I vividly remember my first encounter with Pokémon. While my parents visited with friends I was put under the care of my parents’ friends’ sons, two boys a few years older than I who promptly began showing me their extensive Pokémon card collection, consisting of pages and pages of thin cards in protective sheets, organized by type. I was enthralled. The animal-like creatures fascinated me even though I couldn’t read the “flavor text.” When it was time to leave, I couldn’t bear the separation, throwing the sort of fit only an impassioned five-year-old can. At their mother’s behest, the brothers begrudgingly gave me one of their double cards, a small little fire fox called Vulpix, the beginning of my collection. Over time I added more cards, pack by pack, as well as chapter books, sticker sets, small figurines, stuffed animals and VHS tapes of the show and the films. Unfortunately, being a lonely only child, I had no one to play the card game with, and my parents weren’t ready to invest in a gaming system. I mostly played pretend. I went outside, into the woods, and imagined a Pikachu behind every tree and a Poliwag in every puddle. My disinterested dogs, chow chows, were Arcanines in my mind’s eye and I was a Pokémon trainer, ready to be the very best, fervently desiring to catch them all.
Nearly twenty years later a game came out to do all the imagining for me. Pokémon GO offered everything I had wanted as a child: exploration, the excitement of catching Pokémon, time spent roving around with my friends to find more Pokémon, and reason to take detours to hit Poké Stops and Gyms. I love it. That being said, I could wish for more. I want to be able to battle other trainers, have more choices when fighting at gyms, and see a wider variety of Pokémon in my area. But I can understand that in some aspects Niantic Inc., Pokémon GO’s developer, wanted to differentiate itself from the traditional Pokémon games, and rumor has it that the company has plans for continuing to unroll new features. While I get a little exasperated at seeing the same Pokémon frequently, it still makes doing simple things, like going out to get the mail, a little more exciting. In the end, I think that I enjoy the communal aspects of the game as much as I enjoy the game itself. When I announce to my friends that I found a great Pokémon, everyone goes for their phone.
Geekdom is a community, albeit a complex and contentious one, and Pokémon GO brought people together. Walking through South Bend this summer, there was a particular spot where you could reap rewards from three Poké Stops at once, often equipped with Lures Modules, making it a perfect spot to sit and chat, sharing virtual and physical space with people of all demographics, all excited to see a Squirtle, or amusedly anguished at finding yet another Drowzee. As the bright visuals ate through our phones’ battery lives, people started carrying their chargers with them, and when outlets became overburdened, people started bringing power strips to ensure that there would be enough space for everybody. Pokémon GO is an incredible phenomenon because in many ways it leveled the playing field, opening the world of gaming, even just a little bit, to people who might not usually feel included or be interested. Even as this phenomenon dies down due to busier fall schedules, minimized novelty and traditional gamers’ frustration with the less-than-ideal system, I know that I’ll be able to remember this phase as a bright patch, a time of fulfilling childhood dreams, admiring heightened technology and enjoying the surge of nerdiness that took America by storm.