BY EMILY STRAB — On July 29 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., local Pokémon Go enthusiasts descended on Urban Eats Arts and Music Café in Mount Rainier to eat, drink, and catch Pokémon. The café boasts a proximity to three Pokéstops, and presented a Pokémon-themed menu for the night, including a pizza with toppings to make it look like a Pokéball. The café was decorated with red, yellow, and blue Pokémon balloons in featured seating areas for each team of Valor, Instinct, and Mystic, respectively, to eat and talk. There were conversations about the rare or powerful Pokémon that were caught or trained and everyone talked about their favorite spots to hunt for Pokémon.
The event included the very young to the (not-so) old. One white-haired couple came in and downloaded the app for the first time to start their Pokémon journey. They got a full tutorial from the veteran players and enough advice to last them many levels. There were families with children that went hunting together. One family said that one of the best things about them all playing is that almost every evening they have been going out as a family to walk around Lake Artemesia in order to hunt and stop at the many Pokéstops on the trail. Other players hit hot spots along the Route One corridor, or the many markers on the trail at Bladensburg Waterfront Park or on the Northeast Branch Trail.
If you haven’t heard of Pokémon Go yet, you might benefit from playing; users of this popular smartphone game have to get outside and walk around town to find the cute fictional animals called Pokémon (for longtime players, we know it’s pronounced Po-KAY-mon), visit landmarks marked as “Pokéstops” to collect items used in gameplay, and battle other players at landmarks designated as gyms. The phenomenon of Pokémon Go has been responsible for tweens, millennials, and even middle-aged parents to take to the sidewalks and parks in search of elusive and rare Pokémon, like Pikachu, and fostering more social interaction than one would expect from a smartphone app. It has also been to blame for pedestrians walking into oncoming traffic, car accidents caused by playing and driving, and distracting players so that they become victims of crimes. The viral game is lauded by players for encouraging people to get outside, but derided by those who see the game as juvenile or another technological distraction from life.
The host of the event, Monica Buitrago, who is a community organizer who does her best to support Urban Eats Café when she can, pointed out the diversity found in the Pokémon Go group. People of all ages and races have made the game go viral, and that diversity was modeled at the meet-up Friday night. She noted that Pokémon Go players are more diverse than those of Ingress, the preceding game from developer Niantic, which crowd-sourced the maps and stops used in Pokémon Go. In the crowd were many players of Ingress, as well.
The new game, which is only for smartphones other mobile devices, uses your data service and GPS to connect you to the Pokémon and Pokéstops around you. The app itself is free to download and play, but if you encounter the struggle of finding yourself out of Pokéballs with which to capture the many creatures on your screen, you only have to trade real money for Pokécoins to buy Pokéballs or other items to aid your advancement in the game.
For tips, try joining the Facebook group PokemonGo: DC/MD/VA. Happy Hunting!