When I lived in Boston I walked everywhere. Now I live in Los Angeles, and I walk almost nowhere. The farthest is to the bar down the street, less than half a mile away, and I’ve been tempted to uber there or back more than once. Blame the drink.
Because of Pokémon Go I just walked more than a mile. I’m not saying that’s a good thing—it was midnight in LA and my girlfriend and I went the whole way face-deep in our phones. I’m just saying it’s weird.
I was skeptical of Pokémon Go from the beginning. I still am. It was made by The Pokémon Company and Niantic, a game developer that was started by Google and is now “supported” by Google but technically independent—or something. It’s confusing. But Niantic made a game called Ingress, where people use their phones to virtually battle over real life territory, and then they made Pokémon Go, which has apparently made the world go crazy.
WILD POKÉMON AND CONFUSED DOGS
My dogs get walked twice a day, every day. That walk usually lasts about 15 minutes each time. Today it lasted 40.
Girlfriend and I had each downloaded Pokémon Go during the day and we were excited to try it out. The game asks you to stare at your phone screen as you walk around in the real world. As you move, your phone’s GPS keeps track of your location, moving a little guy or gal on the screen in kind. Pokémon frequently pop up around you. These are the same creatures that whipped ‘90s kids into a cultish fervor—myself included— and the games are going strong, if you didn’t know. This is the latest.
The difference here is that while most Pokémon games require you to also own a handheld Nintendo game console like the 3DS, Pokémon Go requires only a phone. It’s the second Nintendo phone game (Nintendo didn’t technically make it, but they have partial ownership of and a very close relationship with The Pokémon Company). The first was Miitomo, a glorified unending questionnaire whose popularity hit hard but quickly waned. I have a feeling Pokémon Go could last significantly longer. I could be wrong, but that’s my feeling.
Basically everyone who grew up in the '90s or early aughts was way into Pokémon. Those are the people I encountered today. There were the two dudes who passed us as we set out on our normal dog walk, intent on their mobile screens. Normally I’d assume they were texting or whatever—I probably wouldn’t think twice about it to be honest—but I’m pretty sure they were hunting Pokémon just like we were.
As the walk veered off our normal route we encountered the dude who works at the liquor store down the street. I’ve seen him a hundred times over the last few years, but this was the first time we’d ever had a conversation. He and a friend were standing outside as we dragged our puzzled but not-displeased dogs past and they immediately caught on to what we were up to. We wound up chatting with them for 20 minutes, sharing strategies and comparing Pokémon collections, while the dogs wondered what the fuck was going on.
Another couple walked by as we stood there, the guy trailing behind, face in phone, loudly lamenting the fact that Pokémon Go crashes or needs to be reset pretty much freaking constantly. (I’m sure they’ll iron out the bugs eventually but for now it’s excrutiating when the servers get overloaded.)
Later, as we got in our Lyft to head to see a band, we wondered whether Pokémon Go would work in the car. Our driver—who had been playing before his shift—joined in enthusiastically. We were his first passengers to play on the way, he said, but he was sure we wouldn’t be the last. There’s something hilarious about swiping my phone screen to chuck poké balls at a Zubat while going 30 miles per hour down Sunset.
(I saw at least eight more people who were definitely playing when I took a walk to the park just now to snap these shots of my dogs. The game also crashed literally 15 times, so.)
We resisted taking our phones out during the concert. Pokémon Go wants you to be in motion anyway, and it rarely rewards you for standing still. As the encore ended, though, and we closed our tab, we’d already decided to walk home. To save money, I told myself—it was only a mile—but as we both pulled our phones out the truth became evident.
On the way home we passed a Pokémon “gym"—in the real world, a neighborhood graffiti wall between Echo Park and Silverlake; in the game a dojo wherein to test your skill as a Pokémon trainer (though the "combat” in Pokémon Go is simplistic and pretty stupid).
We stopped for five minutes while she challenged the gym. She lost, and I didn’t even try—I’m a lower level than her still.
We moved on, passing another couple staring intensely at their phones. This was around midnight. These fools were cool as hell—the kind of people you expect to see in Echo Park at midnight on a Friday walking to and/or from a trendy bar. Normally we’d have passed by without a word, ships in the night, but we knew right away what they were up to (and vice versa).
We casually exchanged tips. “The best Pokémon are on Skid Row,” the woman said. “He caught a Pinsir there.” She gestured at the guy.
“That sounds sketchy,” I replied, mulling it over. “We’ll have to drive by, at least.”
(Here’s one more of the dogs, because dogs.)
Mike Rougeau is Playboy.com’s Gaming Editor, in charge of all things video games. He’s blue team for life. Follow him on Twitter @RogueCheddar.
RELATED: The Gamers Next Door Face Their Fears in Virtual Reality Horror
This article was edited once to better describe the relationship between Nintendo and The Pokémon Company.