Pokemon Go craze takes country by storm

In its twenty years, the Pokémon franchise has diversified from its origins in video games into arenas from merchandise and comics to movies and toys. And of course there are the trading card games. I have a nine-year-old son, and so every time I clean my car, or couch, or do laundry it, it seems like I find another Pokémon card. 

The fact that my son has Pokémon cards to burn, and Nintendo 3DS cartridges to loan out, has often left me scratching my head. But it’s made The Pokémon Company and its partners very happy. Pokémon’s total worldwide market share? ¥4.8 trillion, or roughly $45 billion. 

And if you haven’t been living under a rock, you know that that number has gone WAY up with the release of the “augmented reality” game, Pokémon Go. Using a mobile device and the Pokémon Go app, Pokémon trainers can hunt and capture the mythical creatures against the backdrop of the real world.  

The game is getting enthusiasts out of their houses to play. Many focus on the exercise benefits (to find off-the-beaten-track Pokémon and to hatch eggs, trainers must WALK—yes the app has capped the speed you can move and still rack up distance). Further, Pokémon Go actually encourages sociability. It’s an amazing thing to venture out to Centennial Park at night and see small and large groups of friends laughing, talking, walking about, and calling out to others to let them know the location of new Pokémon. Even those not playing often accompany their friends on their adventures. 

“I play because it gives me street cred with my students when I go back to school teaching fourth grade,” explained Niki Albertson. “My gf doesn't play, but she likes to go wander around with me. We love to see others playing; Bicentennial Park has felt very European lately, with the late night crowds promenading through the pathways!” 

Jennifer Klackle and girlfriend Kristin Hinman say they’ve spent a lot of time enjoying the game with family while on vacation. and a Caterpie. “The week it was released,” Klackle said, “we spent hours with my daughter … and Kristin's son … playing the game down at the river front in Clarksville, driving out to Grand Rivers, KY, and walking around our neighborhood. Kristin and I are on vacation in Massachusetts and after a day of fun in the sun, we spend our evenings hunting Pokémon in the resort villages of Cape Cod. We talk, laugh, and hold hands while playing, and not once have we encountered homophobia here in Massachusetts, but back home in Tennessee we don't dare for fear of discrimination and hate.” 

“I'm heavily into the LGBTQ scene here in Nashville,” added Audrey Arndt. “The thing about Pokémon Go is that it really doesn't matter who you are... People are finding common ground and uniting over a silly game that gets us out more as gamers.” 

One woman who identifies as a “newly disabled queer player” shared her perspective on the way the game has encouraged her to connect in new ways. “It's not the most accessible game to people with disabilities (I may never ‘catch them all’), but it's not impossible for my particular disability, and many things do feel impossible. Because everyone wants to talk to you who is playing Pokémon, it also has greatly enhanced the number of people I talk to in a given week. I began to feel like a shut in, but now just going and sitting in the park or at the chicken restaurant is an adventure!” 

As an LGBT person she’s also been deeply encouraged and emboldened by encountering the new community of Pokémon trainers. “I only ever grew up with bullying surrounding sexual orientation and gender presentation. To have these kids hear about my partner (who often accompanies me) like it's no big deal has been this hugely novel experience for me and it's been pretty positive. And somehow playing Pokémon makes me seem less scared to come out to other people playing, especially if we have done something together like take down a red gym!” 

If there’s one complaint, it’s that so few of our LGBT spaces are landmarks in the game. “I live near Nashville West Shopping Center where there's 8-12 PokéStops in the area and it's amazing to pull up at 10:30 at night and see everyone else just out and hanging around trying to ‘catch ‘em all,’” Arndt said. “If anything, I'm kinda disappointed that queer spaces that I like to go to, such as Lipstick Lounge, are not PokéStops or gyms, because it means that I'm spending less time with my community and family of friends and more time out in non-LGBTQ spaces.” 

I’ll admit, despite my long-time inability to get the appeal of Pokémon, I was an early adopter of the game, and I definitely see its appeal. I’ve been out to the park, and other landmarks, myself with friends and my boyfriend, I’ve randomly run into people I know from the community and took part in impromptu battles. I definitely feel like it gives me something in common with people I haven’t connected with before, and that’s beautiful.  

If you have any interest in the game, by groups like PokéQueer on Facebook and others are giving people spaces to organize group play or just share their adventures with others. Talk to your friends or explore the internet. And I guarantee, if you show some interest, someone in your social network would love to share! 





Photo courtesy of Joe Eats World

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