By Wei Ming Dariotis
Zubats! Goldeen! And Pidgeys, oh my!
Visitors to Quesada Gardens may now be coming not just to smell flowers and look at beautiful murals, but to catch Squirtles, Pidgeys, Zubats, and a few Sycthers — or, the latest craze: Pokémon Go, a mobile app update of the Nintendo game classic. In just a few short weeks, Pokémon Go has become a global phenomenon, enticing adults as well as teenagers and kids to get outside and explore.
What I find most exciting about playing the game is the feeling of being on a scavenger hunt. It makes you feel like you are on an adventure. It is a game that encourages communal playing, and social groups of co-workers and friends, and even families, are organizing PokéWalks to PokéStops and PokéGyms.
Pokémon Go has reshaped players’ relationships with the urban landscape. Bayview, like the Mission, provides an important cluster of PokéStops, many of which are places of artistry, like our community murals or Founders’ Memorial. These are often places that might be passed by, or are located in obscure locations. But, as they are marked on the PokéMaps people follow on their phones, these places are made more visible.
Both the Quesada Gardens’ Community Mural, at the Quesada turnaround, and the “Bayview Is…” Mural on Newhall just under the Bridgeview Garden are PokéStops. At a PokéStop, players can collect items like PokéBalls, which are used to capture or collect the seemingly infinite variety of creatures. (Pokémon is short for “pocket monster.”)
In a form of augmented reality, players can see the Pokémon superimposed on their lived environment through their phones’ cameras. It can be quite exciting to see the fish-like Goldeen gently waving its fins among the flowers you can see in front of you in real life, or the Pidgey jumping up and down on the hood of your car (while you are safely parked, of course!). It blurs the line between the virtual and the real. Using GPS, the game tracks players and gives bonuses — like specially hatched eggs — to those who make the effort to walk. (Driving or riding a bike does not unlock the Pokémon eggs.)
Not only can players collect important items at PokéStops, or battle other Pokémon at PokéGyms, but they can also find specific types of Pokémon in environments that draw that particular variety. For example, Ocean Beach is the place to go for water-type Pokémon. This aspect of the game has encouraged notoriously neighborhood-bound San Franciscans to venture forth beyond neighborhood boundaries in order to collect a wider variety of Pokémon. (There are over 150 in Pokémon Go and hundreds more in other iterations of the game.)
After less than a month of being active, Pokémon Go already has more users in the United States than Twitter. The Pokémon world includes card games, collectible stickers (in gum packets), television series, movies, and video games for various gaming platforms (handheld, console, arcade, etc.), as well as stuffed animals and other toys, but Pokémon Go is already the most successful version of the franchise. It is so revolutionary that it will reframe how video game apps will be developed from now on, and it may just pave the way for other forms of interactive, place-based entertainment.