I was laid off in June, and although there’s never really a good time to lose your job, summer isn’t bad time for it. I had just moved back to the East Coast from Chicago two weeks before and was actually in the middle of vacation when I got my immediate termination notice, but that’s neither here nor there. Point is, I suddenly had a new home and a lot of time on my hands.
When my boyfriend mentioned that a new game requiring you to catch virtual Pokémon out in the real world had just been released, he said it in a “haha isn’t this ridiculous” kind of way. But I wanted it in my life immediately, and we downloaded it.
Pokémon GO was reported on in every newspaper, magazine, and news show for the first couple weeks, but most of the coverage focused on the “dangers” of playing the game, which really boil down to the dangers of being stupid. Not looking both ways before crossing a busy street is a stupid thing to do, no matter why you’re doing it. The mistakes aren’t new; stupid people just have a new excuse for making them.
So anyway, armed with no money or car (and very few Pokémon), I prepared to get to know my surroundings and find a source of income. Searching for jobs (and catching Pokémon) can be done anywhere with internet access, but I struggled with the hours and days of nothing but time at home. I could finally breathe in the fresh air I had missed in Chicago and watch butterflies flit through our backyard between applications, but even the sunshine soon became monotonous. I sank into a feeling of stagnation and fear that nothing would ever change for the better. How could it? I had no job, no car, no proof I could do anything valuable for anyone.
Since most of my days were spent home alone with Lieutenant Pumpkin, who spends most of her days snoozing under the bed, I was mildly excited when the temperature dropped far enough below 100 degrees to venture outside for anything other than food. Getting around small American towns without a car isn’t easy, however, especially towns that are nestled into some of the highest mountain peaks in the region. I have a bike, but I find it better suited to downhill rides…
Lo and behold, I discovered the ride from my home to Main Street in town is almost completely downhill! Yes, the ride back is completely uphill, but that’s what boyfriends with cars are for. I decided I’d park myself at the coffee shop, rev up my mojo with the change of scenery, and bang out some killer job applications. Little did I know that Main Street is a mecca for Pokémon GO players.
The one-mile stretch of shops and restaurants has dozens of pokéstops where players refill their stocks of pokéballs, potions, and more. The cool thing about pokéstops is they are all connected to a storefront or historical site, many of which I honestly did not notice until I started playing. Main Street has a public library? Thanks, Pokémon GO! There’s a mural of a deer on that building up the street? Gotta check that out. A historic clock in the middle of town? This one actually took me several trips to find in real life because it’s so inconspicuous, so thanks, Pokémon GO!
I became acquainted with the local sites and businesses in my town by walking slowly up and down the street to check in at pokéstops and nab new pokémon. Although we might appear to be engrossed in our phone screens and cut off from the “real world,” a lot us are actually engaging in ways we didn’t used to. Jenny Lawson, my favorite writer and a fellow introvert, wrote on her blog that playing the game makes her not only leave her house (which is often easier said than done), but go places she’d never normally go, like public parks and malls full of people. “And then strangers who also never go out come up to you and say, “HEY DID YOU CATCH THAT BULBASAUR NEXT TO JAMBA JUICE?” and instead of running away from strangers and small talk you’re like, “OF COURSE I DID. What am I, some kind of amateur?””
I can’t say I’ve made any new lifelong friends because of Pokémon go, but I’ve certainly engaged with a lot more strangers than I would have otherwise. I met one man searching for a Squirtle at George Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh one morning. He told me he and his wife and kids have been taking more road trips on weekends to check into new pokéstops, catch different pokémon, and even learn things.
I showed a man in a business suit how to battle his pokémon, and I huddled with a bunch of teenagers, hoping a rare pokémon would be attracted to the lure they’d set out. (We all caught a Dratini, which was pretty sweet).
Playing Pokémon GO attracts some of us more introverted folks out into the open for longer periods of time than we might otherwise choose. Yes, I would still go outside and want to walk around, and I might even respond to some small talk, but I probably wouldn’t plop myself down next to a group of strangers and strike up a conversation, or haul my computer bag around for an extra half mile in 5000% humidity to see if that darn Geodude is around the next corner.
It’s been just over a month since I started looking for jobs in earnest and playing Pokémon GO. I still don’t have a job, but going out and interacting with people, even if it’s just sharing a smile with a fellow player (we’re pretty easy to spot) or ordering a caffeinated beverage, has kept me from slipping away from the outside world.
Also, the coffeeshop is smack dab in the middle of a TRIFECTA of pokéstops. SCORE.