A thunderstorm is rolling towards Chicago’s Grant Park. The thousands of people gathered for the city’s third annual Pokémon Go Fest, already sodden after a day of drizzle and rain, are now being told to evacuate for fear of lightning strikes. But I need to take a snapshot of a Gastlyin the Spooky Woods if I’m going to complete this year’s festival challenge and uncover a rare new Pokémon Go app. And I don’t have a Gastly.
Risking death by lightning, I jog towards the Spooky Woods.
My name is Dominic. I’m 52. I have two twentysomething children, a part share in a Pulitzer prize, I read philosophy and listen to Stockhausen for fun. And I love the Pokémon Go app. I also hate myself for it: my boyfriend rolls his eyes when I play, my kids think it’s sad, and the colleagues who know about it probably secretly judge me.
It is my secret shame, but I am not alone.
For those who have been hiding under a Bulbasaur, the Pokémon Go app is an augmented reality game where players, armed with their phones, collect Pokémon in the real world. The cute little creatures pop up on a map of your surroundings as you explore on foot, and you just have to catch them. At Pokéstops dotted around the world, you spin a disk (often tied to a local landmark) to receive the balls needed to catch Pokemon, as well as assorted presents (more balls, Stardust, eggs that hatch into new creatures).
It’s a social game too — sort of. You can team up with other players to battle more powerful Pokémon at “gyms”, or swap Pokémon with your friends (that’s “friends” in the social media sense — i.e. not really your friends. Or are they? It’s complicated).
Before the storm descends, I bump into an attractive middle-aged couple catching the Pokémon Go app in the park. The pair would look more at home sipping smoothies after pilates than stalking digital creatures with their phones. When I get out my notebook, they exchange a look.
Mister is a sales director for a Fortune 500 company, Mrs runs a non-profit. They will only give me their Pokémon Go app handles, Oceanna131450 and BeachBaby503. “We’re closeted,” she says. “Nobody at work knows I play.”
BeachBaby503 says their children got them into the Pokémon Go app when it launched in 2016. Their kids soon stopped playing, but they never have. They are both level 40, the highest level in the game (I am a 36.) Oceanna131450 hit 40 in year one and has walked 6,234km in the game — roughly the distance between Chicago and Panama. “We’re very goal-oriented,” he laughs.
I, too, have been playing Pokémon Go app since the mobile app was launched. In the beginning, I hid my obsession in plain sight. Everyone was doing it: the app had been downloaded 500m times by the end of the year. Celebrities had Pokémon fever, and even my co-workers were taking ironic snapshots of Pokémon at Trump rallies.
Then Hillary Clinton ruined it all, as she has so many things. “Pokémon Go To The Polls!” she shouted at a rally in Ohio, ensuring Trump’s victory and ending the golden dawn of the Pokémon age.