I was probably too old for Pokémon when I first saw the TV series in my junior year of high school. It's not like I wouldn't have been the target audience—kids with some cash to spend on #nerdlife activities—but I was more of a music introvert than an anime head. And I'd all but given up trading cards by the summer before middle school; I was out of that life. That's not to say I avoided the Pokémon TV show like the plague; it would happen to be on as I was getting ready for school, and there was something about those quirky characters with weird af names ("Meowth" is still the oddest thing to me) and the idea of this determined kid who spent all of his days traveling to new lands, capturing these creatures in futuristic holding devices so he could become the master.
The conqueror in me was intrigued, but not enough to warrant buying Pokémon video games or advancing this curiosity any further...that is, until I had a son. I can't front like I expected to see the Pokémon craze live on for 20 (!) years, and while he's like me when it comes to observing this phenomenon, he's also going on 10. The competition is REAL when it comes to identifying Pokémon characters (and attributes) to these dirty kids he goes to school with. So much so that a few months back, we devoured an extended guide on Pokémon characters. The guide was huge, and I was amazed at how insane this Pokémon craze got, especially at how eager my son was in learning about which regions each of these Pokémon lived in, what they would evolve into, and which attacks these quirky creatures could pull off. It didn't do much for me but allow me to spend some quality time with the little homey, exploring a craze I observed from the outside for the last two decades. But with the release of the mobile game Pokémon Go, I realized why everyone was so wrapped up in the Pokémon world: all of us want to be Ash Ketchum.
For those who are unaware, Pokémon Go is an AR (augmented reality) game that allows you to become a Pokémon trainer and catch Pokémon IRL. It hooks up to your GPS and your phone's camera, and once your device alerts you that a wild Pidgey or Rattata (those fuckers are EVERYWHERE) is in your vicinity, you can then launch a Pokéball at it and capture it. The more Pokémon you capture, the more experience you gain, which increases your levels. Once you hit a Level 5, you can start battling other Pokémon trainers at their gyms; if you win, you own that gym. It reminds me of Swarm, the app that allows you to "check in" at restaurants, bars, and other places in hopes that you become "mayor" of that establishment. It's just way more intense, and WAY more addicting.
I'd seen people going nuts over Pokémon Go during the latter half of this past week, but I wasn't intrigued enough to hop on the wave until I saw that a few coworkers were catching Pokémon in the office. Something about that triggered a competitive streak in me, and I was determined that I, too, wanted to be the very best. I wanted to catch all of these damn Pokémon. I wanted to be the black Ash Ketchum.
One thing I've seen in many pieces on this game is how it forces people to get out of the house; it's true, Pokémon Go will have you roaming across the land, seeing which characters pop up. It's also dope that a number of these Pokéstops (where you can get more Pokéballs and other items) are at specific locations in your area; you need Pokéballs to catch Pokémon, so at some point you HAVE to get there, right? The problem is, the itch to catch these bastards is tough to scratch when the weather forecast is calling for all the rain to hit your area. On a trip to my local deli to grab some food, I was standing in the rain, trying to catch my first Pokémon (I finally caught that damn Squirtle, but I imagine I looked like the biggest idiot huddled under an umbrella, phone out, swiping furiously as I tried to figure out the proper technique to catch a Pokémon). I can't tell you how much of an idiot I felt like when I got home and a wild Pidgey was sitting right on my computer desk. What was I even doing going outside? I imagine that chances of catching hella Pokémon by exploring the actual world are much higher, but I'm a hermit, and leveled up pretty quickly by drinking Heinekens in the comfort of my own home.
Fast forward to Saturday; one of my cousins was on Facebook talking wanting to be a "Pokémon master," and my wife ended up seeing this status and downloading Pokémon Go as well. There's that competitive trigger again! Here we are, sitting together, both staring at our phones like maniacs, trying to be Ash (and Ashley?) Ketchum, together. The problem? She's catching all of the goddamn Pokémon! Who knew that a Venonat was just chilling next to the TV?!
Later that night, I noticed that a park about a block away from us had a bunch rustling in it. I smelled Pokémon, and decided it was time to take a walk. Wifey was game, so at around 10 at night, we set out to catch all of the Pokémon we could. There were two problems, though: first, there was something with the GPS in that area, and both of our apps said that they couldn't see us on GPS. WTF!? Do the Pokémon have some kind of Poké Cell Signal Jammer out there, so their punk asses don't get caught? That wasn't even the worst of it. Right on time, the sky opened up and we got drenched. With no GPS and no umbrellas, we hightailed it back to the house, frustrated but laughing.
This is going to be hyper-addicting, for good or ill. There are already people getting into trouble for playing Pokémon Go at work (although Complex HQ's "no phones during meetings" policy will hinder my hunting during business hours), while other nefarious individuals are finding ways to rob people who are just trying to catch 'em all. On the plus side, during my commute to work, I realized how many different gyms and Pokéstops there really are, so I can burn off this fat and truly become Ash by getting motivated enough to at least catch some more elusive Pokémon out in the wild, as opposed to bathing in the multitude of Weedles and Rattatas in my hood.
So while my home apparently became a Pokémon breeding ground (is that even covered in my lease?), I'm going to have to venture into the world at some point to snag these little bastards. Sadly, I feel like, instead of seeing a dead body during a Pokémon hunt, I'm going to be struck by oncoming traffic. But fuck it. One day, I will be Ash Ketchum...or die trying.