I HAD absolutely no idea what was happening when Anna's glasses rose over the wall of our shared cubicle, her eyes lasered on me like she was either going to kiss me or punch me in the face.
“I swear, I did not take your good scissors,” I said warily, slowing rolling my chair backwards.
“Stay still. There’s a Zubat over your shoulder,” she murmured, wielding her phone out from her body like a Geiger counter.
I looked down at my shoulder and saw nothing but a large freckle. Anna aimed and began swiping her screen furiously.
“Got it!” she yelled, beaming as she high-fived Brandon, our art director, who asked if she’d looked behind the copy machine for a Weedle.
I scratched my arm and hoped whatever the hell they were talking about didn’t carry the Zika virus.
That was my first introduction to Pokemon Go, which you may have heard is either the Most Exciting Fun Thing Ever or the Definitive Harbinger of the Zombie Apocalypse.
Like many of you, at first I was bewildered by these Pokey folk and their weird behavior. Though I have fond memories of trading Blastoise cards and bong hits in my college dorm, I could not fathom what that had to do with these idiots walking off cliffs and into traffic trying to flick a virtual fishing bobber at a Bulbosaur.
This is real life, kids, and grown ass people with deadlines do not have time to worry about the combat power of a Pidgey.
When we do have a rare moment of leisure with our phones, we engage it in responsible adult activities, like drunk shopping on Amazon Prime.
But my dear coworkers convinced me to download the app. It’s free, they implored reasonably, and the cell signal around the office is strong.
So I gave into the peer pressure, figuring anything that lures people off their sofas into 100 percent humidity to hunt down cartoon creatures is a social phenomenon worthy of examination. Also, someone may have called me “Grandma.”
First I had to create an avatar to march around the map that appeared on my phone. I was rather disappointed with the unimaginative attribute choices and lack of gender/species fluidity, considering the game stars critters like Psyduck, which looks like a combination between Homer Simpson and a sad platypus.
I ultimately settled on a boring Barbie combo because when else am I gonna experience life as a blue-eyed blonde who looks hot in jeggings?
Then it was time to start hunting. I scored a Bellsprout and a Rattata right off the bat, then skulked around the office after a wild Mankey until Jim asked me what I was doing under his desk.
I quickly learned to rack up new balls at the Pokestops and found myself amped to advance to level 5 so I could join in the action at the Gyms, which unlike real gyms, do not require a sports bra.
There was a palpable satisfaction in adding new specimens to my menagerie, though multitasking with non-players proved less than ideal.
“Are you going to chase digital elves all night or are we going to walk the dog?” complained my exasperated husband as I circled our neighbor’s palm tree for the third time.
“Both!” I yelled as I skipped down the lane after a Caterpie, leaving him to pick up the poop.
I suppose that when our faces are in our phones, whether we’re snatching up Magikarps or adding our seven cents to a Very Important Facebook Argument or studying quantum physics, we’re just another Glowface to the non-players around us.
But Pokemon Go is different, see, ‘cause instead of ignoring what’s going on in our physical environment, we’re engaged with it, only with things that aren’t actually there. It’s called augmented reality, and it is way more amusing than the plain kind. I mean, crabs don’t have medicinal mushroom ears IRL, do they?
It’s practically educational even. I’ve been led to places I didn’t even know were there, like the Moravian monument in Oglethorpe Square, and also into some seedy situations that have taught me the valuable lesson that a Charizard isn’t worth climbing razor wire.
It’s also creating opportunity to connect in public spaces, where it has suddenly become acceptable for strangers to discuss stardust and candies on park benches.
Sure, there are those morons who have to be schooled that Pokemon Go isn’t appropriate to play everywhere—like Auschwitz, or the middle of a busy highway. (I know, the story about the guy who caused a 10-car pile-up trying to nab Pikachu was a hoax, but I wouldn’t bet a Metapod that something similar couldn’t happen by press time.)
But for most folks Pokemon Go seems a harmless distraction in a time when violence and injustice dominate everything else coming up on our screens. Many of us have exhausted our faith and our sanity in the last few weeks trying to respond to the divisiveness in our neighborhoods and the madness around the world.
We can barely digest the latest horror before our shock and sadness is interrupted by another heinous act.
If we have to accept the existence of human beings who shoot without thinking and are capable of murdering 84 people with a truck, then why shouldn’t we claim a reality that includes a web-cheeked unicorn with a fish tail? (Speaking of which, anyone bagged a Vaporean around here yet?)
Yet as much as I’ve enjoyed discovering Rattatas at the dog park and Spearows sitting in the rim of my coffee cup all week, my initial obsession with Pokemon Go waned after its servers brought it to a full stop for several hours over the weekend.
By the time my Barbie avatar loaded again, I’d already returned my attention to my usual diversions, like the majestic swallowtail butterflies and ruby red cardinals flitting around my flower garden, as well as the raging battle with actual rats that keep eating all the birdseed.
No matter what its CP, deploying a Poliwrath at a Gym won’t tighten these 40-something abs, and as far as I can tell, you can’t train an Oddish to fold the laundry.
But I salute those who continue to collect creatures, incubate eggs and represent in combat (Go Team Mystic!) Eventually our culture will move on to the next distraction—be it terrible or delightful—and Pokemon Go will fade into the annals of the same nostalgia that reincarnated it in the first place.
Until then, who am I to deflate anyone’s Jigglypuff? cs
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