Pokémon Go: Tiny Monsters Among Us

Worldwide phenomenon creates communities and attracts hundreds to local meet-ups
Monster Invasion in the Bay Area
Approximately 1,300 Pokémon Go fans gathered to play at Lake Cunningham in San José, California on July 16, 2016. All Photos Courtesy: Arturo Hilario

Arturo Hilario

El Observador

It hit like a thief in the night.

Not since the late 1990’s has the Pokémon fever been as pervasive as in the last 2 weeks as Pokémon Go, Niantic’s collaboration with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company, released for free on Apple’s iTunes Store and Google’s Play Store on July 6.

The gist of the game is this. You are a Pokémon (Name derived from the term “Pocket Monsters”) trainer and your goal is, much like the lyrics to the song of the Pokémon anime: “be the very best, like no one ever was, to catch them is my real test, to train them is my cause.”

Thanks to your smartphone, Google Maps, GPS and camera you are able to see these monsters pop up within the game and in your real world locations. Be it your living room, on your office desk, and hey, even at a bar. At that point you can choose to capture the Pokémon by swiping a Pokéball at it until the ball successfully opens and captures it.

With al this tech Pokémon Go is truly the first popular Augmented Reality game in history. There are social aspects, as the best chance of collecting all of the current 151 available on the app is by being outside or close to municipal monuments, libraries, community buildings and parks. These places are “Poké Stops”, where players can obtain various items like extra Pokéballs to catch their virtual pets. This influx of activity has led to “Poké legs”, an accidental soreness caused from all the walking.

With this influx of people participating in this shared experience across the world it wasn’t hard to imagine organized congregations of players gathering to play Pokémon Go. Part social, part oddly surreal, a couple of these organized gatherings have taken place across the Bay Area in the last few days.

Michael Anthony Sosa, a local Ballroom Dance teacher by trade, helped bring 1,300 of these Pokémon trainers together this past weekend at the 50-acre Lake Cunningham Park in San José. While out catching Pokémon he and a few others met and began to collaborate on this event by posting a Facebook open invite titled “1st Pokémon Meet & Pizza Day”.

“Within the next 6 to 8 hours we had 400 people committed to coming. Once we saw that happen we figured we were going to have a big event, with a week and a half until the event starts.” After a day or two 1.5 thousand people had interest in coming to the event. “We pushed to have a really big event.”

“Gotta Catch Them All”

Like many who jumped onboard the initial hype, it was partly due to nostalgia of seeing the cast of characters that debuted as a card game in 1996.

“Ive been a lover of Pokémon since it first came out. The video game came out and I just really really loved it. We used to go to conventions, my brother and my mom, and we would just play these Pokémon tournaments. I would be just all about it. I had two different binders, had every single card at one point,” says Sosa.

The 50-acre lake and surrounding park area provided many places for the Pokémon Go players to walk and set up “lures”, which are Pokémon hotspots that attract them every couple of minutes. Anyone around one of these lures gets the same benefits, thus explaining the various clusters of 50+ people that were at the event on Saturday.

According to Sosa, although one of the collaborators, Ismael Martinez, paid $700 for the reservation and permit at the park, rangers the day of had conflicting rules. “We needed to have a spot reserved 2 months in advance and we didn’t pay the full amount. We should have paid 2 grand for this amount of people. We only paid 700 dollars for that event. We got in under the radar for that event and they still let us throw it but we kinda had to cheat the system to get our own spot. It was a bummer at the beginning but it ended up turning into the greatest event we’ve thrown.”

The event had an influx of people coming and going from 3-7pm with many staying past the events hours to continue their hunt. Sosa says the volunteers and security helped the event run smoothly. “We had 4 security guards. We also had about 10-15 volunteers that were working different sides  at the event. There was certain rules we needed to follow like we couldn’t block the walkways so we had someone keeping it clear. A couple people were in the parking lot letting people know where to go. That helped a lot.”

Afterwards Sosa and the rest of the “Team Rocket” (In Pokémon lore, Team Rocket is a group of rebels trying to disrupt the ebb and flow of Pokémon catching) group that planned the event grabbed pizza with volunteers and discussed the planning of other gatherings, both big and small.

“Clearly we are still “noobs” at planning events but we feel we’ve really got something here so we’re trying to push for a big, bad event.” One of these events is a halloween event in Las Vegas on October 30 of this year, which will be called the “Pokémon Players Ball”. “I want to have a live band, have the DJ’s come back. We might go til 2am in the morning, maybe even have an after party.” Sosa says the Las Vegas event will push to gather at least 10 thousand people to dance, eat, and of course play Pokémon Go together.

A Shared Experience, A “Pokémmunity”

Sosa has extensive enthusiasm for how this simple smartphone app has brought together generations of fans who otherwise may not have had the opportunities to be in the same social settings. “It brings us all together. I met someone that was part of a biker club, and he (had) one of those jackets with the club name on the back, this big burly guy. I walked by them and he was with his buddies but the only one on his phone, and I was like ‘you’re on the go?’ And he says, ‘yup’.”

The game’s massive crossover appeal has allowed people to meet and even date because of their proximity and shared interests. With new updates in the coming months which will allow strangers to become friends and possibly send messages on the app, as well as trade Pokémon and meet up for large simultaneous “world events”, the community will only grow and people walking around with portable batteries in their pockets attached to their phones will be normal.

“That’s really what I’m trying to stress, that it’s not just about us as Pokémon players but it’s about the world and changing the way we live our lives. Because to some of us this is the first time we’re going out. I’m meeting people that never really talk to people, they’re going out there to make friends. And we’re just playing Pokémon.”

And as these meet ups continue, communities like the one Sosa and his new friends are helping cultivate will bring many new fans of Pokémon and its various incarnations out into the real world looking for that big catch of the day.

For updates on any Pokémon Go activities locally visit Team Rocket SJ at <https://www.facebook.com/groups/919648148146227/>.