I feel my phone vibrate in my oversized purse just as I’m about to choke down my third pickleback shot. The familiar sensation spurs a wave of relief as tears were welling up in the corner of my eyes at the thought of ingesting another one of these godless concoctions. I welcome the distraction and excuse myself from the barstool, letting my new friends know this will only take a moment. As this is our third bar of the night, “The Australians” as I began exclusively calling my new cohorts, had seen this scenario play out about a dozen times already. Phone buzzes, I pull out my device, slide my screen open to find I am once again, face to face with a Pokémon.
Yes, I have fallen victim to the phenomenon that is Pokémon Go. And I am only mildly embarrassed by it. What started out as “research” or perhaps what was always a subconscious hunger to play, quickly evolved into a bona fide addiction. I shouldn’t have been so confounded by the fact, however, that light game play could escalate into diagnosable obsession.
Not only have I read about the mania that this augmented reality game inspires, but have witnessed it firsthand. Coworkers spend hours with their feet kicked up, mindlessly flicking Pokéballs at creatures determined to evade their strikes. Friends drag me to precarious locations in hopes of uncovering rare captures. And even my mother has distracted conversations with me as she searches the parameter for PokéStops.
Beyond my own network of friends and family, the hysteria is somehow even more fervent. Not a day has transpired since the game’s inception that Pokémon Go hasn’t been featured in a headline in some capacity, with the media’s coverage of the game completely unbridled. This cycle of vehement gameplay and subsequent media attention is a crucial part of the machine that drives users’ obsessions. With headlines ranging from “What Pokémon Go has to do with armed robbery and a dead body” to “Pokémon Go players form stampede to catch rare Pokémon,” how can the average human be expected to thwart their yearning to download the free game. The short answer – they can’t.
It was time to investigate this mania firsthand.
Grabbing an extra charger, as the app is known to swiftly drain battery, and letting go of some inherent cynicisms, I fell down the rabbit hole phone in hand. I decided the best strategy to begin my hunt was through a structured bar crawl around New York.
An organized bar crawl, without the usual squad and within unfamiliar pubs, would force me to fully immerse myself in the game and deter excuses to quit, or worse, moments of introspection.
When the day my Pokémon adventure was set to begin, I awoke with a pang of dread. Whether this was was provoked by anticipation of the evening’s plan or a result of watching Room on Amazon Prime the night prior, I decided to attribute it to the former and consequently prepare myself for the day. I crossed the first threshold into addiction by downloading the game, the second by designing my avatar (a chic brunette donning an all black outfit) and the third with my first catch: a Zubat.
The exhilaration I felt from that first capture was staggering. Why did that feel so satisfying? The tension that came from attempting to capture the wily blue bat with my first couple clumsy throws, immediately was overtaken with a sense of pride upon copy coming up on the screen reading, “Gotcha!” I chose to ignore the sensation and made a pact with myself to not play until it was time for the bar crawl.
Doing so (or not doing so as it was) proved more arduous than I had previously assumed as I found myself opening the app periodically to gauge my surroundings.
9:00pm: I Wanna Be The Very Best
When it finally struck 9:00pm I was eager to head to the meeting location to be able to re-experience that raw feeling of satisfaction. Busting into the West Village’s Fat Black Pussy Cat in the same way I do when I arrive late to work, I opened my phone before exchanging pleasantries with the others participating in the bar crawl. I’m transported into the game; phone buzzes alerting me of a nearby Pokémon, I see a Krabby — it’s mine. Boasting a slight high following my most recent conquest, I meet my comrades at the bar and indulge in the first drink special of the night, a free vodka shot with your first drink purchase, which for me was the cheapest beer they had on draft. I engaged in the small banter that uniformly occurs when drinking with strangers. However, it only took about three more sips of Bud Light to divulge my journalistic intent for the bar crawl. Like two people who realize they grew up in the same hometown or have the same last name, this sparked an instant connection as my new friends were also recent Pokémon Go converts. Visiting from Australia, these world travelers had, like me, downloaded the game upon the unbelievable hype. Following this realization, we all opened our phones and caught an adjacent Rattata.
10:12pm: To Catch Them Is My Real Test
It was time to head to the next bar, which I was happy to do as the Fat Black Pussy Cat was unstirred with dynamic Pokémon. On the way to Off The Wagon, I’m not sure if it was because Dean, the taller, more zealous Aussie trainer had deployed a lure module or because the brief journey was inherently saturated with Pokémon, but we all caught a Staryu as well as a Jigglypuff before setting foot in the second location.
10:17pm: I Will Travel Across The Land
There’s a Zubat right when we walk in. I catch it unceremoniously, for even as a novice player, I realized they were nothing special. What was deemed (a bit uncreatively) by the other members of the bar crawl, “The Pokémon Squad,” made our way to the bar, intent on taking advantage of any free offerings. Lemon drops are tossed back and chased with more beer. Though the life of my battery is quickly dwindling, my growing drunken state prompts me to keep my phone near with the app open so as to not miss a single lingering creature.
10:46pm: I Know It’s My Destiny
Another Rattata. Gotcha! We drink one, two, three more drinks at this bar, with each one aiding our desire to play. Dean easily becomes the most zealous as he ceases engaging in conversation except to shout at an inappropriate decibel what his latest capture was. His head hangs low, swaying gently from side to side as he is forced to squint one eye when throwing his Pokéballs to help steady his tipsy brain. In my observation of this, I catch a Pidgey.
11:11pm: A Heart So True
We leave for the third and final (for me anyway) bar, The Red Lion. Close to the comforts of my home and with 18% battery left, I knew I’d never make it to the actual last location. We make the move to our free shots, and with the choice in our hands we chose picklebacks. Note for the curious: don’t try them.
11:50pm: You Teach Me And I’ll Teach You
It is here we all catch a Spearow, and Dean with pure wonder and elation, realizes he has reached the point where he can evolve the tiny bird Pokémon. My eyes widen with child like fascination as he presses the button reading, “Evolve” and watch as the creature transforms into it’s stronger self. In this moment, I believe I had what a drug addict would refer to as a moment of clarity. The Spearow was evolving at about the same rate as my addiction to the game. It happened so suddenly and fluidly that I didn’t even have time to complete my epiphany before I was aggressively throwing a Pokéball at a Goldeen.
12:36am: In A World We Must Defend
As I stumbled home, having given a weak goodbye to my night’s companions who were too engrossed in the game to notice anyhow, I reflected on the events that transpired. I now understood the absurd headlines spurred from people breaking into hospitals to catch rare Pokémon or my mom’s indifference to my stories as she tries to catch a Poliwag. I speculate that the hype isn’t a mindless deterrence from society’s happenings, but rather a purposeful distraction from it. In an era where stories of senseless shootings are the norm, and a divided nation is something we’ve come to accept, Pokémon Go acts as the antithesis to this prolonged darkness. Though this hypothesis also functioned as a vindication for my obsession, I still decided that to be able to function as an adult human, I would need to quit the game cold turkey.
12:41am: Gotta Catch ‘Em All
I pulled up my phone to delete the app, then immediately had a relapse. A quick buzz and I see a Ghastly. Gotcha.