Recently, Frankie posted to the forums:
Be careful. I have seen a number of young people, some of them with backpacks, some without, all with phones – wandering aimlessly around Wallingford. Some of them stop in front of houses, like they’re casing the joint, looking around and seemingly filming things. Very suspicious.
I have also seen an uptick in children doing the same thing WITH PARENTS!, but in a weird, distant, zombie-like trance. Sometimes they will acknowledge each other as they pass notable Wallingford landmarks. Dozens of them.
Best I can figure is some kind of demographic-spanning burglary, robbery or pickpocket ring, perhaps like Oliver Twist’s Fagin organization.
I think the police should increase their presence to apprehend them in their entirety. Or more simply put, Gotta Catch ‘Em All.
Now, I would like to thank Pokémon Go for bringing us closer together as a neighborhood.
“What?” you might rightly gasp, “a video game helping to build community? How could people staring at their phones build community?”
First, a primer on Pokémon Go for the uninitiated. It’s a game for iPhones and Android phones (and tablets, I guess, but I’ve never seen anyone play on one) in which you walk around trying to capture various species of pokémon, the imaginary creatures originally introduced in 1996 as a game on the Nintendo Game Boy system and then later as a card game.
While the cast of characters is complex (there are hundreds of different pokémon, each with their own special powers and characteristics), the gameplay is fairly simple: you find a pokémon, you use your finger on the screen to throw a ball at it, and that captures it. Once you’ve captured it, you’re its “trainer”, and you can use it to capture and reinforce “gyms”, special areas where the pokémons battle.
What’s special about it, what made it such a turning point in gaming, is that the field of play is the real world. You have to physically walk, with your phone, around the area to find and capture pokémon. The map of the neighborhood, when viewed through your phone, is dotted with poke stops (special areas where you can get new poke balls and tools, plus likelier places to find wild pokémon) and gyms (places to pit your pokémon against other people’s pokémon in non-lethal training battles).
Adding to the sense that it’s really going on around you is that when you find a pokemon, it shows up overlaid onto the live video image of what you’re looking at, as if your phone is a special camera that reveals more than the naked eye can see (this is known as “augmented reality” in the biz).
Around me, the nearest poke stops are at the archway by the John Stanford School and the little free library a block further down NE 42nd Street. There a gym in front of the house with the sciencey display window where Thackeray tees out onto NE 42nd (old home of the Word of the Day, for those who remember) and Ivar’s is home to a clutch of four poke stops.
The Ivar’s quad-poke stop cluster is doubly-attractive because it seems to have a persistent set of “poke lures” attached to it (which make it an even more hospitable environment for collecting pokémon). While nobody except the game company can decide where a poke stop is placed, players (or businesses) can purchase poke lures to enhance poke stops nearby. I wondered whether Ivar’s was footing the bill for the confetti rain of poke lures around the Wallingford store, but Jim Werth of Ivar’s said no:
“We talked about it, but didn’t actually cast any lures for Pokémon Go. Well, to our knowledge no manager has put anything out there. Overall, it’s been a natural progression. We kind of wondered, if a stop is really popular, does the algorithm from Niantic notice and the initial stop get enhanced?
“The whole thing is crazy fun. We’re pretty open to it, as it does bring in a few new customers. However, we do ask players to be respectful of guests who want to dine at the Fish Bar or full service restaurant and also be considerate of property when experiencing Pokémon Go.”
But it’s not just that it’s a video game that involves walking around, it’s a video game that encourages face-to-face interactions with strangers. As my seven-year-old Zevin and I walked around playing it, we’d run across other people playing it too. Players (“trainers”) are easy to spot, lingering at the poke stops and gyms, poking at their phones to capture and train their pokemon. And when we’d see them, we’d inevitably start talking to them: at first, we’d just ask how the game worked, but then we’d start exchanging tips.
Actually, I should say they start exchanging tips. I haven’t really played more than a couple of times, but my son adores the game, and is fearless about walking up to strangers and asking about what pokémon they have, where they found them, what level they’re on, etc. And people love it, because there is nothing anyone likes more than being asked questions about a subject they’ve recently mastered.
We get friendly waves from other players we’ve chatted with as we walk around the neighborhood. Zevin has met kids who have lived blocks away for years and we’ve never had reason to talk to before. He even ducked out with a nearby mom (with permission, of course) from our Seattle Night Out block party to get some lessons in “evolving” your pokémon.
And we go out more: now, instead of disappearing to play in the back yard, or asking if he can watch a video in the evening, he asks me if we can go on a “poke walk”. What father can say no when he son wants to go on a walk with him? And then, while we’re out, we bump into people, we see houses coming down and going up, we notice gardens, we enjoy our neighborhood. And that’s the magic of Pokémon Go.
(Magikarp photo plucked from social media by Ivar’s.)