Virtuosity 11.11 is about crossing boundaries between worlds. I find it interesting that just over a year ago, I was having conversations in Second Life about where the virtual is going, and what it all means. In one of those conversations, we talked about augmented reality – where now, our virtual worlds can cross with the physical one, by means of our phones, tablets, and computer screens. At first, this was a concept to me – one that has some amazing implications, but of course, the technology was far too distant to be something I’d turn my full attention to as of yet (after all, I’ve been working on my comprehensive exams in all this time).
Then on Sunday, my views of augmented reality, reality, and the virtual suddenly changed quite dynamically when the charmander on my iPhone screen “appeared” in my living room! I had just signed up to Pokemon Go, and this would be my very first step into the realm of crossed worlds and Pokemon.
Now, I have been an avid Pokemon player since college – and my son still has my old Game boy cartridges. The appeal of Pokemon Go for me, of course, is a bit nostalgic – I now get to revisit my “childhood,” so to speak. I also had this intense curiosity about the game itself, and it’s implications. This was fueled as of late, by my Facebook feed, which was chock full of screenshots consisting of captured pokemon, superimposed against the backgrounds of various locations from all over the country. Considering I have friends from all over the United States, hearing reports on this, alone, was enough to have me take a peek. My question was, here, smack in the middle in Iowa, surrounded by cornfields, would I, too, find the plethora of pokemon and pokemon players like my colleagues? Where are these training gyms, and pokestops that I’m seeing on my screen? How does all this connect with blue, red, and yellow teams – and why are my friends, self-declared couch potatoes (like me), who struggle to find motivation to get out and about, are now suddenly everywhere in their cities – clocking MILES of walking and biking distances? Why? What’s this all about? What the heck is going on?!
My questions, at least some of them, were answered when I went on my daily walk with my husband on Monday night. I pulled up the Pokemon Go app, waited patiently for things to load (I had been warned that the servers glitch, and had already received several glitches the night before – Including “GPS not found,” and frozen startup screens). Then when I walked, the silhouettes of various pokemon began to show up on my screen, along with little prints, to indicate how far away they were from me. My avatar, a sporty, blue-haired girl in spandex leggings and sensible shoes, walked as I walked, on a virtual path that very much resembled the sidewalk that I was trekking.
“How do you know you’ve come close to one?” my husband asked, as I could see the emotions on his face – I was silly, this was silly, yet, we both could not help the intense curiosity that fueled our constant glances at the screen. Do we have to trespass someone’s yard? Is there going to be a pokemon in the middle of the street? There was an unwritten contract between hubby and I – that as one of us stared at the phone, the other would make sure we didn’t run into something, or that something would run into us.
Then, finally! BZZT! My phone vibrates. I see this tiny pokemon appear next to my avatar on the screen. I tapped it, and my camera switches on. There, in the middle of someone’s yard, is an evee – this tiny, dog-like cartooned animal, staring up at me from my iPhone. Quickly, I swiped my screen, “throwing” a pokeball at it. Then, just like in the games of old on my gameboy, the ball shook, as if it were trying to escape. It shook again, then boom! The light closes, and I’ve caught my first pokemon.
I look up, and further down the block is a young woman, moving her phone around in circles as she looked intently on her screen. Yes. We’ve now learned how to identify pokemon players – they are the ones walking, looking on their screens, hunting like we were.
As we walked, I took a risk. I stopped, and asked her, “Excuse me, but are you playing Pokemon Go?” She nodded (even though I already suspected). What followed was an interesting conversation. It started with the fact that she had been tracking down an evee (perhaps, the one I had captured?). I found out she had been playing since Friday. She showed me how to do things like incubate eggs. She also told me that there was already an avid pokemon trainer (yes, that’s what we’re called) population in the park, near the gym. Apparently, in Iowa, the two predominant teams were pokemon blue team, and red team. She told me, “Don’t join yellow.” The conversation ended with “Good luck, and thank you.” as she continued to search, and my husband and I walked to the park. My husband, of course, was in shock that I could just randomly walk to a stranger, and start up a conversation – and a rather avid one!
For me, I was also in awe. These were normally conversations I’d have in the virtual – in Second Life, or in roleplay – where it was customary to ask strangers these questions. But now, we’re doing it in the physical world. What does this mean? Will I see these people again? Is safety a concern? Already, we had read the reports of people being robbed as they lured other trainers over to shady locations in order to steal. I had been taught not to walk around with my phone in my hand, in plain view. Yet… other people were doing it, too? I couldn’t help but feel this sense of fear, mixed with excitement, and of course, intense curiosity.
During our walk, I heard shouts of victory as we neared the park. There were at least four other people, of varying ages, wandering around with their phones. A grown woman gets out of her car in the parking lot, waves her phone around, then gets back in and drives off. Beneath the roofed building that housed picnic benches, and restrooms, trainers gathered to challenge each other at the pokemon gym. I of course, had not leveled up to 5 in order to unlock that feature. However, as the women before me had mentioned, you level up by walking. By the time I finished my walk, in about two miles, I was already a level 2 trainer. In my head, I thought, in two more walks, I’ll get to see what the gym is about.
Along the trail, after we passed the gym, is a poke-stop. It’s marked on my iPhone screen by two blue diamonds stacked on top of each other. As I clicked onto it, there’s a picture of the rock, with a plaque on it – something I passed a few steps back. Of course, I retrace my steps. From the instructions given to me on my startup screen the other day, these poke-stops are places to collect pokeballs and other nice things. Of course, even standing by the rock, I couldn’t figure out how to get the items from the picture on the screen. Another girl, about my son’s age, was having the same problem. Together, we figured out that when you spin the picture with your finger, it gives you the items. Excited, I passed that info along to a mother who happened to walk by, pushing a wagon with a small child, as her daughter, perhaps around 8 or 9, hunted for pokemon.
“We killed five of them a minute ago, because we didn’t know.” the mother informed me. Of course, this brought on more questions from me. The fact that you could kill pokemon – implying that you could lose the ones you’ve captured, was alarming. However, when I inquired more, I learned, it was because they had challenged people to pokemon fights up at the gym, and they had encountered more experienced players. As I filed this info with what I already knew about pokemon from the older games, I realized, that the pokemon weren’t “killed,” but had lost their XP points due to the fight. So, the girl didn’t lose them. However, it brought to question what one does in Pokemon Go when your pokemon lose their XP. Another experience for another time, once I got to that level.
My first pokemon hunt ended with capturing a weedle – a caterpillar-like pokemon in the woods. Actually, my skeptical husband did it, because I had trouble understanding the map. He took my phone, went into the woods, and caught it for me. -Something he had not ever done before, was to participate in the virtual worlds that I inhabited.
I have been trying to get my sons to be a part of Pokemon Go. However, we’ll see how that works. My eldest, of course, questioned my motivations, which were selfish, it is true. To have my kids go into Pokemon Go meant that I could glean off of their experiences, and learn more about how this game would shape the social terrain as we already know it. Then again, maybe I shall be the pioneer, and when it eventually trickled down, they would take from my mentoring. Time will only tell. I’m glad though, to be a part of this from the beginning (or at least, on the fourth day of the game being released).
What about you? What have your experiences been, so far? I would love to hear your thoughts and insights, as well!