Catching ‘em All #4 - Pokémon GO is about the little moments

  • This post is a break from the norm to address the Phanpy in the room, Pokémon GO.

    Setting out on an adventure

    The above image is me and my family setting out for what we have now dubbed a PokéWalk on the Sunday before Pokémon GO’s general release in the UK. (I’d been sneaky and used a New Zealand iTunes account to get the game on my iPhone early) I’d been enjoying the game for the previous few of days, catching Pokémon on my way to and from work. Taking part in the online discussion and memes around the game. Basically all of that very internet-y stuff that happens when a game grabs the attention of so many. But this walk was special and is was facilitated by me being mildly obsessed with Pokémon GO.

    Some background on this:

    • We are new parents and our daughter is only 4 months old at this point.
    • Due to work, wider-family and parenting commitments we haven’t had much actual family time with just the three of us until recently.
    • We have lived in Bishop’s Stortford for a few years but we have never taken the time to explore beyond the main high street area of the town.

    So me suggesting to my wife that we go for a walk around town and let the PokéStops and Gyms guide our path was met with intrigue about the game but ultimately agreement because we would actually be doing something together as a family. So we set off and started exploring the town we barely knew via the medium of a mobile game.

    3–4 hours later we returned home after walking into and around Bishop’s Stortford, having some food and then taking the long way back via the park. After that afternoon and early evening of following the game’s lead and experiencing its delights as a family I do not care if Pokémon GO is some passing fad as so many keep preaching. Or if it is not really balanced and still an incomplete experience. For me personally I had one of the best gaming sessions I have ever had and I was barely interacting with the game itself.

    All we were doing is picking out PokéStops and walking to them. Only stopping when my phone buzzed to alert me to nearby Pokémon. The rest of the time is was in my hand but being held by my hip as I walked with my daughter strapped to me in the carrier we have for her.

    But like I said it is a game about the little moments. In our walk a couple of interesting things happened.

    We found a lot of cool little hidden areas of town. A surprising amount of pubs both big and small. It is cool to see that the shrinking pub/inn industry in the UK has yet to reach Bishop’ Stortford. Another cool thing was the smallest house we had ever seen. Built in the tiny gap between two larger buildings. We also walked through some nice parks and public gardens on our mini adventure. All the while I was giving some light history on them thanks to a lot of the PokéStops having extra detail and information attached to them for those interested in learning more.

    The two main highlights for me though were the following:

    1. Walking to a PokéStop that turned out to be a Bowling Green.

    This was great because earlier that day I had been playing Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter where at the start of the second case you have to take part in a Lawn Bowls tournament. Through playing this section of the game I learned that my wife knows all of the lingo and rules to Lawn Bowls. So naturally I had been teasing her about being an old person for most of the day.

    When we reached the Bowling Green and I swiped the PokéStop to get my items I read the description for the location.

    'Bishop’s Stortford Bowling Green — A place for old people to meet.'

    It gave me a chuckle and another opportunity to have a joke at my wife’s expense. We then popped our heads around the corner and watched a game in progress for a couple of minutes. I also caught a Weedle while we were there and I named it Gramps after the location.

    2. Finding my Favourite Pokémon GO Gym.

    Part of our adventure took us down to the river to catch some elusive Water Pokémon. It also turned out that a Pokémon Gym was there so we went to check it out.

    My first battle by the Crane

    The Gym itself is situated on an old Loading Crane that is a preserved piece of history from when the river was used to transport goods in and out of the town. Whenever I battle there I get awesome scenes like the one above of my Pokémon fighting from the bank and the opponent’s (if I angle things correctly) fighting on top of a canal boat or some other feature on the way to the crane itself.

    It also conjures a mental picture of the Pokémon Gyms from the mainline games. If this was a Gym in Pokémon Sun and Moon that crane would be a key part of the puzzle you need to solve to reach the Gym Leader. It is a cool real world feature used well within the game be it intentionally or not.

    Also because the Gym is in a cool location that is still close to the town centre whenever I am there I bump into other players. It has become a cool little picturesque spot to share tips and tactics with fellow trainers while confused joggers run past a row of people pointing their phones at the water.

    Away from my wonderful Sunday afternoon family adventure I have enjoyed many other little moments of joy playing the game. From comparing PokéDexes with a Russian tourist on the train. To taking pictures of particularly well placed Pokémon as I encounter them.

    An Oddish hanging out on Argyll Street

    It has been a great and unique experience that is tied into one of my favourite game series. However a slightly different moment was this one,

    Trying to catch a Clefairy in the tall grass in Blacko, Lancashire

    This is me trying and failing to catch a Clefairy a few hours after my grandfather’s funeral. We were staying at my Mum’s and I needed to clear my head after a pretty draining day. So I decided to go for a walk, once again with the baby strapped to me to give my wife a bit of a break. For 45mins or so I used Pokémon GO to escape from a crummy day. But because I was walking through tall grass, fields, up and down hills, along a river and even through a wood at one point I had a huge grin on my face despite the overall sombreness of the day.

    This was it. This was me getting as close as you currently can to living the dream of many people in my generation, being a Pokémon Trainer. The Clefairy moment stands out because that is when it became clear to me. The sun was shining bright and I was stood in a field, throwing Pokéballs at a Clefairy. Then it ran away and I was okay with it. Sometimes Pokémon get away, catching them all was never going to be easy.

    What I love about these moments is that they are rarely pure gameplay interactions. Instead they are real world or augmented interactions that have been facilitated by the game. Gameplay becomes secondary but the experience is complete because of it.

    That is why this game is so good and more than a passing fad to me. It is something that is generating cherished memories and so many cool moments where everything falls into place. On the outside you may look awkward staring down at your phone and flicking the screen. Inside though, you are in the middle of an epic struggle to catch that one Pokémon you have been hunting for the past hour or pouring your all into toppling the Gym you are visiting.

    I will also say it is the first mobile game that has grabbed my attention in a very long time. There is just something about it that scratches an itch I did not know I had. So for the foreseeable future it looks like I will be wandering around with my phone constantly out hoping to encounter more little moments of joy that Pokémon GO is more than ready to provide.

    Also, Team Mystic for life.