Twenty years ago this September, a little animated show called Pokémon debuted on the Cartoon Network. At the time, our young family of three lived in a small 1930s house in Plainfield. Our daughter was a toddler, and she was immediately hooked on all things Pokémon.
We watched the show each day as the adventure unfolded, featuring Ash Ketchum and his friends Misty and Brock. And of course, the iconic Pikachu — the little yellow mouse with a lightning shaped tail. Her bedroom and our floors came to be filled with little figurines, “Poke Balls,” and playing cards for the game. At one point she carried a large stuffed “Charizard” with her at all times (an orange dragon Pokémon). That particular toy is still in our basement, complete with its “squeezed-too-many times” skinny neck and faded fur.
Eighteen years later, in summer 2016, our now family of four was walking in Seven Gables Park just east of Carlisle. Our grown daughter had just installed the new “Pokémon Go” game on her phone and was explaining how it worked to the rest of us. It worked very similar to the cartoon and games from her early childhood, with the player journeying around while attempting to “catch them all” and to train Pokémon for battles. For me of course it was very nostalgic, as I hadn’t thought much about Pokémon or her preschool obsession with it in quite some time.
By that first evening, all four of us had installed the game and often we’d walk all over the Carlisle area and surrounding towns catching Pokémon together. It was great to have something to do that all four of us could enjoy and take interest in together! At the same time it was surprising to see the game become a huge fad that year. For a few weeks that summer, it was a common sight to see a cluster of people on the town square or at seemingly random locations around town peering into their phones.
The game also appeared in the news pretty regularly, and not always very favorably. People were driving distractedly and causing accidents, wandering into restricted or unsafe areas, or loitering by private homes that in the game were flagged as key locations of interest. It’s inevitable with something so massively popular in such a short amount of time.
Today, the game remains popular although not at the stratospheric levels it enjoyed originally. People still gather on the sidewalks or in parks to collaborate on challenging goals in the game itself, and whenever the game organizes a large community event the players come out in numbers. It’s also noteworthy to consider that online, smart device based games are still only in their infancy while the percentage of adults who own such devices continues to rise regardless of income level or educational background (per the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan organization based in Washington DC).
If you’d like to try the game, it is free to play on Android or Apple devices with optional in-game purchases. You will also find a very friendly community locally that will answer questions or help along the way, most easily contacted via Facebook groups such as "Pokemon Go - Carlisle PA (Official).” While playing the game, a map of the local area appears on screen with points of interest called “Poke Stops.” These are typically historic sites and will provide trivia about the point of interest when clicked. Larger points of interest are called “Gyms,” and these are contested in the game and will feature Pokémon that players have assigned to them.
The competitive aspect can be ignored entirely if one prefers. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to play, although there are vitally important rules to follow that have real world implications. First, always mind your surroundings and avoid playing in unsafe areas such as crosswalks! Second, never ever drive and play. It’s as dangerous as any other distracted activity while operating a vehicle. And third, be respectful of private property.
Just this past Sunday the classic Pokémon “Squirtle,” a turtle with water based powers, was featured in a community event. It was a beautiful day and downtown Carlisle was bustling with ballerinas and local visitors. From the square to Dickinson College, dozens of players were enjoying the weather and capturing Squirtle. Players came from all walks of life. There were some senior citizens, kids, college students, and all variety of adults. It was great to see so many people out and about on a nice day, although the squirrels around the Dickinson campus weren’t quite as happy!