I didn’t want to believe in the power of Pokémon Go. I grew up in a Nintendo household, playing hours of Zelda and Earthbound and GoldenEye; I spent my tween years carrying around a Game Boy on which I alternated between the red and blue versions of Pokémon, conspiring to take down Professor Oak. Still, when I first heard murmurings that a new Pokémon game was turning hordes of adults into Exeggcute-chasing zombies, I told myself that I was immune. As it turned out, I wasn’t.
I remember the exact moment when I fell victim to the game. It was this past Thursday evening and it was pouring out. I got to the exit of the G train station in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and I didn’t have an umbrella. There I was, waiting under an overhang, clutching my iPhone, bored. It was a moment of weakness. And suddenly, I found myself in the App Store.
I’ll be honest: I rushed through the beginning stages of the game (and picked the wrong nickname, starter Pokémon, and color team as a result) in order to get to a settings page where I could turn off the music, which had come on so incredibly loud that I was certain the guy in the bodega behind me could hear it. And I also definitely mashed a whole bunch of buttons and wasted a whole lot of Pokéballs trying to figure out what exactly it was that I was supposed to be doing. But then—magic. I was in.
I caught a lot of Pokémon that night. There a Weedle on my table, doing jumping jacks on top of my braised kale. There was a Doduo hiding behind the bar I went to with my friends. Outside in the semi-crowded darkness of the backyard, there was a Tauros. And every once in a while, I’d head outside “for fresh air”—which really meant I’d stroll around the block and search for more. I still wasn’t fully sold though—as far as I was concerned, the app was a gamified version of Foursquare, fun when you’ve had a few drinks but nothing more than that. That night I closed the app and went to bed and didn’t expect to think about it again.
But the next day, I caught the Pokéfever for real.
First, a warning: Never get your significant other to play in tandem with you, unless you’re prepared to get competitive. And if you are willing to lay down the cash to literally buy your way to a higher level, you can arm yourself with Pokémon-attracting “incense.” And so I found myself dashing ahead of my boyfriend, snagging Pinsirs and Jigglypuffs as we made our way to dinner with friends, as he leisurely walked and attracted the Pokémon directly to him. He’d already jumped to the second stage of addiction.
After dinner, antsy to get back to the hunt, we headed back to the same area in Greenpoint I’d been the night before. But this time I already knew where all the good Pokémon were, so we zigzagged our way through the neighborhood, giddy with our newly filled Pokébackpacks.
We entered a bar and realized that everyone inside was playing Pokémon too, including the bartender, who gave me a free round of beers for identifying a back alley where he could pick up a Geodude. The backyard of the bar was filled with glowing screens and people sporadically shouting: I caught one! What’s this! Wait, the Pokéstop is too far away! We went home.
But it didn’t end there. I discovered quite quickly that my apartment was surrounded by Pokéstops and that we could, in theory, drop a couple bucks and add a “module” to the stop in order to make it release perfume, and we could just leave our phones open with the lock screens removed and watch the Pokémon roll in. So we did that, of course.
This was the point at which it became clear that I addicted to Pokémon Go. It was also clear that I wasn’t alone. On Saturday and Sunday, I saw packs of people roaming the streets, clusters of them furiously tapping their phones while standing outside the gates of a pair of twin churches. The waterfront park in Long Island City was packed with people trying to figure out to trap the Pokémon on the screens they held out in front of them, oblivious to anything going on around them and to the beautiful cityscape just across the river.
As my boyfriend and I sat at home on Sunday night, in the last hours of our weekend, the fever finally seemed to break. We talked about what we had to do the coming week, whether we wanted steak for dinner on Tuesday, how we were going to a concert on Friday and wanted to start listening to the album to prepare ourselves. We were back among the living.
But the thing about Pokémon Go is that it is perfectly engineered to lure people like me—to exploit the nostalgia of anyone who spent their pre-adolescence in a Pokémon-filled haze, to activate dormant sense memories of Squirtles and Psyducks, with just enough of an uncanny twist to feel hypnotically futuristic and new. And so, that Sunday night before bed, I covertly bookmarked an old Geocities site I’d used as a pre-teen, the lazy man’s guide to identifying the various levels Pokémon can reach and what they can do once they get there. I locked my phone and placed it on the bedside table, finding my boyfriend waiting for the Pokémon to sidle up to our Pokéstop, still bathed in the glow of his phone.