Note: Are you playing Pokemon Go in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere? Fill out this form to tell us about your experience; we might use it in future stories.
Something strange (or wonderful) is happening to the young people in Washington. It’s called Pokémon Go.
The new augmented reality app came out late last week, and it has captured the minds — and bodies — of 20-somethings in the District.
I know absolutely nothing about Pokemon, but this weekend, I decided to download it and see what it’s all about.
I quickly learned the basics: The game is based on the premise that players walk around their city and catch wild Pokemon. You can often find them around Pokestops, where people will also set out “lures” to catch Pokemon. Once you get to a certain level, you can join teams — Team Instinct or Team Mystic, for example — and battle other Pokemon in “gyms,” which are predetermined locations around the city.
With Pokemon Go, players are forced to get outside, walk around and congregate in common locations. Suddenly, rather than looking up from their screens to form relationships, they’re looking through them. Literally.
Walking around Washington, you can spot the Pokéstops in two ways: You can see them on the game map, indicated with a spinning blue icon. Or you can look for clusters of young people staring at their phones.
I found one such Pokestop outside Filter Coffeehouse, on 20th Street NW in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. About 18 people sat on the brick wall outside the coffee shop, which had been closed for hours. They had bottles of water and portable phone chargers, and they were all staring at their phones. They would occasionally yell a curse word when their screens froze, or congratulate themselves or others for catching a particularly rare Pokemon.
Jorge Rivera looked up from his phone as I approached.
“Join us!” He called to me. Then the rest of the group looked up and smiled at me, too. “We see you over there! Be one of us!”
Rivera is from Northern Virginia, and he had been in the neighborhood watching a game at a bar down the street. He said he decided to follow some lures and ended up sitting outside the Filter Coffeehouse.
“I’m here right now with a bunch of strangers playing Pokemon, and it’s fantastic,” he said.
Rivera downloaded the app three days ago. “The first day it came out, I was on my skateboard, my beard was just dripping with sweat. The point is to just get out of the house, and you can see everyone here is out and about. We’re making friends, even though we’re looking at our phones. We’re helping each other and giving each other tips.”
Rivera said that for him, Pokemon Go’s appeal is nostalgia.
“It’s my childhood. I didn’t have any game systems at the time. I just had a Game Boy.”
Shawn Magnuson agreed — he played Pokemon Blue and Red on his Game Boy when he was a kid, and Pokemon Go allows him to relive that while also meeting new people.
“I found a guy who was on my team. We immediately became friends, and we actually walked around the neighborhood claiming all of the gyms for Team Instinct,” Magnuson said.
They ended up trading phone numbers, Magnuson said, so they could coordinate future gym takeovers.
Tim Brisneham, manager of Filter Coffeehouse, later told me that he was hoping all of the Pokestops along that particular stretch of 20th Street would be good for business.
“I can imagine if a lot of people were crowding around and making it hard for customers to get in,” Brisneham said in a phone interview, “but I haven’t noticed that yet. My read on it right now is that more foot traffic is better, and this little piece of 20th has, like, four stops on it, and otherwise many people wouldn’t walk down it.”
Nearby, Kaitlyn Hays of Wheaton, Md., chimes in that she came out today to make friends. Hays is on Team Mystic, and she had been hunting three Pokemon all day: a Pikachu, a Growlithe and a Vulpix.
“I play a lot of Japanese role-playing games like Final Fantasy and the current one is an online game that I play, and I actually have not played it in days because of this,” Hays said.
She said that, for her, the appeal of Pokemon Go is the gaming element, but it’s also that the game gives her an excuse to get outside and interact with other people.
“I like walking in general, so being able to relive your fantasies while walking really appeals to me, and it appeals to a lot of people. This is getting people up and outside, and it’s really good for mental health. You get Vitamin D and sunshine,” she said.
As I was leaving, Hays caught a Vulpix and showed it to me on-screen. A Vulpix is a cute, fox-like critter with six orange tails.
“I think this is going to start a revolution,” she said.
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