Social References & Sommergrippe: A Brief Pokémon Go Diary

At a time when news cycles seem laden with grimness and vexation, I feel it my duty here to counter with a bit of levity and distraction. And what better candidate for this than Pokémon Go.

Likely you already know a thing or three about Niantic’s latest augmented reality game for iOS and Android, so I’m sure you don’t need me telling you what’s what. Actually, this whole craze almost snuck up on me. I’d hardly term myself a Pokémon aficionado, let alone much of a gamer: I’m not very competitive, or social, and I tend to fold under pressure when it comes to things like clocks and hit points. Games on my iPhone tend to be of the Neko Atsume variety.

On the other hand, it’s funny to be in a position to watch something go viral. What starts as a distant tittering online rumor amongst your friends living oceans away swiftly spills onto the street right in front of you. And as you feel yourself on the brink of this new wave of (albeit fleeting) cultural obsession, it’s good to have a bit of a social reference. It’s hip to not be above the fad—“Pssh, been there, tried it, deleted the app.” But it’s also annoying to be that one person going, “Huh, what’s a Pokémon?”

And so, dear Reader, for the sake of social reference, here I Go:

Day 1: Speaking of things going viral, my signing up for Pokémon Go just happens to coincide with my coming down with a nasty head cold. I only get so far as creating my character, picking out my cute little trainer clothes, and capturing my first Pokémon, a Charmander encountered in my dog’s favorite sleeping corner. The servers go down shortly thereafter, and I end up forgetting all about the game, because, you know, sick.

Day 4: A Facebook meme poking fun at Poké-peeps reminds me “oh hey, I have an account”, so I try logging in on the way back from picking up more Sinupret and Hustenbonbons at the Apotheke. Ah, but the servers are down again …

Day 5: Headcold has migrated to my chest. Still haven’t gone outside with the game, but I’ve finally got the app up and running. I’ve discovered I can reach three PokéStops from my nest of crumpled tissues and cough drop wrappers, so I set to the unimaginative task of stocking up on PokéBalls while binging on Netflix, thinking that’s the extent of it whilst I’m bedridden.

Then, alerted to the appearance of a Pidgey on my keyboard—Boom, captured. The realization settles in that I don’t have to get up to catch Pokémon. I can do this. Visited by another, and then another, and another: boom, boom, boom, and quickly I’m already at Level 3 without ever leaving the sofa. I’m pretty good at this.

Nightfall: My partner takes the dog out for a run, leaving me alone with my electronic devices. Mood fortified by steaming mug after steaming mug of cold remedy concoction (for my Sommergrippe peeps, it’s fresh lemon and ginger, honey, ground black pepper, and a generous squeeze of Sriracha), I’m up off the sofa now, stalking my hallway for Pokémon, really starting to get the hang of this indoor collection business.

Someone has set up a Lure Module on one of the PokéStops nearby. According to the game, this is “a module that attracts Pokémon to a PokéStop for 30 min. The effect benefits other people nearby.” Heck yeah, it does. Except as I’m snagging convenient Rattatas and Zubats, I hesitate, wondering, am I poaching someone else’s stuff? I steal out onto the balcony and scan the façade of the building across the street for the mysterious Lure owner, but my gaze is met only by impassive windows. It could be anyone ...

Day 6, Morning: Feeling quite a bit better, so I log into work for a bit. Meanwhile, I’ve sorted out my Lure Module social anxiety. This is convenient because two more Lure Modules have been set nearby, so I cash in and level up. There’s a Pokémon Gym just down the street, marked by a Historische Grundwasserpumpe, actually a rather groddy water basin where birds like to dunk (and abandon) food scraps. It’s out of range in terms of proper Gym-ing, whatever that entails, but evidently I can still pester Professor Willow from a distance. He’s been telling me I need to come back when I’m Level 5, and now that I am, I finally get the go-ahead to pick my team—Go Team Mystic!

Afternoon: I head up to the park with my dog. I’m pretty clandestine with my phone on the way there, just keeping the game running while it’s in my bag. But I quickly realize I’m hardly the only person intent on Pokémon Go, on the street and in the park itself. I get the impression of other people shuffling along similar purposes, phones in hand. There’s a certain unmistakable stance or gait. Usually everyone seems much more purposeful, more destination-oriented in their movements on the street, but today there’s a meandering sort of feeling, a sense of wandering, searching, questing, invoking a childlike sense of adventure.

At first I feel weird about having to pull over periodically with the dog so I can get better PokéBall aim, but after a little while I just accept that this stutter-stop foot traffic is our new reality, so embrace it—hold up, pupster, I really need to catch this guy. 

Day 5: Overdid it yesterday with the Pokémon: under the weather again. Someone sets up another Lure Module outside my building. From the balcony I can see a cluster of random individuals strung out along the curb facing us, faces buried in their smartphone screens. Of course, I’m upstairs doing the exact same thing.

When the Lure Module expires, it’s like witnessing the breaking of a spell. People look around, pocket their phones, move on. As do I.

It’s kinda cute how the game is attracting all types, not just kids. Teens and young adults, sure. But also parents teaming up with little tykes. Gaggles of elderly persons thumbing their phone screes. Businessmen waiting for the tram. Heavily-tattooed hipsters palming their phones, but I recognize the screen as it dangles from their wrist. Tired young parents pushing around baby carriages. Other dog owners wrangling beasts both real and digital. There’s a weird sort of solidarity.

Day 7: Cold symptoms finally abating. Energy returning. Unfortunately, Pokémon interest beginning to wane. I got what I was looking for, my social reference. And I sense the peripheral zeal also starting to wind down as the novelty inevitably wears off, and it becomes just another thing to do to pass the while. For me, it’s more of a multitasking thing. Incubating eggs whilst I make the long daily circuit with my dog.

Meanwhile, even Pokémon Go finds itself in the news with tales of poor judgment and sometimes dire consequences. In augmented reality, lines are wont to blur between game and reality. I'm not unappreciative of the parallels, my pursuing Spearows and Pidgeys in my screen and my dog threatening to chase real sparrows and pigeons through the brush along Karl-Marx-Allee. Lest either of us forgets himself and goes running foolishly into traffic, like the loading screen says, “Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings.”

And you too, dear Reader, be safe out there, onscreen and off.

By Eileen Carelock 
Images © Eileen Carelock 
Eileen is a Berlin-based freelancer and tentative explorer of a tiny segment of the human experience. She ends up hanging out with her dog a lot; she also writes things.
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