Before Sunday, I had never heard of Pokémon Go, the cellphone-based augmented reality game that has swept the nation—and the world—and sent Nintendo’s stock skyrocketing. I’ve never played a game on my cell phone. I didn’t catch Pokémon the first time around. Our Nintendo gathered dust when I was a kid.
But late Monday (July 11) afternoon, I’d hit a wall after a day at my computer in an air-conditioned office where everyone was talking about Pokémon Go. I’d seen photos suggesting the game’s players were a sweet, smiling bunch, many of whom were gathering in Central Park.
Some of them were even making love connections. My curiosity got the better of me. I downloaded the app, and went outside. After 90 minutes of playing Pokémon Go, I found it to be a pretty wholesome New York experience. I spoke to friendly strangers, visited sites I’d never seen in Central Park, and almost stepped on a live rat. Here are my tips.
What is a pokéstop you ask? It is not, sadly, a stop serving the Hawaiian treat known as poké. Rather, it is a virtual signpost that corresponds to a real-world location where you’re likely to find a Pokémon—the creatures you’re trying to “catch.” The first Pokéstop I encountered was an Irish repertory theater I’d never noticed around the corner from my office. I pointed my cellphone at the window in an effort to alert the game to my presence. A theater employee exited and told me a new show was opening soon. Great!
2. Playing this game on your phone will make you think everyone else on their phone is playing this game. They’re not
I approached a woman in a red dress at the corner of 22nd and Seventh, assuming the green grid on her phone was the game’s interface. She ignored my question about Pokémon, and simply asked me which way to Eighth Avenue. She’d been looking at a map. On the bright side, I gave her directions!
After my encounter with the red dress lady, I felt self-conscious about seeming like a creep and spoke only to potential Pokémon players who were in groups.
Under the statue at Columbus Circle—another Pokéstop—two whiskered, ropy men sat on skateboards with their cell phones out. They told me they had been playing Pokémon Go since the game was released on July 6. Armando, 24 and wearing a Thrasher t-shirt, told me the drivers at the art handling company where he works had been stopping the truck all day to catch Pokémon. His brother Diego, 27, was visiting from Fort Irwin, a military training base in the Mojave Desert, where virtual reality takes the form of simulated Afghan battlefields. (A redditor wrote, dejectedly, that there are no Pokémon back at Fort Irwin.)
4. Recreational spaces in broad daylight are lovely places to Pokémon (Is this a verb? I’m going with it.)
The Terraza Brothers told me Central Park is full of Pokéstops and showed me how they appear on the map. Although I had already caught a couple of Pokémon on the city sidewalks, I felt like a nuisance to the pedestrians around me—and potentially not safe—as I wandered distracted on my phone. I was also a little afraid of being caught by someone I knew.
After entering the park, I sat on a rock in the shade while a wheel spun in the upper lefthand corner of my screen, before receiving a message: “Failed to get player information from server.”
It occurred to me, sitting there, that the real life park looked very much like a video game, people dwarfed by the trees, towering and shimmering in the evening light. I saw a man napping with headphones on, using his seltzer bottle as a pillow, and thought that looked like a pretty good game, too.
As my phone battery dwindled, I wandered down a shady path I’d never encountered in the park. A couple trained their phones on a tree, and I assumed they were trying to catch a Zubat—a winged creature I had downed a bit earlier—but then realized they were photographing an actual blue jay. It was beautiful! I pointed my phone at the path and returned to my virtual Pokémon hunt.
As I slowly walked alongside a waterfall I’d never seen before, two rats emerged from a shrub next to the footpath. Not Rattata, the Pokémon that can win you 6 points of “Rattata candy” (whatever that means). No, a pair of non-virtual, non-animated, very real-life rats, nearly the size of small squirrels, ambled directly in front of me about a yard away. No harm, no foul.
This game will rapidly drain your phone battery. After about 90 minutes of running the app, my iPhone had less than 10% of its battery left. Some people might prevent this with a portable charger. I met Zion, 21, Diante, 23, and Laura, 26, all of whom had spent the day off from their retail jobs—at DNA Shoes, Rag & Bone, and CVS, respectively—Pokémoning at the park. They one-upped the portable charger idea:
“We have books and a blanket, and a giant bowl of fruit,” said Laura.