When Pokémon made its first appearance in my cultural brainspace I was in early high school, with long-term tribal loyalties to franchises such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Jurassic Park, and at some point I decided that the bright-hued Japanese aliens weren’t my style.
“How did you miss this? You were right in the Pokémon wheelhouse,” sports reporter Tyler Harper asked me, aghast at my ignorance of this iconic part of his past.
Harper’s sentiments were seconded by our graphic designer Kamala Melzack, who has been a fan since she was a little girl. She believes the augmented reality game Pokémon Go is the realization of a childhood dream.
What follows is a semi-hostile dialogue between two hyper-nerds and a video-game Luddite as they navigate Nelson’s virtual landscape:
Kamala: No way, Pokémon Go?
I grew up with Pokémon when I was a kid — trading cards and the good old Game Boy games. When I downloaded the new Pokémon Go app, I didn’t realize how hooked I would become. I hadn’t played Pokémon in years and after downloading this new augmented reality game …well…let’s just say, it’s addictive.
It even led to a new phone. I couldn’t stand the lag time, the constant app crashes and inability to catch anything while walking. To be fair, I have been using an old, outdated iPhone for about five years.
It was time to upgrade anyway.
Tyler: Let’s set the record straight: I am not a Pokémon fan.
What I am, however, is a techno-nerd, and I think Pokémon Go is tremendous. As a game it’s terrible, there’s not much to do, but it’s the first use of augmented reality that has mainstream appeal.
I wasn’t really on board until I was at Lakeside Park. Then I noticed kids playing it and families talking about it and then I found myself walking around hunting the damn things. Even as I’m typing this I want to be outside looking for a Pikachu.
I just need a Pikachu, guys.
Will: So far I’ve caught a Charmander at the Nelson Star, a Squirtle along the railroad at Lakeside Park, a Zubat hovering over the bar at the Falls Music Lounge and a Clefairy that was ambling along outside the library.
Yes, I’m having fun. Yes, this is a pretty cool technological development.
I just wonder, though, about the social implications. It’s all fun n’ games while we’re dealing with cuddly anthropomorphic creatures but what happens when they release an augmented reality first-person shooter?
Tyler: Settle down, Ray Bradbury. No one is going to be walking down Baker Street shooting people with virtual bullets.
Actually that sounds kind of cool.
Kamala: I don’t think I would feel comfortable with trigger-happy people running around town getting immersed in violent first-person shooting. I have already seen people get agitated. The technology is cool, but it could inspire violent behaviour.
Will: See, Harper?! She agrees with me!
Tyler: Let’s get back on track. What’s been your favourite experience with the app so far? I played a little with my son and it was magic. He had no difficulty at all accepting there are creatures in Nelson that can only be seen with his dad’s iPhone.
Kamala: So far I am level eight — just hatched my first five-kilometre egg, have caught 96 Pokémon, evolved a Weedle and Caterpie, caught a level 254 Dragonite and want to hatch all nine eggs … That’s a lot of walking. I even had a battle at a gym, but lost gracefully.
I am still far behind in the Pokémon world.
Will: Far behind? I don’t even understand half of what you just said.
As far as I’m concerned the coolest aspect of the game is how it incentivizes outside activity and how it brings strangers together in public spaces. I was sauntering through Lakeside Park last week when I ran into local actor Michael Marsland (who did a great job as the Elvis-esque pharaoh in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat).
Normally I wouldn’t have had any reason to engage him, but I saw him and his buddy cradling their iPhones reverently and figured they would be able to give me some tips. They tutored me on how to collect goodies from Pokestops and I let them know about the nearby Squirtle I’d discovered.
“Thanks dude!” they exclaimed, before heading off to find it.
Tyler: That’s the best part about the app — it makes you want to engage with the community in public space, which is something I’m usually loathe to do. Someone is going to howl about screen time and how terrible it is we are all looking at our phones outside, but everyone is already doing that with Facebook, Twitter, etc., so hopefully we don’t hear from the no-fun police after this is published.
Do you guys think you’ll attempt to catch them all? I’m not sure I will. This app is destroying my data plan.
Kamala: I met a few people who said it was the most fun they’ve had outside in a while. Most games are indoors so this app is great for getting you outside and walking. I would like to catch them all, but I agree with Tyler. The app is devouring my data.
Maybe one day I will be a Pokémon Master.
Will: I’m on Twitter right now and there’s somebody from a local breakfast place, The Toast, tweeting out pictures of the Zubat he found in the liquor store (as if I needed another reason to go there) and an unnamed blob perched in his shopping cart.
Suddenly total strangers have this common visual language. It really feels like we’ve reached the next meta-level in the world of virtual communications. A friend of mine posted a status about this the other day, saying this technology would be capable of starting a “social revolution” a la the Arab Spring.
At the time I thought it was hyperbole, but now I’m not so sure.
In the meantime, I’m pretty stoked about the Poliwag I just sidewalk-snagged walking into Railtown.
Tyler: You’re the worst, Johnson.