I want to begin by saying that I am neither (a) tech-savvy (b), an early adopter, nor (c) a gamer. I was briefly obsessed with Neko Atsume, a Japanese cat-collecting game earlier this year, mostly to sublimate my angst over the fact that my boyfriend won’t let me get a real cat. But, to my surprise, I love Pokémon Go.
I’ve been reluctant to admit my fandom to my co-workers, who near-unanimously hailed the augmented-reality game as an opportunity to bring down the patriarchy while men were busy catching Charmeleons near steep cliff faces. But Pokémon Go transcends its seeming nerd-bro qualities. According to SurveyMonkey data, 63 percent of users in the U.S. are women, while the average user is a “25-year-old, white woman with a college degree making about $90,000 a year.” While Nintendo has yet to confirm these stats, they are reassuring to me, a 25-year-old woman who was late to work this morning because I spent five minutes trying to catch a 840 CP Magmar in a Chinatown park (please clap).
The first time I logged into the game, I experienced a pleasant jolt of familiarity, much like running into a childhood friend I hadn’t seen in years and then trying to capture and imprison that friend in a red-and-white ball. Like many ‘90s kids, I collected Pokémon cards, watched the TV show, and played Pokémon Red on Game Boy, and this new game has unleashed a wave of previously useless Pokémon nomenclature and taxonomy that I had no idea was still tucked in my brain, tapping into a nostalgia sweet spot more satisfying than any Full House reboot or Backstreet Boys reunion ever could. If one of my childhood toy trends had to be the thing to reorganize how society functions, I’d much rather it be the cute and richly realized world of Pokémon than Beanie Babies or, God help us, Furbies.
It’s the rare digital game that makes you both more active and more social, like a Fitbit with prizes. Pokémon Go has actually encouraged me to leave my house to go explore unfamiliar landmarks in my neighborhood. Not to say I’d ever bust it out during a Beyoncé concert, but it’s the perfect companion for errand-running or casual strolling. I feel like a Baudelairean flaneur, setting up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite, gaining coveted experience points while hunting for Squirtles and Psyducks. The game has revolutionized my commute: Every day, I walk the same route from my home in Chinatown to my office in Tribeca, passing the same stores and inhaling the same pungent mid-July fish odors. If I’m lucky, I’ll see Jonah Hill walking his dog, or a particularly good bodega cat, but usually it’s a pretty uneventful stroll. Now every street corner is a rich pixelated matrix of opportunity, in which a rare Pokémon could present itself, perhaps one even rarer than Jonah Hill, radically improving my status as a Pokémon trainer and briefly boosting my fickle self-esteem.
Admittedly, while some people have scored dates and made new friends off the game, I haven’t experienced the social aspect quite as keenly, as I’m mostly still embarrassed to let people know that I’m playing. That said, I did work up the courage to talk to a teenage boy in Central Park who taught me how to evolve my Magikarp into a Gyarados. And, really, what is a wild teen if not the most coveted and elusive Pokémon of all?