Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Pokemon Go

I'm already inclined, on my days off, to head out on long urban hikes or bike rides, and the advent of Pokemon Go is going to make me even more inclined. For those who don't know -- and I didn't know until about 48 hours ago -- this is a game you play via a free app on your smart phone. The idea is to go out into the world and walk around hunting for Pokemon creatures to collect. There's more to it, but for those details I'll direct you to your local Pokemon-besoted child. For my purposes, the intriguing thing was using technology to "find" imaginary things around my neighborhood that are hidden to the naked eye: I even caught one in my own living room. Viewed through your phone's camera it appears as if these animated creatures are existing in the real world. Another Pokemon I caught appeared to be sitting on an unaware stranger's shoulder.

I learned about this game from social media where Woodland Park parents were posting about how much fun their kids were having, many walking for miles in their collector's quest. There were reports of throngs of children racing around our north Seattle neighborhoods collecting Pokemons. If you're going to be playing electronic games, this certainly is the way to go, although it is very easy to get distracted. Already there are stories in the media about Pokemon Go related accidents and apparently some creative criminals are locating out of the way Pokemon hotspots then just waiting for their victims to come onto the scene. I myself almost stepped into the street at one point while attempting to capture a varmint that was being run over by cars.

Still, what a fun addition to a walk! I suspect it's the kind of thing that will wear thin quickly, but I got a kick out of the "PokeStops," places that include snapshots of local landmarks like decorative manhole covers, historic markers, and local businesses, some of which I'd never noticed before. I can imagine it will be fun to play the game in neighborhoods and cities with which I'm less familiar. At one level, the game causes me to focus on things I don't normally notice.

There are problems with the technology, of course, and at one point the servers went down just as I was arriving at Seattle Center, a place I figured would be rich in Pokemons. While waiting for the problem to be fixed, I found myself wandering around just looking at stuff the way I normally do. At the International Fountain where children were playing in the water as the 1812 Overture built to its crescendo, I noticed a clutch of EMTs around a man on the ground. I've seen the guy before, often heavily intoxicated. He appeared to be passed out. The EMTs were trying to talk with him, but he wasn't able to respond. That's when I noticed his face. Someone had drawn all over it with black marker; scribbles, a mustache, words. Of course, he might have done it to himself before blacking out, but more likely it was the work of some cruel pranksters who found him passed out on a bench and took advantage of his unprotected comatose state.

Another problem with the game is that it really eats up your battery, so I found myself turning it off as I hiked between areas I thought would be the most likely to serve up some Pokemons. One of those places I had the game turned off was as I crossed one of the I5 overpasses that connect downtown with Capitol Hill. As I looked over the railing toward the traffic below, I noticed that someone has pitched a tent atop a wall that divides the southbound lanes of the freeway from the Union Street off-ramp, right there in the shadow of the Washington State Convention Center: a hermit's hut on a desolate island amidst the rushing river of cars that flows through our city.

And the game can be glitchy: it kept freezing as I checked out Denny Park, a place notorious for its summer population of men and women (mostly men) who spend their days and nights living on the benches and lawns. At one point I was tracking down a PokeStop, when the map shifted and I lurched along with it, changing directions suddenly. When I did, one of the summer residents shouted at me, "You better turn away, 'cause we're filthy here." I snapped to attention, smiled, and said, "No, I'm playing a game on my phone. I didn't mean to insult you."

"We're filthy here," he replied. "And that ain't no game!" Then he laughed mirthlessly, still glowering, "You better go over there. We're filthy here."

About then my phone vibrated, indicating that there was a Pokemon nearby. I looked at the man who had spoken to me. He was still glaring in my direction so I checked my phone. There was an animated Pokemon there, flapping its wings, right where the real man was standing. On my screen it appeared as if it was in the space that separated us.

It's not just imaginary things that are hidden from the naked eye.

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Unknown said...

The tunnel on the right side of the pictures: the machine that dug it (called Big Bertha) was in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the largest tunnel-digging machine in the world;

Name Omitted for privacy reasons said...

I would imagine aside from the battery drain, there's a huge data drain, as well... thanks for the commentary Tom... I was wondering about this game...haven't taken the time to check it out... lol...

Anonymous said...

Have you ever heard of geocaching??? Basically the same thing, getting you out in nature, hiking, walking etc. but solving real clues and finding real treasure!