Toon Musings: A Community of Poké-Friends
I recently wrote about the curious phenomenon of Pokémon Go. Subsequently, I heard there was going to be a big meetup of fans in Grant Park at the giant stainless steel bean sculpture. My kid was attending with his friends, so in the interest of quasi-journalism, I resolved to Tag Along. I was swiftly disabused of this notion, and instead slunk downtown, chastened and alone, to do some Reportin’.
When I got downtown to the Bean, the plaza was already packed with players. As a veteran of numerous science fiction conventions, it was a familiar vibe; not twenty steps into the park, I passed the obligatory guy with the broad-brimmed hat and six-foot walking staff with a plushy of some fanciful creature affixed to his shoulder. It might have been Charmander. Oh yeah, I’d been to this rodeo before.
I grabbed a copy of the map and guidelines from a chirpy volunteer and got my bearings. Someone with a megaphone was giving a pep talk, and was being answered by cheering from one or another of the three factions participating in the meetup: the red Team Valor, the blue Team Mystic, and the yellow Team Instinct. Mystic seemed to be the more low-key, while the Instinct members seemed a bit older. A couple of Valor guys had big red “V”s painted on their faces. They were all as boisterous as the heat would allow, and once they got their marching orders, groups of players scattered to hunt their quarry.
I decided to stroll down to the Museum Campus, about one and a quarter miles away as the nerd ambles, and eavesdrop as I went. As near as I could make out, the participants nearly all attended in groups of friends, and chatted merrily about this and that as they sought their prey.
It was all quite cheery, all these gamers roaming through the park on their shared quests, particularly in light of the trouble that they were having; I had begun to hear talk of the program hanging. You see, this was a totally fan-created event, staffed by unpaid volunteers from the Silph Road who were doing it for the love of, if not this game, then gaming in general. No additional resources were expended by Nintendo, nor Niantic: no extra Poké-sites, no exotic event-specific monsters and gear, no prizes, and most importantly, no additional computer capacity. Consequently, when the servers started lagging and finally crashing, I expected Civil Unrest of some sort to manifest itself.
I made my way back towards the original meetup location, running into my son’s group by Buckingham Fountain, who let me know about the server issues as we, and a few score of other Poké-hunters lounged about in the mist plume of the fountain, enjoying the respite from the heat. When I got back to the Bean, groups of hunters were resting under the trees, chatting amiably and monitoring their phones from time to time. A scrum of them were gathered around an impromptu dance competition.
At one point some poor fool showed up in a giant Pikachu suit and suddenly I had to hustle out of there, lest I be crushed in a stampede of fans in a selfie-taking frenzy. Stuck in the middle of a fan gathering featuring failing servers and a thwarted gaming experience, and the worst fate I risked was involuntarily photobombing a passel of sweaty nerds. This was a community, of a sort.
As time goes on, stories are beginning to filter out about how the community-building powers of the game are benefiting not only conventionally solipsistic gamer nerds, but also those players who may have more serious, even medically recognized social impairments. The game has been instrumental in getting autism sufferers to go outside and interact with the world, and even to interact with others in the community of players. It’s even gaining some traction amongst clinicians as part of a possible treatment regimen (with supervision, of course).
And the most heartening thing I found is that these Pokémon freaks seem to be genuinely nice people. As online gamers, maybe they’re inured to the problems of overloaded servers and lagging connections, but they seem to be getting a lot of pleasure out of just hanging out together. That can’t be bad, right?
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring untrammeled wildernesses, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.