Written and Illustrated by Koriander Bullard
While many people have been jumping to play Pokemon Go, I wasn't sure if people understood what it really means to be caught playing the game, so I decided to do a little ground work for this piece.
Saturday afternoon, I decided to go on location to write this article. Dressed in a Pikachu shirt, I jumped into a car with a few new friends and my husband to go play Pokemon Go, the hot new app from Ninatic Inc. and Nintendo that has people catching the first 150 Pocket Monsters in their backyards.
From my house to City Hall is roughly 15 minutes, long enough for me to not only teach my husband how to play, but also to pick up a few normal types before hitting our first PokeStop. He didn't have the chance to play Pokemon growing up, so this was a new experience for him. Stopping at the Hall, we waited around for a few minutes while the servers came back up as John found and caught a Pokemon he instantly liked, an Ekans. They say there's at least one Pokemon for every type of person, but he found a few more he wanted to train up. By the time the servers stopped crashing, there was a small group of people surrounding the Hall, joining John in looking for an elusive Pikachu.
Hitting the road again, we drove 20 minutes through London and then into Corbin. For those who do not know, Corbin, Kentucky is only known for two things. One being it's sole museum, the KFC museum and restaurant, which is also the only museum withing driving distance in South-Eastern Kentucky, and for the number of churches dotting Corbin. Main Street alone boasts at least three religious establishments per city block.
How would I know this? Simple. Every church and statue is either a PokeStop or a Gym.
The church PokeStops are some of the most charitable for Pokemon players. Each one gives away more eggs, potions, PokeBalls and revives than any other, with the eggs being most valuable. For younger or less lucky players, getting an egg from a statue from one of the religious statues guarantees that if you walk just a few kilometers, you will be able to hatch a random Pokemon, some with pretty decent stats if you're extremely lucky.
Corbin is dotted with all kinds of PokeStops, but the church related ones give away the most. I couldn't help but notice that as we were all walking, there were parents gathering to play with their children, and they used the PokeStops as a way to teach their children about who the statues were in honor of and when they were created. And for once, the children and teenagers not only listened, they asked thoughtful questions, showing that despite the game, they were paying attention.
This puts to bed the offensive rumors about the game taking children away from religion. While the game has done more to foster community and friendship than religion, it's also made it easier for parents to indoctrinate their children into the old faith.
Heading over to Game King, I saw that while the employees were also Pokemon Go players, they respected their company enough not to play during work hours. They did however offer tips and ideas on where to find certain Pokemon. This was the same in several other stores, where I discovered that people who are gainfully employed can also enjoy the game on breaks, putting to bed another offensive rumor, that Pokemon Go players are unemployed losers who are anti-social. Nothing was farther from the truth.
As the sun set, Corbin became unusually packed with families, and this is where I saw the most wonderful thing.
I saw teenagers, some with Gothic makeup and tattoos, willingly opening up to their parents and sharing the game with them. I saw grandparents teaching their grandchildren how to throw a curve-ball at something better than a Rattata. I saw people of all ages playing though the “Capture the Flag” method of taking over gyms and people everywhere were laughing, telling jokes, and exploring Corbin together. I also saw that because there were more people coming around to play, there were folks outside cleaning up statues and long forgotten artifacts, just to make sure that every spec of culture was not forgotten, and that everyone had a chance to enjoy Corbin's landmarks.
And putting to bed another offensive rumor, I never once saw anybody disobey a traffic law. Everyone was mindful of traffic, nobody swerved or darted out in front of moving vehicles. This goes against another popular meme about people walking into cars. Not one person dared. In fact, most adults encouraged the use of the buddy system in holding hands across the intersections.
Heading to a park in Barbourville, I found that parents were using the app to teach their children about fishing. The parents would drop a lure in the game and set up incense on their children's phones for Goldeen and Slowpoke, while setting up fishing lines in real life and teaching the children about patience. With plenty of catfish biting and lots of Oddish and Staryu popping up, it seems everyone caught something this way. They also used the game to teach the kids about basic science, such as how fire types are weak against water and how fire and water makes steam, putting to bed the “Pokemon Go players are stupid” rumor with little effort.
By the time our trip started coming to a close, it was well after two in the morning. Stopping by City Hall again in London, I found many a car with parents setting up blankets in the passenger areas for tuckered out trainers, whilst one or the other parent would walk past the flowers for one last revive.
In more than ten hours of playtime, I never once saw anybody brandish a weapon, threaten a stranger, hit another person or start an argument. The closest thing to a real life fight I witnessed was just playful teasing from one Team Valor member to a Team Mystic, but again, it was all in good fun. No name-calling or language above TVY. Nobody argued about guns, politics or religion, and everyone had a fun time collecting Pokemon and chatting with strangers in a safe manner.
I did see some people use this to be helpful. Many spoke of step-counting apps that pay certain charities for every mile you walk with your phone, and how they could run the charity app in the background while hatching Pokemon eggs. Others offered to pick up trash while on these walks, and I don't think Corbin has ever looked nicer.
This is the reality of Pokemon Go. The simple game encourages community, and seemingly is only despised by those whose Facebook walls paint a bleak picture of individuals who are unhappy with their own lives. The free app has done more to position humanity towards world peace than any other institution before it, and serves as a reminder that humanity isn't all bad after all. It brings families together, fosters friendship and teaches kids about good sportsmanship and patience. It's good for marriage as well, as now I have something fun to share with my husband.
I think another reason why this game works so well is that it's positive. Unlike other popular games, Pokemon Go does not take place in a pre or post-apocalyptic world. None of the characters have trust issues, and it's encouraged that you treat people and Pokemon with respect, and there is no gender-bias against any of the players. Male and female characters are treated as equals and are not seen as sexual objects.
Pokemon Go gives those of us who grew up with the game plenty of nostalgia, and a safe and easy entry into the franchise for newer players. It's available for free on Google Play and is worth the time put in.
Koriander Bullard is an author, cartoonist and human rights advocate. Keep up with her on Facebook!