Pokemon GO-ing Outside

Originally published on Trevor Trove on July 18, 2016

Wow, I do not remember a time where I personally have been so divided on a game.

Just last night I wrote about how people shouldn’t waste their money on Pokemon GO. And if you read even further back through all of my articles on the game, you could be forgiven for assuming they were written by very different people.

But tonight I went out and experienced the “community” aspect of the game firsthand. And damn if it wasn’t a special experience.

Until tonight, the most “social” I’d been with the game was walking around the park down the street from me. It’s usually a quiet little park and admittedly even when I was out and about last week, there were still more people there for their weekly Ultimate Frisbee tournament than there were holding their phones up to catch a Hitmonlee.

So tonight, I visited Tempe Town Lake. Saturday night, I was over there at the Tempe Center for the Arts ushering for a production of American Idiot with my old theatre company Stray Cat Theatre for the very last time. There happen to be three Pokestops right there at the venue and my friends who had been around commented on just how insanely popular the area had been thanks to the game. I left that night to meet a friend downtown and was legitimately upset that I couldn’t partake in what I saw when I booted up the app leaving the theatre:

For those of you, unfamiliar with Phoenix-area geography, Tempe Town Lake is actually a man-made lake near the campus of Arizona State University. It wasn’t always man-made. Back when my parents moved out here 35-40 years ago, it was still a natural waterway from the Salt River but over the years, it had been dammed up and dried up. Then about seventeen years ago (right before I started my freshman year of high school), they filled up a portion of the old reservoir and dubbed it Tempe Town Lake. I remember them talking about the groundbreaking on the radio and everything and thinking it was so far away, when in reality it was less than 10 miles from the house I had grown up in my entire life – which also gives a pretty decent sense of how small the world seemed to me at the point in time.

Anyway, enough with the history/geography lesson. The point is: Tempe Town Lake is a nice park where up until a couple weeks ago you’d usually only see busy when they had music festivals, 10k marathons, or fireworks shows. But apparently, it has become a hot bed of Pokemon GO activity. And sure enough, when I pulled up and parked around 6:30-7:00pm, there were already a ton of people walking up and down the waterfront excitedly catching their Abras and Psyducks. I myself managed to snag my first Psyduck, Snorlax, and a Kabutops tonight.

So beautiful: a Water-pokemon in Phoenix! Oh, I guess the sunset was nice too...
So beautiful: a Water-pokemon in Phoenix! Oh, I guess the sunset was nice too…

My personal haul though was far less interesting than the atmosphere around me. As I got closer to the center of the park, I discovered a smartly-positioned Food Truck selling Shaved Ice right atop a Pokestop, which I presume the owner was also keeping Lured up to attract customers. There was a truck with a couple people handing out free Monster energy drinks to anyone who wanted them. A few people had a little table set up with a TV and speakers playing episodes of the original Pokemon show for passersby to enjoy (Ash was really excited about getting his third gym badge). Speaking of, I kept seeing Ash Ketchum hats and was curious how so many people had been getting them and then almost immediately saw a few guys (likely ASU students) set up selling Ash Ketchum hats, as well as hats with each of the Pokemon GO team logos on them for $15 apiece out of their backpacks. And given the number of them I saw on heads, I imagine they’re having a pretty successful run of things.

By the end of the night it was this times 100. On a MONDAY. But even  this  is more than I'd've seen two weeks ago on a Saturday night.
By the end of the night it was this times 100. On a MONDAY. But even this is more than I’d’ve seen two weeks ago on a Saturday night.

It is truly incredible. There has never been anything in my life like it: walking around with hundreds, maybe more than a thousand people out there – on a Monday night – playing this dumb little game on their phones and having a great time. I’ve already said that I think this game will be mentioned in Game of the Year conversations, even with all of it’s flaws, and rightly so. But experiencing something like tonight, firsthand, really hits home that this will likely go down in history as one of the most important games every released for the sheer magnitude of it’s reach and affect on the world around us.

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