Pokémon Go!

Sorry, folks, but this post doesn’t have much to do with Monomoy. It has a lot more to do with current events, flashbacks to my third grade self, and readjusting to life in a place where the people outnumber the birds.

It’s about 10:30 at night on a Thursday, and from the Chatham Light parking lot, we can see about a dozen floating lights wandering around the foggy beach down below. Groups of three or four people, voices yelling excitedly and rushing towards the water’s edge, indicate that there’s something  down there. A family returns to their car; saying they were looking for gold bars but we suspect that’s not quite true. The next group of people to come up the stairs are two high schoolers, one from Chatham and the other from Florida, who have just met today but alreadyhave a deep mutual respect for each other’s commitment to… Pokémon.

Earlier in the summer, maybe this flurry of activity would have been about a seal or shark sighting, a dead whale washed up on the beach, or a good beach fire or party. But now, it’s all Pokémon Go.

Our new high school acquaintances clue us in to a website that publishes updates on the whereabouts of Pokémon, making it easier for people playing the game to seek out and capture them. “There’s a Dratini down there,” one says excitedly and gestures down towards to the roving bands of flashlights, which are of course Pokémon Go-ers searching for their monster. Becca, Gina, and Jonathan head down after it, and so, going with the flow, Ivan and I follow them to the beach to check out what’s going on.

Full disclosure here: neither Ivan nor I really know what’s going on with Pokemon. We’ve both downloaded the app, deleted it, re-downloaded it, but haven’t gotten into it. Maybe we don’t have the warm childhood memories that so many of the players have associated with the game, or maybe we’re too absorbed with ourselves to invest in another activity right now. Whatever it is, we get called out when we ask our friends if you can swap Pokémon with another player. The answer, called out from another faceless flashlight further along the beach, is of course not. Whoops.

The Chatham lighthouse parking lot’s evolution over the past weeks has been remarkable. In June, after dark, it was the domain of teenagers making out, people hotboxing parked cars, and occasionally a police officer trying to maintain order at the scenic overlook. In early July, some of the summer crowd had gathered to look out at the ocean on clear nights and absorb the lighthouse’s beacon, but the spot could hardly be called busy. Tonight, though, after the introduction of Pokémon Go, the Pokémon gyms at the lighthouse and the beach are some of the busiest spots in Chatham (Take that, main street bars and restaurants).

Ivan and I talk to a few people about their Pokémon experiences, and from what we gather, no one is immune to the lure of Pokémon go. You might be likely to file it as an game mostly for teenagers and twentysomethings reliving their childhood, but of all the people we speak with, very few actually fit that demographic. People we find playing Pokémon at the lighthouse tonight: adults, teenagers, kids, parents, men, women, actors, retail workers, students on summer break, restaurant workers, whole families. There are no stereotypes, no age group more represented than any other, no particular affiliation or favorite activity or shared interest that these people have in common, other than Pokémon Go. There’s nothing that can predict whether someone will become infatuated with Pokémon go. In fact, only half a dozen people we see at the lighthouse aren’t playing Pokémon go. We speak to one group of high schoolers. For them, it’s a throwback to their youth, staying up late and playing Pokémon on gameboys. For some others, Pokémon is something they’ve been introduced to in the last few weeks, or even days, but were more than happy to jump in. For other people, it’s something they’re playing with their kids, as as family activity. Like I said- everyone’s playing it.

One group of actors from a local theatre is out here “for the meteor shower,” but pulled out phones when they found out about the local Pokéstop. We talk to to girls on vacation in Chatham whose new nightly routine is to grab some chairs, get out of the house and away from the parents, and sit overlooking the ocean and catch Pokémon . They’re the ones setting out “lures” to attract Pokémon to this spot, but they don’t mind the attention it’s attracting or the sudden increase in traffic tonight- they say that everyone’s welcome to share here.

Our friends seemed mixed in their opinions of the game- while Becca and Gina love it, Jonathan remains warily critical of the game’s tendency to alienate people from their surroundings and nature. Despite his negative feelings, he was very enthusiastically searching for Pokémon and contributing to the team’s effort. Perhaps it’s evidence of a game more sinister than it appears on its surface.

The most interesting person we meet is a woman who started playing Pokémon for work. The store she works at is near Pokéstops in Chatham, so she meets a lot of children (and their parents) who come in while trying to catch Pokémon. Growing from this unplanned introduction, Pokémon Go now plays a pretty big part of her community involvement and daily life in general. She says that knowing how the game is played helps her to interact with kids and potential customers, and she offers tips to them and their parents for how to stay safe while playing. Tonight though, like many other people here, she’s sitting alone in her car. As faces illuminated by touchscreens float and loom through the dark around her, she remains in the car, comparing the game to mindless TV and retreating into her personal sphere of isolation and relaxation for an evening of catching monsters.

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