How Pokemon Go is bringing people together

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A pidgey landed just inside the writer’s open balcony door.

I opened the door to my balcony last week and a pidgey flew in.

Not a pigeon—a pidgey. Well, the digital representation of the pidgey Pokemon, a small bird-like creature known for its gust and sand attack. Because yes, I have been playing Pokemon Go.

The game was released in the United States on Thursday, July 7 and “Pokemania” has swept the nation yet again. Nintendo’s stock opened in Tokyo on Monday 25 percent higher than it closed last Friday, and at the time of this writing, has surged more than 32 percent.

The game dominated nationwide headlines for negative reasons this weekend, with players trespassing onto the closed Edmonds fishing pier trying to locate rare water types, several police and transportation departments warning about the dangers of unsafely throwing Pokeballs while driving or crossing the street without looking, and one teen finding a body after venturing to a rural Wyoming river in the search for monsters.

Like anything that explodes overnight, it wasn’t perfect. Plenty of people rolled their eyes and teased their friends who got swept up in nostalgia. But, that doesn’t mean it was all bad.

A silly phone game is also doing good things in the local community.

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A bellsprout appeared in the writer’s bedroom.

I was in line, waiting for a table at Pancake Haus in Edmonds on Saturday morning. A mother and father were standing in line with their child when the mother pulled out her phone. The man behind her in line quickly asked, “Are you playing Pokemon Go?”

“Yes, I just started this morning,” she replied.

The man in line behind her then told her about the ins and outs of the game. Pancake Haus is a Pokestop, as is the rockfish mural just outside. The man showed her how to get the items from the two Pokestops. There is also an item that a trainer can use on a Pokestop to make more monsters appear nearby—and anyone playing in the area will reap the benefits. If a large group of people waits at a Pokestop, more items are also doled out to each trainer.

This man and woman had never met before, and may never meet again. But for a moment, they were brought together over a kid-friendly game they both had on their phones. They cheered when she caught a goldeen, and she thanked him for showing her some of the nuances of the game, before they were seated at separate tables.

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Groups gather with their cell phones out as they capture wild pokemon at Terrace Creek Park. (Photo by Dustin DeKoekkoek)

A crowd gathered at Terrace Creek Park over the weekend, phones out, smiling. They were there to catch Pokemon after a lure module was plugged into the Pokestop there.

The game may also lead people to places they have never discovered before. I had never noticed an ornately carved gate behind a drive-thru coffee shop on 196th Street Southwest in Lynnwood before last Thursday, when I was in the area and saw a Pokestop nearby.

Unlike many video games, Pokemon Go does not include a tutorial. Players must rely on trial and error. Most trainers are also excited to share what secrets they learned with others. The game encourages people to work together, to walk together, to talk to that person in line at Pancake Haus that you may never have talked to otherwise.

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The writer’s dog “found” a wild weedle in Edmonds.

Plus, it’s funny! I woke up this morning and a bellsprout was on my bed. I was walking my dog over the weekend when a weedle popped out of the bush he was sniffing.

Some people look at a game like Pokemon Go and see young adults refusing to grow up, or the drastic steps kids will take to advance in a silly game. But what I see are siblings taking long walks together in search of rare monsters, community members helping each other understand how to play and strangers shouting at each other from a block away to see if you’re playing the same game and laughing when you say yes. It’s a game that encourages adventure, discovering new places and walking. While it is good to look away from the screen from time to time, it’s also good to see people go outside to play a video game and people making friends in a completely new way.

Do you play Pokemon Go? What are your favorite local Pokestops? Have you met other trainers? Tell us your stories in the comments below.

–By Natalie Covate, Editor

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