By Sue Strachan, Uptown Messenger
In 2016, it seemed like Pokémon Go was everywhere. And as quickly as the game jumped into the public’s imagination, it seemed to disappear.
However, the game didn’t suddenly vanish, and it didn’t necessarily go underground, more like under-the-radar, much like the game’s mysterious Pokémon, Unown.
One place to find the action in New Orleans was at a PVP (Player vs. Player) tournament at the home of a dedicated player, who asked not to be identified. She is one of the moderators of the Pokémon Go New Orleans Facebook page, which is used as a city-wide bulletin board for player events.
There are three tournaments a month, she said, and she makes food for the ones at her home, making it more like a social event.
“A lot of players’ spouses don’t play,” she said, “I set it up to be more of a get-together with friends, so the spouses and their children can come.”
Most of the players at this PVP were men, who were intently looking at their phones — poking them with an urgency that seemed like they could break a finger on the screen.
But don’t let the PVP fool you — Pokémon Go is not strictly a game for men. Women and families play with as much fervor, but in different ways.
Susan Whelan also got hooked on the game in 2016, when her boss at the time got her into it and “everyone was talking about it,” she said.
At first she did research to learn more and went to community days (more about that later) to meet other players to help with aspects she didn’t know about.
Whelan said she is now, “a casual player,” but admits when she does play, it is easy to get drawn in.
David Martin, another Pokémon Go player since 2016, got introduced to the game by his young son, who he allowed to load it onto his phone. Soon his wife started playing and today, while his son doesn’t play it as much, he and his wife “use it for exercise,” he said. It gives them an excuse to go outside and walk around.
What is Pokémon Go?
At its most basic, Pokéman Go is a free gaming app that uses augmented reality, creating an interactive experience that superimposes a computer-generated image on a user’s view of the real world.
The game uses the phone’s GPS and clock to detect where player is in the game and the weather and other elements to make Pokémon appear on the player’s phone screen.
Pokémon — the word is a combination of “pocket” and “monster” — are imaginary creatures (think of famous Pikachu) while the people playing it are officially called “trainers,” whose aim is to locate, capture, battle and train all of these virtual creatures.
The origin of Pokémon Go goes back to the handheld video game, Pokémon, which was introduced in 1996 in Japan by Nintendo. The inspiration was bug catching, a popular hobby in that country.
Various versions of the game followed, and as the game became more popular, a TV show, trading cards and more merchandise came out. The 23rd Pokémon movie is scheduled to come out in July.
When Pokémon Go appeared in 2016, it became a phenomenon: In one month, the game was downloaded more than 100 million times, and there were reports indicating that users were spending more time on the game than Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or Tinder.
The app was developed by Niantic, a software company based in San Francisco, with Nintendo and the Pokémon company. In addition to developing Pokémon Go, Niantic also developed Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Ingress, which was an important predecessor to Pokémon Go. That game’s creators did the initial digital mapping of landmarks around the world.
You want to play Pokemon Go?
First, download the app (it’s free, remember), create an account and customize your avatar.
There are 40 levels to the game. Once a player reaches level 5, there is a prompt to become a member of one of three groups: Valor (red), Mystic (Blue) and Instinct (Yellow). Mystic has the most members, followed by Valor, then Instinct.
Like Whelan, a new player should do some research, as well as reach out to the Pokémon community.
City Park, Audubon Park and Lafreniere Park are the usual locations for Community Days, which are free to attend. (There is one Sunday (March 15) at City Park from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. For those in the know, the featured Pokémon is Abra.)
Community days are meant for all levels of Pokémon Go, with the benefit of “There are so many people around that they can teach you things you didn’t know,” Whelen said.
Another good source for overall Pokémon Go information is The Silph Road, an online, grassroots player network.
While a player can play Pokémon almost anywhere, there are locations, such as Audubon Park and City Park above, that are popular. Some players also have a fondness for the French Quarter.
Everything is mapped out, and many places can be unaware of their Pokémon population: Neal Bodenheimer, co-owner of Cure, didn’t know he had them at the Freret Street bar. “It’s like finding out there is a ghost in the building,” he said.
Players do move in mysterious ways, but only if you don’t know where to look. While Martin and I were in Palmer Park for him to show me the game, he pointed out a man on a bike who stopped, looked at his phone, did a few things on it, then took off.
To the untrained Pokémon eye, the man just looked like he stopped to text. But to Martin, “He is playing Pokémon,” looking at his phone screen to confirm it, and that there will always be Pokémon around us.