Poke (Who?) Mon Go!

We’ve all seen the news clips of phone texters so intently focused they stumble into mall fountain pools and catapult over curbs. And we are equally familiar with the stereotype of video gamers who isolate themselves, never straying from the couch as they play disturbingly violent video games.

A new phenomenon has arisen, a video game which draws its users outside, into the fresh air, to local landmarks, restaurants and parks as they seek Bulbasaurs, Weedles, Pidgeottos and Eevies, virtual characters both scary and endearing, who inhabit the addictive world of Pokemon Go. Pokemon has been around for a couple of decades, but its new incarnation is drawing an audience of believers ranging from my 6-year-old grandson to 80-plus grannies into a virtual world of geocaching and technological treasure hunting. There has even been a baby name surge of Ash, Shay, Onyx, and on the edgier side, Jigglypuff, Tentacruel and Snorlax – anybody remember “A Boy Named Sue?”

Since the game's launch earlier this summer, Harwich police, ever vigilant, even into the wee hours, have investigated six incidences of suspicious vehicles involving people discovered to have been playing Pokemon Go. Out of those seekers, mostly mid 20s, driving about in the middle of the night, one was allowed to capture his “Charizard” before being encouraged to move from the parking lot of a closed business, and one was issued a verbal warning for Pokemonning while driving.

Groups of players become trainers, evolving and hatching captured characters who can gain power. They meet up with other players at public places, like Pilgrim Congregational Church where there may be Pokemon “gyms” (bears no resemblance to an exercise gym.) The characters may be lurking anywhere from Brooks Free Library to Dairy Queen. We were eating at the Hot Stove where the grandchildren were immensely amused with spotting the little guys sitting on grandpa’s head.

Another useless video game? Perhaps not. Not only do players get off the couch and go outside, they get vigorous exercise tromping through town searching for Pokespots. Across the country, at least two dead bodies have been discovered by players in different states as they searched. One family put out a mulch fire and another couple saved a dog from a burning house they spotted. In another news story, a player found someone’s lost $2,000. I observed a cadre of serious young men, marching on a mission down South Street. It took me a few minutes and the assistance of my granddaughter to realize they were marching to the silent beat of Pokemon Go.

Our 13-year-old grandson, visiting from San Francisco, was spending time with his 12- and 14-year-old cousins. Being teen boys and a girl was awkward enough, as they don’t get to see each other often. But that was no problem for Pokemon who quickly came to the rescue. They bonded all over Harwich Port and met new friends on every street corner while playing the game. I’ve never really liked games, except for Scrabble and Pictionary, and Words with Friends on my Kindle, but I am seeing some positives in this new Pokemon Go thing.

Parents blog and Tweet about how they are finally communicating with their passive, uninvolved, seemingly anti social teens while playing the game. Businesses are jumping on the bandwagon, dropping “lures” at their establishments to entice customers. The game is not as violent as most, and some of the pocket monsters are downright adorable. It challenges memory and strategizing as successfully as it builds face-to-face relationships where individuals actually talk to each other. They can speak after all! This phenomenon is not only occurring in the U.S., it’s happening all over the world. We may not always agree with others’ politics, but if Pokemon Go can bring us together, it’s a win.

Don’t tell my family, but this just might convince me to lose the flip phone for a “fancy” smartphone. Watch where you walk – there could be bodies out there, and please don’t drive and play – you might capture a ticket along with your Charizard.