch an Eevee or throw one’s Gyrados in a gym.
The world now had an extra dimension. We lived and enjoyed life much as we’d always lived and enjoyed life—it was now just that little bit more fun.
The game seemed to captivate us so by playing to our basest, most primitive instincts. Humans were after all evolutionarily wired to hunt and capture, to roam and seek.
Or maybe its chief offering was the thrill of mastery, of success; though my feeling of satisfaction after a successful catch did dissipate a bit when I saw a child of around ten celebrating the same victory. Still, the modern, intellectual world leaves few outlets for such embodied, satisfying thrills.
In those early, everyone-playing days, the app was also a great equalizer, a wondrous place for common ground. Team Mystic, with its heady, intellectual, associations, wasn’t so bad of a group to identify myself with. I’m sure there are couples united at Pokestops that are now hurtling toward marriage, friendships that began over team unity that are still solid as gold.
I remember once seeing a sea of people on West Palm Beach’s Clematis Street, which boasted several Pokestops only a few feet from one another and a reputation for rare creatures. Hundreds gathered beside the ocean, united by common purpose, phones all alight. It felt like a kind of magic.
Also beneficial was the fact that gameplay does necessitate actual movement. My father even incorporated walks around a local nature preserve loaded with Pokestops into his daily routine, ultimately losing ten pounds.
Yes, exercise ought to be its own reward, but us humans are simple creatures. Sometimes we need that Pidgey to chase. Gold’s Gym near my school was even both a Pokestop and a Pokegym. How much easier it became to drag my lazy behind to the treadmill when I knew it would get me that much closer to leveling up, how much easier to jog an extra few minutes if I were evolving a Rattata or battling a Lapras as I did!
I even tried to find some greater good in it all. During the summer the game came out, I was a fellow for the Florida Democratic Coordinated Campaign, and suggested we try our daily voter registration drive at a Pokestop, which would have perhaps worked if only the players had been willing to put down their phones to give us even a moment’s consideration.
As the summer ended, I was delighted to arrive back on campus find that almost all of my classes were at Pokestops! I may have occasionally been distracted during lectures, but you can bet I had perfect attendance. Even better, my roommates were fellow players. I remember once all four of us walking around the nearby Jupiter Plaza, glued to our phones. “Come on Goldeen” I furiously say.
Even after we’ve retreated to our common room, finally intent on starting our homework, someone sees a Snorlax on the nearby listing and in a second, we’re back out and about, scouring campus and the nearby village of Abacoa. When we track it down, it breaks out of Ultra ball after Ultra ball. If it were any other creature I would’ve given up after wasting so many hard-earned resources, but this was a Snorlax! How often do you get the chance?
You’d think the excitement I felt upon moving to New York City would’ve finally made such a simple app less inviting; in fact, not a whit. After I arrived, I relished the opportunity to round out my inventory with city critters like Voltorbs and Magnemites. As my mom bemoaned the traffic, I reveled in it, happily spinning stop after stop as we waited. Even after she left, my claustrophobic daily subway rides were a little more bearable when I could reconnect to the internet and pick up a few poke-balls at every station I passed by.
Nowadays, I try to keep my playtime to a minimum; but though gone are the days of going out of my way to track down every Pidgey, I almost always open the app on solitary walks to class and during my commute, give our office Pokestop a quick spin in my internship downtime. In this little, harmless, way, I reward myself for engaging with the world.
Yes, it’s a little embarrassing, incredibly immature. But when it comes down to it, my continual indulgence in the game is a vice without casualties. Maybe it’s not information I’ll be quick to volunteer; but if I’m happened upon playing, subject to a condescending, a baffled “You still play Pokemon Go?”
I shall have no choice but to answer with pride- “As a matter of fact, I do”.[Feature Image Courtesy Instagram]