Counting Steps: Pokemon Go!

General info:

Official websiteWikipedia entry

  • Developed by: Niantic
  • Published by: Nintendo, Pokémon Company
  • Original release date: July 6th, 2016
  • Platforms: Android, iOS
  • Written in Unity

I was late to the game with Pokemon. My generation was in elementary school at the height of the Pokemon craze. From what I hear, it was a grand ole time. Due to some satanic-panic logic (that remains unclear to me) Pokemon was forbidden in my house, growing up.

In fact, that was the reason behind most prohibited activities of my childhood. No Casper. No Power Rangers. No Pokemon. All of that exclusion kept me away from the cool kids’ table. Nobody deserves to be bullied, but looking back, I wasn’t any of the things you usually see in kids that get picked on. Not being an obvious target wound up hurting me in the long run. “How could you get picked on? You’re the biggest kid in class!” I was. Eventually, I had to figure out how to get with it or get left in the dust. 

Not only was it banned at home, most of the disciplinary action I witnessed in grade school revolved around punishing kids for bringing Pokemon cards to school. That prohibition was my “in.” After confiscating a large quantity of Pokemon cards, teachers carelessly tossed the collection in one pile onto the floor. 

Predictably, there were dogpiles. Whatever lay on the floor was up for grabs. I was left out of the conversation, but I certainly overheard them. What 9 years old could resist the opportunity to brag about their 1st edition Charizard? Or their holographic Pikachu? The kids making fun of me gave away exactly which cards I should steal from them. With everyone’s eyes on the prize, nobody noticed the only kid in class who couldn’t play Pokemon joining the ambush. On a few occasions, I’d crawl out with quite the score. 

My brothers obtained their own collections over time. Only, they would get caught. Every time one brother was busted, I’d overhear my parents threaten to search every bag in the house. While they sniffed for clues, I’d ditch my cards among the discarded contraband in the kitchen garbage to save my skin. In the end, every heist proved fruitless. My name’s Eric Fellner, and I stole my friend’s and classmates’ cherished Pokemon cards so I could throw them in the trash.

July 2016. Imagine my surprise the day Pokemon Go comes out, and my mom has it downloaded on her phone. After all that effort! After years of enforcement! 

Possibly the allure of augmented reality swayed my mother’s feelings on the matter? Maybe she admitted to herself the ban never had any rationale to start with? Whatever occurred, Pokemon Go was my first game in the series at the age of 23. 

It was a good summer to start! I had returned from a month-long stay in Brooklyn, which was honestly the time of my life. I had booked my first show for my return to North Carolina. A month of walking around the city got me into great shape. To my knowledge, the relationship I was in was going well. July 2016 was starting off as the peak of my “Jordan-year.”

Additionally, the whole world seemed united in (at least novel) interest in this game. And I could finally buy-in! My co-workers at Starbucks would dip into the parking lot catching Pokemon while they took drive-through orders. All hours of the night, pods of kids and adults alike crowded what was suddenly considered “landmarks.” In search of resources. Battling over gyms. Trying to “catch ‘em all.” You’re familiar with the game.

Counting on!

Personally, I loved using the game as a pedometer! It kept me in great shape. Endlessly running through the neighborhood and shopping centers felt as true to the core gameplay loop of Pokemon as you can get. Only, there was slightly less animal violence.

Then, July came to a close. One night, I stopped in late to see my grandfather who lived in town, Popop. We had open plans to visit a 24-hour bakery in Charlotte called Amelie’s. Unfortunately, he passed in his sleep sometime before I arrived. 

Between that night and the funeral, the girl I had been seeing ended things over text. The next week, I played that show I had booked while I was in New York. Due to similar circumstances in the other bandmates’ lives, the band immediately disbanded. 

After a month of riding high, things crashed spectacularly. My enthusiasm for Pokemon Go died amid the chaos and depression of the time. I didn’t feel like running. I didn’t want to see people out, people together. It’s no exaggeration that week in August took years to recover from. Not just emotionally. Regaining the sense of momentum I felt that summer took time. Pokemon Go forever resides in my memory as the pop-culture phenomenon that coincides with that period of my life.

February 2020. After a couple rough years, I was quitting the worst job of my life (thanks for nothing, Target) to teach guitar full-time. Playing music, for a living. Then, wouldn’t you know it? COVID-19 struck! 

Boy did it. And the job I just went all-in on was at high risk of being yanked from under me. Reflecting now, I wonder if the sink or swim of the moment shocked me into a state of flow. One day, my boss and I devised a plan to transition the entire studio to a remote format. The next day, the admin team and teachers were executing that plan. We were infinitely fortunate. We never missed a single day of lessons.

My girlfriend lived two hours away in Raleigh, and we decided to lock down together while I could work remotely. Despite having some work, I still had a considerable amount of free time. We were 5 miles from Moore Park, the center of downtown Raleigh, with everything in the city closed. As that normal set in, I found myself running across Raleigh playing Pokemon Go. Me and my Snorlax, Popop.

Normal is hopefully starting to shift yet again, and I continue to log (slightly fewer) kilometers in Pokemon Go. I’m no longer interested in Pokemon to get along with classmates, and if tragedy strikes, I’m a little better prepared. Pokemon Go is more of a glorified pedometer more than augmented reality, but my fondness for it still runs deep.

This piece is part of a larger collaboration, Pokemon: Creator’s Catch. Click here to check out all the work by other great writers and artists!