My silver Saturn rolls into a Hollywood, Florida driveway at just after 11pm, my demons having trailed closely behind me for the four-day road trip. Being on the road required full concentration, offering little time to truly focus on the catastrophe. I found my mind blocking it all out, and at times even experienced some soothing euphoria in my brain, as if someone had soaked it in heroin. The unconscious coping mechanisms seemed to be set in place, and the latent confidence I’d gained from successfully driving across the country provided some much-needed positivity.
“Welcome!” He smiled as he opened the door. The jovial friend I’d not seen since college walked out and extended a cold beer before even offering an embrace.
“Look who it is! What’s up man, I finally made it. Good to be here.” I sighed and drank deeply into the hoppy beer. “Ahhh, nothing like a nice cold beer at the end of a long journey. Cheers brotha.”
He laughed and led me into the house, showing me to my room and giving a formal tour. A one-story, three-bedroom house with an expansive foyer, complete with a hot tub/pool combo in the backyard – it was much more than I could ask for. The palm trees flitted in the night breeze as I sighed melodramatically, embodying the weary traveler persona with a grin.
“Well, I’ll let you unpack and get some rest, man. Let me know if you need anything. Oh, and did you hear about Pokemon Go? It just came out yesterday, it’s like the old school GameBoy games except on your mobile device using geolocation. You have to actually go out and catch them around the city… Or the globe for that matter.” With a light-hearted chuckle he returned inside.
Sitting outside, intuiting the depth and length of the healing process I’d need to begin, I wondered how capable I was of even working right now. The simpler my life, and the less new stress I had to endure, the easier this would all be. Moments, hours, even days of intense emotional pain and existential languish were likely; but filling the waves of intermediary peace with enjoyable experiences would do good for my soul – and for my faith that life is in fact as wonderful as I deep down believe it to be. My five-figure nest egg would go far in this cheap little town, and jumping into a new business venture or office job seemed like an impossible task. Having not really thought it through until settling into a lawn chair in my new backyard, I realized I had all the time in the world, and no specific plans aside from letting time pass as smoothly as possible.
Something childlike clicked, and my mind trailed back through the years. Sitting in a hidden corner in the backyard of my adolescent home, a blue piece of electronic plastic cradled between my hands, my eyes were glued to the screen. A character with a red cap on backwards plods through pixelated bushes, all identical. A disastrous, scratchy sound crashes into the memory, but the 9-year-old holding the Gameboy hears music. The game seems to freeze, but slowly the screen shifts. Suddenly, a wild Pidgey appears! The memory blurs in my 25 year old mind, but the feeling remains. My heart skips a beat before making up for it and then some. I return to the present, and realize why I had such a vivid flashback of this childhood magic.
Pikachu, and all his friends, are back.
A full twelve hours of sleep gives me the refresher I need, and before even exploring the surroundings of my new home, I find myself opening the App Store on my iPhone. “Pokemon…” I begin to type, and the red-and white ball of a logo pops up. I tap it and download the game. Is this what it’s come to? Or am I too old for this? It’s just curiosity at this point anyway, so I fill out the information. My screen name is EdTheNomad, and I begin jokingly fantasizing about Pokemon trainer glory that surely only full-time travelers can enjoy. That’s what all those 7am episodes suggested back in the 90’s, anyway.
Team choice… I settle for Mystic. Something about wisdom as the motto - it fits my mindset at the moment. The settings are in place, and my character appears in the middle of a green map, clearly this street. No pokemon in sight - a few little beacons in the distance, clickable but not accessible. Pokestops. Alright, I guess I need to go there. What’s this - a Gym in the distance with a Pidgeot as the leader it seems. Also inaccessible. Everything requires actually being there, which makes sense. Perhaps there are Pokemon nearby the stops and gyms - *BVVVTTT*. My phone vibrates.
A squirtle rests near the house next door, and I click. Those years come flooding back as I see him up close now, crouched in the corner of my room. I excitedly follow the instructions, holding the pokeball gently with my index finger and slowly sliding upwards on the screen before letting go. It lands in front of me pathetically, bouncing towards my potential squirtle before disappearing. I try again, flicking harder this time, but the little guy’s got a game plan and pops up, the yellow ring of opportunity disappearing as he rejects the pokeball, wagging his tail. I quickly throw a third but this time it hits him square in the head. He disappears into the pokeball, and I watch enthusiastically as it wriggles around on the foot of my bed, before coming to a stop.
I chuckle, feeling like a kid again but recognizing that this might be a little silly. I check out the squirtle’s stats – CP17. Looks like I received some squirtle candy and stardust, apparently the evolution and powerup currencies, respectively. Wonder what I’d find near those pokestops or the gym…
Practical matters bring me out of this funky new app and I realize I ought to get some food, get a little acclimated to the area, and establish some sort of plan for how I’ll live my life for a while. Perhaps checking out the boardwalk I’ve heard so much about is a good idea. I head to publix, stock up on random frozen food that seems reasonably healthy, grab a 12-pack of beers, and fill the refrigerator before zipping off to the beach. I start to wonder what kind of social life I’ll make for myself out here, knowing that I can easily withdraw and become introverted if I don’t try hard enough. Maybe that’s not a good idea right now, as it could potentially fuel some negative thoughts and spiral into a more unhealthy mindset. But making new friends might come at a risk – what if they recognize what’s going on with me, that something’s off? How do I explain without burdening them with everything?
I drive over a drawbridge and navigate my way to a parking lot that seems close enough to the beach, paying the $2 toll for an hour and wandering off onto the Florida sand. So this is the place where I’ll see the sunrise, staring off into the ocean as the world illuminates for the first Americans every day. On the west coast we just watch the water as things descend into darkness. A different sort of beauty I suppose. I walk along the sand, wondering where this boardwalk is and how I seemed to have missed it with my parking decision. Opening up Pokemon Go again, I find a spearow relaxing in the underbrush, out of the bleating heat. I take note of my already dwindling pokeball supply as I miss the spearow clumsily. Somehow this simple flicking maneuver is going to take some getting used to. I flick again and am complimented – Nice! I hit the little bird pretty close to dead center and after he struggles futilely, the reward screen adds an extra 10 point bonus to my capture.
I take off my sandals and walk further south, toes sinking through the sand. Eventually an opening in the brush, opposite from the ocean, leads me to pavement and I walk along in the company of bikers, rollerbladers, and excitable children, eyes increasingly fixated on the screen as multiple pokemon appear. Oddish escapes a first pokeball, then actually runs off. Rattata puts up a noble fight, but succumbs and I’m at three pokemon. I catch a pidgey, and then another. A female nidoran fends off a few pokeballs before I capture her as well, but I’m nearly out of pokeballs as I reach level 2. A collection of pokestops are very close, and as I come across them I follow instructions and spin the circular beacon atop each, replenishing my resources temporarily. The boardwalk formally begins, bluish gray brick zig-zagging south as far as the eye can see. According to the map, this boardwalk is littered with pokestops and gyms. My foray into gyms must wait – I’m not level five yet.
Walking along, tiki bars and beach-side hotels pass to my right, lifeguard towers stagger the sandy beaches to my left, and common pokemon materialize in between pokestops. I’m engrossed for almost an hour before nearing the end of the boardwalk, and sit down on a bench by a cute little deli. Somehow not noticing before, I use the “nearby” feature, and see that there’s a Pikachu nearby, judging from the shadow of his character. I get up and move a bit further south, watching as the three dinosaur-paw signifiers under his figure turn into two, then one. As the boardwalk ends, he pops up on the map, and I excitedly tap his cheerful figure. The pokeballs I stocked up on are dwindling which is a problem – he’s a fighter and is hopping up and down aggressively. I lose a few balls before honing in perfectly on the minimizing red circle, then flicking for his head. He head-butts it away. Again I throw – this time he’s captured… But wriggles free. It’s a numbers game, I tell myself, but am down to less than ten pokeballs. One more whiff from a poor throw, one more escape. I take aim and flick again. He wriggles once. Twice. A final less emphatic struggle. Gotcha! I visibly exhale as I tap to examine his stats. Not bad – CP118, one of my highest so far. A voice distracts me.
“Hey there. You catch the pikachu too?” I look up to the smile of a young girl who’s realized she startled me. She gently shows me her phone, revealing the same yellow pokemon. Before I respond, I smile and notice her short dyed-blonde hair, the exaggerated bangs neatly wisped to the side, complemented with denim short-shorts and a neon crop top. Very sharp, and honestly, pretty much what I expected a pokemon trainer would look like.
“He kinda looks like you.” I show her my catch.
“I’m Julia,” she says, offering her hand. “Been playing the past three days nonstop. The boardwalk is a great location – downtown Hollywood isn’t too bad either, plenty of stops and gyms. Are you from around here?”
“I actually moved here last night. I was just checking out the boardwalk, and my roommate mentioned this game yesterday so I figured why not bring back some childhood memories?” I realized I didn’t know quite how old she was, and wasn’t sure what kind of nostalgia she fostered.
“Oh cool, welcome to Hollywood. And yeah, I can totally relate. First generation pokemon only right now, the classics. When I was in grade school, they were just starting to expand to the next few generations, and I guess it got old for us somewhere around the second or third, like fifth grade or so. I’m 21, but still a kid at heart!” Somehow she seemed to be challenging me.
“Heh, yeah. I’m not sure how much I’ll play but I’m having fun so why not. Good way to explore a new city, right?”
“Definitely,” she replied with a wry smirk. I fiddled with my phone, looking up to see her standing with an arm behind her back, holding her other arm in a sort of uncertain stance, her body weight on one leg as the other made unconscious semicircles on the pavement. Maybe she wasn’t as outgoing as her approach implied, or maybe I was coming off a little too rough.
“Well, I walked down from the other end of the boardwalk, do you wanna wander back that way?” I gestured north.
“Sure, I’ll keep you company for a bit!” She asked me how old I was and where I’d come from, and after a few jokes about a jobless twentyfive year old playing pokemon, we got distracted by a pidgey nest, catching just about all of them. Soon after, I realized I didn’t know what the eggs were for when one popped out of a pokestop. Julia showed me how to incubate an egg, giggling at me for being so clueless about something so central to the game. I brushed off her faux-knowledge of a two day old game and teased that she’d never even seen a 10km egg.
By the time we reached the other side of the boardwalk where a cluster of pokestops was located, I was level four. For some reason I was unconcerned with starting to compete in the gyms – collecting and evolving pokemon was more important to me. I’d already evolved two pidgeys, and was working on getting a raticate as well as a male nidoran. Julia was determined to find strong gym contenders, insisting that it will only get tougher as more players get stronger in the game. Eevee was her recommendation – find a few solid Eevees and maybe there’s a powerful Vaporeon in your future. Her unabashed passion for the game was admirable, maybe even attractive. I realized I was a bit insecure about playing, and shielded my phone away from people walking by who might bother to judge me. But Julie took the immersion externally, and celebrated it, while I hadn’t even thought of expressing how I felt yet.
“It was really nice meeting you Ed. I think I have to get going now.” She stood up.
“Yeah of course, thanks for the tips Julia. Hey, let’s exchange numbers – perhaps we’ll do this again sometime.” I exited the app and pulled up contacts, typing her number in.
“I’m always up for a pokedate!” She said cheerfully, before waving enthusiastically on her way off down the boardwalk. I got up and went the opposite direction, a much-needed smile on my face as the sun warmed my back, putting some more distance into the 10km egg whose contents were yet to be seen. Fully acclimated to the game’s first version, I knew this wouldn’t be the last day I played – or the last time I saw Julia.
I woke up and reached for my phone, a few empty beer bottles clinking together on the bedside table as my hand felt around in the dark. The curtains blanketed the room’s only small window impressively, and I appreciated the black-out. The hangover was less welcome, but somehow my first instinct was to load Pokemon Go and peer into the incubator of that first 10km egg, curious to what rare creature lay dormant. With 2.2/10km realized, I had a ways to go. Perhaps another lap on the boardwalk was in order.
Swilling down most of a G2 gatorade, I sauntered outside with a dramatic sigh, my roommate enjoying the degenerate caricature . The sun shined bright, and I put on my headphones to a soothing morning song – It’s Alright Now by Bombay Bicycle Club. The two mile drive to the beach was pleasant, and a glint of demonic despair flickered away as my appreciation for my recent luck pervaded. I was, by any conversational description, happy with how things were going this morning.
I parked in a location more convenient to hitting the pokestops, where three were within a few meters of each other and seemed to regularly have lure modules to attract even more nearby pokemon. The zombie-like phone users walking up and down this stretch of boardwalk suggested that the game had already taken hold. I popped in my headphones, enjoying the bliss of a nice morning and put on some more feel-good sounds: Marconi Union. The next half hour was a neat engagement into discovering pokemon I hadn’t met since long before I knew the facts of life. I added over a dozen new pokemon to the dex, evolving a female nidoran and even a pidgeotto, producing a CP882 pidgeot. A bulbasaur, a few common bug pokemon, and three eevees found their way into my inventory. I approached the Margaritaville, a common hangout spot about halfway up the boardwalk, and stopped.
Sitting there on the two foot blockade between boardwalk and sand, cross-legged and bobbing her top leg up and down rhythmically, I recognized the tomboy-ish look and made eye contact. Julia smirked at me, her feminine side a little more obvious than she thought.
“Hatch your egg yet?” She asked optimistically.
“Nope, only 4.9km so far. I’m gonna get it done today for sure though.” I smiled.
“Come with me.” She hopped up and took my hand, leading me off the boardwalk. Indifferent, I let her do what she wanted with me, trailing a half step behind as our desired speed differed. She playfully tugged at the taut hand-hold to try to get me to speed up, but I balked dramatically, pretending to doubt the adventure. She led me left, into the building connected to Margaritaville, and waved to an employee in the lobby. We veered left into a bar, and hiked up some stairs to an empty balcony. At this time of day, not even the retired locals were out drinking yet – the bustle of the boardwalk hadn’t extended much beyond morning joggers.
“So you’re back at it huh?” She said of my morning grinding, and I admitted with a chuckle, recognizing my growing infatuation with the game as I enjoyed the view. “Well have you thought about your goals? Trying to complete the dex, or develop some solid gym contenders?”
“I hadn’t given it much thought,” I replied as I clicked up my pokedex. 24 caught, 25 seen. Sneaky abra. “Honestly, I’d probably want to start to make some progress on catching as many new pokemon as possible, which will start with evolving the common. Then spend some time doing longer walks or even runs in order to get more eggs. I’m assuming the rare pokemon tend to come from these 10km eggs?” I’d already hatched a 2km rattata and figured there would be more of the same, but 10km’s seemed rare.
“Yeah but you can find rares in the wild,” she said proudly, showing me a hitmonchan. I looked on in surprise. “Looks like you’ve caught the bug,” she teased, noticing my expression. She sauntered towards the door, implying a disappearing act.
“The wild Julia is escaping again!” I say as I lean up against the railing passively.
“Indeed she is. I have class, good luck.” After depositing me on the balcony, she was off.
I tapped open PoGo again and realized I was already level 6, ready for the gyms but still not interested in them. It was time to get the basics of the dex complete, and without luck I could find enough bugs to get a beedrill and butterfree very soon, a golbat after nabbing a handful more frenetic zubats, and maybe a starmie. Ignoring the empty bar as I made my way to the boardwalk, I realized it wasn’t going to take an enormous amount of time to evolve a gyarados since there were so many magikarps all along the boardwalk.
I walked south to the next string of pokestops, just in time as my inventory was depleting. The levels went by swiftly as I reached thirtyfive unique pokemon. Plugging in my portable battery, I checked my watch and realized somehow I’d been out here for four hours. Playing a pokemon game on my phone.
The thoughts bowled over into the consciousness of my mind and I switched the Spotify playlist to a sardonic classic: King of Pain, by The Police. Emotions too difficult to play with arose, and I ignored them with realest wisdom I knew: time heals all. But bowl they did, and another escaping abra snapped something in my mind. I tapped the screen of my iphone off and walked further down the boardwalk, a nondescript deep house tune flowing through my earbuds. I need a fucking drink.
A tiki bar with a barren live music setup and a few mid-afternoon drinkers invited me in with its lack of pretension. A few Kalik beers later, mindlessly staring off into the ocean, I settled into a more nonchalant bliss, gravelly wistful but tempered enough to not really set me off further. Empty stomach drinking, a habit of the efficient degenerate.
The game had connected with something, though. I’d opened up pokemon again almost unconsciously, lazily swilling the last lukewarm ounces of a Kalik while thumbing through the hundred-something conquests. I transferred a handful off to the professor, finding some cynical comedy in what it meant to abandon your captures for the power to produce others you deem better. Whatever. It looks like eevee is the all-star, as one evolves into a reasonably high CP vaporeon, supposedly very powerful. A weaker jolteon is my other strong final evolution pokemon at this point, but no flareon. Oh?
Apparently while sitting, my character moves, and the 10km egg finally began hatching. I waited impatiently until the shining light dims and none other than a CP1675 lapras appears. Wow! I didn’t expect to have such rare pokemon at this stage – especially one of the most difficult first generations to find. I’m pulled back into positivity and chuckle excitedly, imagining Julia’s reaction. I get up and walk north, taking my time as the effects of the beer slide off my psyche. Perhaps searching other parts of the city will help further my dex, as they’ll probably be non-water biomes. I check one more time and see I’ve caught 36 now, about a fourth of the way there already. A text invades my screen – it’s from Julia. Ears must be burning.
“Hey. If you’re free, come downtown to Social Room tomorrow, it’s a bar right off the boulevard. Some other trainers who are dedicated to the game are meeting up. There’s a lot you don’t know about the community, and much that will surprise you. Could be fun!”
The last thing I expected to be doing in Florida was talking with a bunch of adults about pokemon, but something felt different about this; it seemed less irresponsibly childish. What was it that I “don’t know” about the Pokemon Go community? It sounded a bit too mysterious and serious for a pretty simple game, and besides it’d only been out for a couple days – what could possibly surprise me? I mulled over the question, begrudgingly thoughtful and teetering on genuine curiosity. Then the real question hit me, eliciting a cold rush of blood to the head. Why did Julia lead me up to that balcony?
I awoke to a few streams of late-morning light sneaking through the shades of my room, foggy-eyed and thirsty. The previous evening had been spent bantering with my roommate and a few of his buddies, lounging on the patio and enjoying a cool fall evening. I’d taken my mind off the game and the “meetup”, not trying to solve or reconcile the questions in my head. Things didn’t add up, but I didn’t care. More powerful than the energy that comes from curiosity was the exhaustion that comes from enduring pain. I still wasn’t close to OK, but fine-tuning my persona in order to hide emotion in a believable way allowed me a few hours of socializing each day. Additionally, my functional alcoholism had made things livable.
Those hours of blowing off steam late into the night were good for the soul, it seemed. Cracking jokes and telling wild stories from days gone by, to unashamedly offering unique opinions or feelings that run contrary to our culture’s standard, I was in my drunken element and so were my peers. Escapism is for cowards they say. Well, perhaps in appropriate doses it’s a necessary pastry for the soul – quick energy that can instigate the necessary revving up of the body before it kicks into gear for another uncertain journey.
I knew I would go to the meetup, and I was almost annoyed about it. I felt duped in some odd way, as if I hadn’t planned for this and wasn’t offered enough information for something I was starting to fall into. As I walked the mile or so into downtown Hollywood, my mind fought to catch up to my body. The sign for Social Room appeared on a circular platform above the door, a bit inconspicuous – or maybe just plain forgettable. I walked into the bar and found it sharp yet casual, with a few arcade games across from the bar and even board games like connect four being played at the bar. On most walls were mirrors, appropriated in such a way to suggest something more high-end than I really saw the place to be. I ordered an IPA and let my eyes wander the room, seeing a door to the back patio.
There was Julia, standing but yet sort of dancing in place, listening and nodding to the casual comments of a taller boy who she seemed to know. Two other guys stood to her left, one flittering away on his phone and the other loitering contentedly. The meeting was close to starting, and they appeared to be the core of the group. How could anything be so secret if they were meeting in plain sight? Maybe it was less conspicuous this way, somehow.
I sipped my beer for a few minutes, tilted the rest down my throat then headed outside after ordering a second. I didn’t really want to arrive early. I went out and Julia caught my eye, greeting me cordially. I was introduced to Rob, a tall man in his early thirties who had what seemed to be an English accent, Jack, an American perhaps slightly younger than me who had a disarming humility that somehow came from his gruff voice and sensitive temperament, and Darian, a quieter character who appeared introverted and unreadable, yet somehow not harmless. Julia introduced me as “the one I’d been telling you guys about”, in a polite tone, and her friends nodded acceptingly. I then noticed a few other groups of people closeby, and saw some eyes come my direction. It appeared that about a dozen people were here on the back patio, mostly in their early to mid twenties, with a couple older players.
“Glad you could make it!” Julia said, subtly pulling me aside. “There are about a dozen of us involved right now. Rob’s going to explain a bit of new information he has from Niantic, then we’ll break off and discuss our thoughts with others.”
Rob, already taller than the rest, stood on a bench adjacent to the more open space of the patio where everyone was standing around. It appeared that literally everyone out here was part of the community, and I heard the door to the bar click – someone had locked it. Rob began to speak.
“Ok, everyone, I hope you’ve had a good week – we’ve all been out there filling our ‘Dex and battling in the various gyms.” A few low chuckles and a ‘whoop!’ sounded from the crowd. “I’ve been doing the same. Well I have some news for everyone, I received information from the Niantic employee I mentioned last week. He’s insistent on the importance of our involvement, and I have good reason to believe he’s not just one of thousands who are spinning the same story to every community that’s popped up this week.” The room felt shifty, and a few sighs suggested the skepticism of certain members – apparently promises had been made. Maybe these guys were just trying to avoid being let down by something that really excited them. I wonder what they’d been told.
“So, I know you guys read the forums, listen to the speculation online,” Rob continued kindly, his accent accentuating the good-will he tried to communicate. “And you know that of the original 151 pokemon, only 145 are actually available. Four of those 145 are location-dependent, but the legendary birds, as well as Mew and Mewtwo are not available.” The crowd nodded in agreement, listening keenly and apparently respecting the genuine-sounding European man standing a few feet above them on the bench.
“Ditto, also, is not available. You haven’t seen one, and if it were available there would have been a sighting or screencap somewhere, I mean, millions of people are already playing this week.” He shrugged cordially, and the crowd waited for what was next. Mechanically, Rob pulled out his phone, and opened Pokemon Go.
“Well, here in my Pokedex, you will see, I actually have a Ditto.” The silly-putty-esque pokemon flashed to life, CP bar and all. A gasp came from the pokephile crowd. Rob continued, “we are a rare community, just like this Ditto. We are going to have to play a part in something very special to this game.” His phone was passed around while others verified the veracity of his claim, yet many seemed content to trust him. “My contact at Niantic insisted we further sophisticate our recruiting efforts, as the city of Hollywood is very important to the company. Many of you will end up having access to many more exclusive parts of the game -- a lot of them being far beyond what you would expect. Unfortunately I can’t say more, but I hope this ditto offers enough of a promise as to what you can become as trainers.” His weight shifted nervously, but I figured it was just his over-sensitive disposition. At certain points, some of you may be asked to help in this process in different ways; but if not just please understand that these meetings are private and the information is strictly confidential - all members could play an important role in how things progress from here. As we’ve mentioned before, only those with the power to invite others to our meetings will do so.” He seemed like a speaker for a community that had been around for more than a few days.
Rob glanced up at the modest skyline across the street, then stepped off the bench. Oddly enough he wasn’t swarmed by the rest of the group. Darian sidled up and whispered something offhandedly to Rob, appearing as something of a confidant. Jack pulled back humbly, and was swept up into an excitable conversation between a few girls and a bearded man with a jovial smile on his face. Julia approached me with a smirk and a face brighter than her suave lips.
The next day I did a little research, finding out what I could about a game that had captured my full attention. I had to falsify the outlandish notion that there was more to it than met the eye. Something about my experiences with the only player I’d really interacted with had given me pause – this wasn’t just some nerd group. But what was it? A cult? There were certainly signs of this dynamic, and I couldn’t ignore them. Recruiting new members, cryptic conversations and literal fanaticism… Alarm bells were going off in my head. The way Julia discussed things after the meeting seemed like either she mindlessly accepted what she’d heard, or she was concealing information from me.
Despite this, there was a sort of bashful quality to the members throughout the meeting – not pure antisocial behavior, but a reactionary lack of acceptance to “outsiders” or very new members. This wasn’t the kind of indoctrination I expected from a dangerous cult-like community. I decided I’d keep my guard up, but cast aside some of my inhibitions. If anyone really tried to fuck with me I knew I could tell them to get lost, or do so myself.
The intriguing piece of information at the meeting – the capture of a Ditto – was my first point of research. I assumed Rob’s contact at Niantic had put a wild ditto on his map, telling Rob he’d be able to catch it himself, and this was some sort of proof Niantic was working with the Hollywood community. Or maybe they just added the pokemon to Rob’s pokedex. Either way, it was the information that they chose to suggest some sort of exclusivity to Hollywood.
My first thought was that they could do this in any number of communities. However, if they did it in too many, trying to exploit the “you guys are special -- don’t tell anyone!” routine, undoubtedly someone would run their mouth on the internet and it would become public knowledge that there were dittos out there. Further, it would tamper Niantic’s reputation in some way if it was found that they had employees helping out very specific trainers -- and community leaders in cities no less. But after nearly an hour of looking around online, I found nothing of ditto sightings. Either there were very few communities as exclusive as Hollywood’s, or the leaders Niantic had approached were very tight lipped. The far less likely scenario, which I entertained only for a skeptical moment, was much more exciting. Among the millions of Pokemon Go downloads in its first week of existence, I’d met the only man to catch a ditto, and further, the company itself had selected our city over thousands of others to take part in some special task.
I mulled over the possibilities as I wandered again to downtown Hollywood, flicking through a dozen pokestops. I sat on a bench near a high-level gym and looked through my catches. I’d progressed a decent bit - almost sixty in my pokedex and even a rare dratini. A few neat randoms like jynx and tangela, as well as a gastly, geodude, and an abra -- although the second and third ones I tried to catch for the candy both fled immediately. There were six or seven double-evolutions I needed to work on right now, and a handful of single-evolutions. The sound of a rolling skateboard grew nearer, and I looked up idly, taking in the palm trees and blue skies. The skateboard slowed, and a face I recognized stepped off it.
“Mind if I help ya with the gym?” He asked, incorrectly assuming my intent on sitting here.
“Oh, heh, I’m just relaxing. I’ve been wandering around for a while, still getting a feel for the area.” He sat down next to me.
“Right on, right on. This one’s my home turf,” he continued, intently interested in the contents of the blue gym he was training up. “See here? Probably the best Jolteon anyone’s got around here yet.” He turned his phone my direction and lightning bolts streaked across the screen, where in the middle, a CP1891 Jolteon rested.
“Nice, man. Haven’t seen anything that high yet.” I thought briefly about my decent Lapras, then turned to him. “So you’re Jack, right? I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself yesterday. Pretty interesting stuff with the ditto and everything.”
“Oh yeah, I’m not sure what to think of all that yet. I’m sort of doing my own thing, but if they need my help in some way I’ll decide what I’m willing to do.” He made eye contact. I’d captured his attention, but quickly it seemed like he was assessing my own interest. His gruff, yet almost nasally voice was disarming, mainly because it seemed like he was constantly bringing you down to earth with each word he spoke, pulling you out of any idealistic leanings and waiting for you on the ground floor of some unfiltered communication center.
“Same with me, man. Don’t get me wrong, I’m kind of fascinated by the game, and the community as well, but I’ll probably spend most of my time playing on my own.” I thought of the Margaritaville balcony. [_Then Rob’s glance at the skyline behind Social Room. _] I stared off in the distance, flummoxed.
“Sure thing. Well hey brother, you wanna wander off out to the beach with me? I’m getting close to 100 in the ‘dex, so if a few of these 10km eggs go well or I find some fairy pokemon I’ll hit my quota!” His positivity was charming; I obliged.
For the next few hours we chatted idly, mostly about pokemon, but a bit about personal histories and I found out he was a midwest kid, from the Chicago suburbs. He’d just graduated from Florida Atlantic, and in pursuing marine biology, had decided to take a few months off while debating whether to join PETA or jump on some scientific research project that was higher-paying and more intellectually challenging. He caught a few water pokemon while I listened, and then his tone changed – not in literal vocality but in the flow of thought he exposed. The words out of his mouth sounded subtly recited.
“So this pokemon community out here, you know, there’s more to it obviously. The game’s already a huge success, as is, and will continue to break all sorts of records for a mobile app. But there are other ambitions by the creators, by Niantic, and by other people involved in the project.” He sounded casual mentioning these things, and said them almost as if he didn’t want to possess the information. “It looks like they are doing some sort of vetting process among new trainers, as if certain qualified trainers will be accepted into something. I guess it could be a kind of tournament for the most dedicated, but it doesn’t quite feel like that. What I can tell you right now is that our Hollywood community has been asked to try and find other promising trainers, and Niantic promised us that further information will be released soon.”
I nodded, believing Jack’s explanation and appreciating his genuine nature. He seemed to dislike aspects of the secrecy, but was drawn to the game and to whatever perspective he had of the cult-like local community that surrounded it. He smiled, turning his phone to me as a pinsir flexed its spiky horns on his screen. He tossed an ultra ball excellently for his 100th pokedex entry.
So things were starting to make a bit of sense. The next few days I roamed the streets and northern parts of the Hollywood beach, catching pokemon and musing about the city. Perhaps this was somehow my new hometown, and the beginning of my new life. New beginnings were difficult enough, but being thrust into some sort of obligation, whether explicitly necessary for a person’s physical well being – or even just internally attractive – was a way to get into a new rhythm. I’d either quickly begun to move past thoughts of “what the hell am I even doing in this town”, or had simply ignored them by distracting myself with this new lifestyle. I was obligated to follow my curiosity, this much was clear. And I was obligated to be kind to myself. Only time would heal my wounds.
It’d been a few weeks now, and at least I’d escaped. The realizations of the state of my life, the dysfunctional community it consisted of, and the limits of my true freedom were flooring. What I’d needed to sacrifice for my freedom was everything I knew, and this was barely survivable – the emotions were too intense. Time heals all, time dissipates all past feeling, all trauma passes, if endured equanimously. But I needed to do this slowly, eking out little bits of pain every day until a deeper layer could be encountered. Encountering and fully experiencing my pains, or breaking down to a peer, or even explaining things to a therapist would be unavailable to me for some time. There was no trust, really, after what I’d gone through. Hence the latent hostility in my persona, which meant one thing: don’t get too close.
Alcohol was my friend. It numbed the pain for hours, and even hangovers weren’t that bad, as they were a lesser suffering, a physical pain that could be focused on and distract me from the psychological horrors my mind would move to. I was naturally a happy drunk, or in worse states, a simply somber one. I moved through the nights embodying the romantic image of a despairing degenerate, wistfully staring out into whatever Florida scenery lay in front of me – either the beach, my backyard, or any number of tiki bars I’d discovered in the area.
But for hours each day, relative peace arrived, and my thoughts went to the game and its mysterious community. I needed to understand the secrecy. I texted Julia late-afternoon almost a week after the club meeting.
“Wanna go for a walk?”
She replied moments later, the animated ellipsis blinking on the screen momentarily before her message appeared.
“Hi Ed! Sure, I’m finishing up some schoolwork but I’ll be free in 30 min?”
“Cool, I’ll be out by Arts park in the roundabout. West side. :)”
She responded with a thumbsup emoji, and I walked the few blocks towards the little park just east of downtown. The main roundabout was situated there, taking up two square blocks and hosting food trucks at least once a week, from my recollection. I sat on a bench and zoned out until a pair of short shorts swaggered their way over. A purple headband fit snugly underneath her blonde bangs, which bobbed gently with each of her footsteps.
“Lost in thought?” Julia teased, and I bashfully grinned while standing up.
“The opposite. Can’t put two thoughts together right now.” She grabbed my hand and started our movement across the park, swinging my arm dramatically.
“Well let’s get your body moving and maybe the rest of you will speed up!” Her feigned endurance of my supposedly impaired state was enjoyed a little too much, but not maliciously so. She seemed to take pride in it, and wished she had more responsibility. She liked to help.
We caught a few pokemon as we neared the beach, and I realized I hadn’t showed her my lapras yet. I opened my phone to give her a peek, and she stared at me in surprise, before whispering blankly. “ [_Lucky…” _] I laughed and we continued. Julia became more comfortable around me, figuring out where she could push my buttons, seeing a sort of gentle-giant quality in me. Her flirtations became less reliant on response, and became more of an expressive quality similar to how a person hums to themselves, or sings in the shower. I found myself liking the role, and enjoying listening to her chant about everything from the number of abras she’d secured to her unhealthy obsession with ramen. The way she moved her body when expressing things was a sight to see, as if she knew her feelings were bigger than the words that came from her mouth, and something would be lost on anyone not taking it all in visually. She’d just finished explaining what it was like the week before the game came out, buying gear that was both fashionable and logical for long treks, and the quandary that put a young woman in. She ended the rant, giggling at her own quirks, then turned to me.
I must’ve failed to hide a smile, because she blinked and grinned warmly, then looked away in silence. A moment passed, perhaps an opportunity to lighten the air, but I didn’t care. Let it remain heavy. She exhaled deeply through her nose, as if exhausting the last of a certain type of energy before shifting to something different. Another moment passed.
“You know, things are going to heat up with this thing.” She was almost apologetic. “It’s going to get serious and as far as the community is concerned, it will be all-or-nothing.” Her expression of concern -- of caring, overly compassionate concern, overrode the simple message. She became less dramatic. “I just want to let you know, it’s going to be difficult to casually play this game pretty soon. Especially--” She paused, reconsidering her words. “Especially because you’ve been selected as a potential representative of the community.” I frowned in confusion, and she saw how guarded I was, perhaps on a different level.
“They think you’re reliable, Ed.”
I ran my hand through my stubble of facial hair, ignoring the sentiment. “What’s a ‘representative’ exactly?”
“Basically, you would be interacting directly with our contact from Niantic. Rob and Darian are the only ones he talks to right now, but I’m being considered, and so are you and Jack. I think you’re next – Darian wants to talk to you.”
So this was the next step. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just decline and go off on my own, but this wasn’t even something I was considering. I had to dive in . I got Darian’s contact information, and scheduled to meet up with him later that evening. We met up at a cafe near where I’d waited for Julia at Arts Park. He was at a corner table, idly leaning up against the wall while stirring his hot drink. We greeted with little more than a head nod and he jumped into what we both knew I was there for.
“Thanks for coming, Ed.” He seemed pensive, more so than antisocial. He was looking down at the table, stirring and thinking, before cautiously lifting his eyes up towards mine. “Julia said she let you know about what we need to talk about. We think you ought to be a representative of the group. I feel like myself and Rob are getting along with Niantic well, but we agree that they’re exploring a more measured vetting process, focused on either our community or a small number of communities. They’ve led us to believe we’re exceptionally special, but frankly I’m not so sure. We want to bring you into our next meeting with Zane, our contact, to give the impression that our community is developing a more sophisticated hierarchy. It’s not false, we’re clearly going to expand, and hope they don’t randomly give up on us or anything. But we don’t know exactly what they’re critiquing, and it felt like they were waiting for something or someone.”
It didn’t make sense. How would I help? One more person? I wasn’t that special in any way – or at least in any way that they could’ve known. I’d just been playing casually, and had run into these people. If Darian was trying to show that his community was becoming more sophisticated, having one more person at a meeting where supposedly sensitive information is being communicated didn’t seem like a big deal. It was a minor move in their little club.
“Jack, you might be wondering why all these little coincidences have put you in this position, when all you’ve done is play the game,” Darian said more sheepishly. It seemed like he was layering on information, one casual truth at a time, and continuing once I’d processed it and figured out what I still wanted to know. “There’s something I have to tell you about Niantic’s presence here in Hollywood.”
He leaned in.
“They’re spying on us – at least visually,” he whispered, poorly hiding a sense of fascination with pragmatism. “That day Julia brought you to the balcony on the beach? She was instructed to. We think they’re in the buildings. They told us to meet at Social club too – near a few of the bigger buildings where they were probably scoping out the group from above.”
“What do you mean she was instructed to?” I needed specifics. He faltered, not expecting such a specific question that required a direct answer. But he relented, with a resigned honesty.
“She was out on the beach, following instructions to look for new trainers. Niantic had told us to expand, and we’d carried out the orders. But Julia was also in contact with Niantic since she has direct access, and she happened to be getting messages from them right when you walked by. They messaged her pretty specific suggestions about what or who to look for, right when you approached her.” I saw what he was saying, and knew the implication before he said it. “It was yet another coincidence for you. At the time she had no way to put it together, but when they suggested without explanation that she lead you to that balcony – well, we had to start trying to put the pieces together.” He took a sip of his coffee.
“What’d she say when they told her to lead me up there?”
He gave me a measured look, almost condescendingly. “Julia’s not one to see the worst in people. She didn’t ask. She assumed it was to try to leave an impression on you, or to keep you guessing, or felt it would just be fun for her – so it didn’t matter why they requested it. Nothing bad could have happened from her perspective, so she just did it. It wasn’t until I heard about it that I started to realize just how cryptic and shady they were being. But they’ve since demonstrated their interest with the whole ditto thing, so we’re keeping our sky-spying theory under wraps for the time being.” He paused before breathing out his concluding statement, as if exasperated from being so honest for his entire speech. “It seems best to only reveal the information we need to when we need to. That’s what they’re doing, anyway.”
He let me know when the meeting with Zane was, and in a few days time I’d be sitting down in front of him, presented with the first face I’d see of the mysterious company.
In the few days before the meeting, I’d nearly reached Jack’s pokedex milestone of 100 unique captures. We’d texted back and forth but didn’t meet up, and when Julia asked me to go for a walk the day after I’d met up with Zane, I declined. I’d still been playing, but had felt increasingly antisocial – the cryptic nature of this whole thing had suddenly become unwelcome. Deception, well-intended or not, often seems disrespectful and is something that a man’s principles could help him choose to blink out of his life. I think she knew I’d been MIA because of the meeting.
Regardless, there was a group walk that I really couldn’t decline, which took place the morning of the meeting with Niantic. I met up with most of those who’d been at social club, just north of Hollywood Beach proper. By the time I arrived, there was a lively discussion going on about Niantic and their judgment of players. A reasonable idea had segmented into different factions. The basic notion was that everyone’s collection and conquests was assessed by Niantic. However, were they more focused on logging entries in the pokedex? Or on battle proficiency? Overall trainer level?
It seemed rational for Niantic to find the best trainers by simply looking at their gameplay. But was completing the ‘dex more important, or training in the gyms? Or should a player just stick to what he wanted to do, and not try to out-think the system in order to win their approval? The thought crossed my mind that I’d only started the game when they first targeted me. The theories being discussed were at best only partially accurate. Taking a page out of Zane’s playbook, I didn’t offer the information.
Julia joined in on the discussion, not mentioning how at least once they’d instructed her to deliberately recruit a new trainer. The group eventually segmented based on differing walking speeds, and Julia greeted me warmly when we split off. She seemed more concerned with my somber mood than wondering about the upcoming meeting.
“Catch anything interesting lately?” She looked up at me with a meek smile.
I grinned. I’d recently had a few long, successful wanderings through town, exploring parts of the city I hadn’t seen before. I’d wandered through the pokestops and gyms of the Anne Kolb Nature Center, peering through the greenery to find little tree crabs as they inexplicably scuttled up lightweight branches and leaves. Trekked out west towards Pembroke Pines, baking in the afternoon heat. Ventured north through Dania and even the hustle and bustle of Ft. Lauderdale. PoGo was the excuse. My zombie-like rhythm through the concrete streets was a meditation and an effective one at that. Aside from the mental and spiritual benefits, I’d actually caught quite a few interesting pokemon that seemed elusive in the original 151 Kanto ‘dex.
“Scyther was an exciting one. You catch a Kabutops yet? I had a few Kabuto but found a CP1298 Kabutops up by the Dania Pier.” We’d slowed behind the group, a bit of chattering as they seemed excited about either a nest of starter pokemon or some new theory of how to focus their efforts. I showed Julia my Kabutops and she let out a surprised gasp, light-hearted in amusement as she slowed to get a better look. Her hands enveloped mine as she took hold of the screen, spinning the fossilized creature to try and better feel it and understand it. She smirked, then looked up. I enjoyed her interest, ignoring part of it.
Her hands moved around my neck, and she kissed me.
It was gentle, but aggressive. Earnest, but patient. I froze, expecting to feel less comfortable than I did, but some part of me began to melt, like an ice cream cone after its first few encounters with human warmth. My left hand gently rested on her shoulder, sliding down her backside. Her lips continued their movement around mine, waiting as mine slowly came to life. I accepted the embrace, at least physically, and relaxed my body with an exhale, reciprocating more openly. I kissed her back, and she inhaled quickly, fully.
Just as quickly, the moment passed, and I extricated myself, my hand sliding away from behind her, re-clasping my phone. She giggled affectionately, then disconnected. It worked somehow, in the way a moment can find some intuitive agreement despite its energy. I closed out the list of some 300-odd pokemon I’d collected, spinning a passing pokestop as we looked ahead at how far behind the group we were. A few minutes of peaceful silence passed, Julia’s enjoyment of my presence as obvious as her judgeless facial expression, comparable to the prideful content of a child who’d returned a lost puppy to its rightful owner.
Our conversation eventually picked up, as we both caught a squirtle further down the boardwalk. She said she was only a few of each starter away from their final evolutions – Venusaur, Charizard and Blastoise. I’d just caught the last squirtle I needed, having already evolved one into a Wartortle, and tapped the evolve button right before showing her my screen.
“Whaaa-” she wondered as the Wartortle disappeared in a flash of white light. “Ahhh…” She grinned as a huge Blastoise thundered onto the platform, two silver cannons protruding from the shoulders of its shell. I felt powerful as my blue pokemon silently roared into the screen, satisfied with my efforts. Thoughts of those days so many years ago returned, the GameBoy and the painstaking training regiments and rare candies required to develop battle-contending virtual companions. I returned to the map and flicked another pokestop, collecting three red and white pokeballs.
Our group ended up at the other end of the boardwalk and it looked like the majority of members lived somewhere south of the boardwalk, so everyone began to disperse after their goodbye. Julia looked up at me momentarily before wishing me good luck at the meeting. She waved enthusiastically, turning around in a ditzy yet smooth twirl before catching up to a friend, seamlessly entering a new conversation. I watched her leave for a few moments before my mind drifted towards Darian and Niantic.
I stayed on the beach for a few hours, having a sandwich a bit further north near the main hubbub of vacationers and local foot traffic, waiting for the 7pm meeting time. He hadn’t given me an exact location, but said to be around the beach beforehand and he’d keep me posted. I realized how hungry I was as I devoured a Cuban sandwich, necessary fuel after scouring the boardwalk to buffer my gastly’s and machops, both close to their final evolutions of gengar and machamp, respectively. I’d even caught a few more abras, the little escape artists failing to climb out of my ultra balls. A dratini had spun into existence near the sandwich shop I’d stopped at, and now he was the fourth in my possession. It’d be a long slog to evolve into not only dragonair, but the first generation’s king: Dragonite. I’d only seen them in gyms, and it’d stay that way, unless some new change in the game allowed for quicker collection of dratini candy. Three or four dratini candies a week would take the better part of a year.
When the hour approached, I wondered what this meeting would consist of. What was the objective, even? Apparently the last meeting was one where ditto was revealed, as a bode of confidence. Would Niantic expect something of us this time, or give us something else? Darian seemed to grapple with his position, and how much power he held, especially since he’d recognized how mysterious Niantic insisted on being. He didn’t want to be used by them, which is the first worry a person has when they can’t decipher another’s objective.
I decided to go into the meeting and do what I’d been doing: indulging my curiosity and letting things lead where they may. Information seemed to be given to me, albeit begrudgingly, by everyone in the community so far, with little overt demand required on my part. But I felt like this meeting was where the rubber would finally meet the road. Niantic’s ditto move was a vote of confidence in Darian and Rob – this week they’d probably put us to the test, expecting action on the group’s part.
At 6:50, Darian texted me.
“Meet at bonny & reads. It’s also called the toucan hideout. We’re going to be at the furthest table away from the bar, outside on the boardwalk. Try to get there at as close to 7 as you can.”
I was closeby, and sipped a Guinness, feeling the movement of an adventure stirring. Whether or not this led to anything, I was putting myself out there and letting fate take care of the rest. I paid my bill and walked stoically down towards the place he was referring. I knew it better than he thought, having spent a few evenings there this month. It was a solid tiki bar, spread out enough with boardwalk seating to allow for conversation as well as atmosphere. I thought about the information Darian had shared with me – of the potential “spies in the sky” idea. It seemed viable, of course. The Toucan Hideout only supported that theory, as it was adjacent to a few multi-story hotels. As I approached I looked up at the skyline discretely, wondering just how paranoid I was.
I saw the table immediately, as my eyes moved down to the street. Rob’s curly hair and tall frame stood out, and Darian’s fingers resting on the table like a spider unsure of its safety confirmed my recognition of Hollywood’s finest, as far as pokemon trainers were concerned. The man on the other side of the table, who Rob’s figure had blocked, came into view as I got close. A red-headed man of normal height and donning a casual button-up, almost like something a rich man would wear on a yacht, was sitting comfortably behind dark sunglasses that contrasted his bright complexion. My immediate instinct was how pretentious this appeared, the white sailing shirt and overprotective shades, the tiki bar meetup. I held my judgment, and as I’d soon find, wisely.
I walked up to the table and he was the first to recognize me, standing up smoothly and addressing me by my first name before either Darian or Ed could greet me. He lifted his sunglasses, his kind eyes making contact with my own, and introduced himself as Larry. I was struck by how genuine it felt. He asked me to sit in the gentle manner that a man uses when trying to dissipate tension to a situation, but it felt like this was his normal demeanor, a body of experience prompting him to urge conversations towards a mutual place of not only comfort and clarity, but honesty. How could this relationship between our community be so cryptic if this man was the mediator?
I sat down, helping myself to one of the beers in the bucket between us. Rob and Darian both acknowledged me, seeming to be in the middle of some initial pleasantries with Larry, and continued their discussion of a few week’s worth of catches and game mechanics. The topic soon turned to ditto, and Rob joked that he hadn’t seen anyone else with the catch. Larry laughed.
“Well, we hoped you guys would enjoy that. It’s going to be a release soon enough, and I appreciate you keeping this exclusive. But we have something more game-changing coming up.” He scanned the table, as if he’d just suggested we get another bucket of beers. Rob nodded politely, representing our communal enthusiasm. Larry continued, “we’re adding a sort of tamagotchi-esque feature”. He looked around more slowly. “We’re going to call it a ‘buddy’. Each trainer will be allowed one buddy, and can walk with him . His personal pokemon buddy will catch pokemon candy, specific to his type, dependent on how far a trainer walks with him. Pikachu will catch pikachu candy, bulbasaur will catch bulbasaur candy, and so on.” He gestured with his hands, bringing the point home.
“How far do you have to walk with your buddy?” I asked. Larry continued, smiling.
“At least one kilometer. The more common pokemon, you’ll find, have a 1km or 3km distance. But the very rare will take 5 kilometers to produce a candy for their type.” I thought of dratini. This was a great improvement – people were motivated to get outside because of the game, and now they were motivated to stay outside.
“Wonderful idea,” Rob commented. “When is it going to go into effect?”
“Next week. You should be able to update on Wednesday.” Larry beamed magnanimously. I sensed he usually ran these conversations, from the calculated way Rob and Darian listened. Their questions and thoughts were chosen carefully, even Rob’s simple question. He came off less intelligent than he was, which worked very well in this setting. Despite Larry’s perfect charisma, nearly Christof-Waltz-esque flavor of presentation, it became disquieting by what he either didn’t sense or chose to ignore. Like a white van owner offering candy to children, what’s too kind can have dark intentions.
But we weren’t children. There’d need to be some clarity to their intent, or they’d freeze up any support we could have for them in recruiting for this mystery mission. Unconditional trust wasn’t possible or prudent, as the cult-like feel of the recruiting process raised red flags. We all enjoyed the game, and were excited to be given access to insider information, but it wasn’t necessary. If there was really an end-game, we’d need to know about it sooner or later, and at least provisionally understand the direction this club was going to go. We couldn’t even recruit new members in good confidence if we didn’t have an explanation for why Niantic was involved so intimately.
Larry queried a few points raised by Darian about switching from one buddy to the next, and logging distance on vehicles (there’d be a maximum speed cap). When Darian nodded, satisfied, Larry clasped his hands and leaned forward to rest them on the table.
“So,” he began loudly, “this is the next development for normal trainers – recognizing their success depends on them actually moving around for extended periods, not just finding pokemon. Of course it’s already necessary to move around your city, but now even rural players can progress significantly as long as they are willing to start trekking.” He concluded the subject, then changed it. “As for you three. I’m going to tell you some things that will affect how you play the game, and interact with your community. We’ve been supporting your development since before the game launched, and there are good reasons for this. Your community is important, and those you recruit need to be enthusiastic and dedicated. But for now, it’s very important that you keep to yourselves what I show you. We are going to need trainers to participate in something… Even more real than Pokemon Go.” He took his phone out, and turned the screen towards us, somewhat discretely. Darian, Rob and I leaned in as he tapped the middle of the screen. A video began, and the Niantic CEO, John Hanke, smiled towards the camera in a large living room. The cameraman laughed as John waved.
“Are you ready for this?” He smiled, the cameraman cheering jovially as John sat quickly on the couch behind him. His eyesight turned to his left, hands palm-open and softly calling as if to a pet, “come on! Here!”
Our hearts collectively skipped a beat as we heard the sound.
A real, yellow, furry, pikachu hopped over and dove into John’s lap. The red cheeks, the long ears, and the big eyes displayed clearly on Larry’s screen as the creature cooed and smiled while John petted it affectionately. Its movement seemeds biological – no robotic rigidity or mechanical tendencies. The creature hopped on the ground and blinked contentedly, swiveling its head around the room in examination. John took a black backpack from the side of the bed, dipping his hand inside to retrieve a red-and white ball a little larger than an orange. It was a pokeball.
He lifted it up with his thumb, index and middle finger to show the camera, then tossed it next to the creature. With two bounces, it landed and opened up. A brilliant light flashed onto the creature, and he disappeared. The ball closed with a click. John picked it up with laugh.
“He doesn’t like to be kept in here for too long!”
The sun slid through my window a little hotter than usual. I I squinted through one eye, a hand on my forehead and craned my neck upward with a moan. The two final beer bottles of the night clinked into each other, toppling over on the nightstand as my arm fished for my phone. I aggressively rubbed my hand against the bedsheets, anxious and confused, and somehow relieved at the reliable tangibility of hangover misery. I clasped the iphone blindly, and stumbled out of the room onto the patio, staring at the other six to eight beer bottles on the wooden table in front of me. I returned from the kitchen a moment later with another of the syrupy Lagunita’s IPAs, glugging a few sips before tapping the phone to life. Darian’s three texts exposed him as someone I could see eye to eye with, as they mirrored my thoughts.
“Man. I still don’t believe it. It didn’t look like CGI in any way. I saw his hands on that thing.”
“What the fuck is going on. I didn’t sleep last night. Should we contact PETA? Is that thing an animal?”
“I need to see this through. I want to know what they’re doing. I want to be involved. Let’s keep quiet.”
I tossed the phone on the table gruffly, taking a long swig of the beer. Darian was all-in. Rob was hard to predict, and didn’t come off as a passionate person, but perhaps his actions would speak louder than his persona. He could very well calmly make the same decision Darian and I were on the verge of making: follow Niantic’s orders and put ourselves in the best position possible to experience first-hand what looked like a real life pokemon. And in the back of our minds, we knew, but didn’t even let ourselves fully think, that there were likely more.
I felt stunned. I was enthralled, but ready; excited, but shocked into disbelief. I’d come out here to live a relaxing lifestyle, to heal and let my perspective of what remained of my life slowly turn to positivity. Yet somewhere in the process, intent and fate clashed – and fate was winning. I found a task worth pursuing, living by that advice I’d cherished: find that which inspires wonder, then follow it!
I stayed away from the group again, for days. The next meeting hadn’t been set up yet. Larry had told us we needed to continue to support our other members’ work ethic and experimentation with the game. He let us know there would eventually be a selection for a journey to Japan. If we wanted to take part in this adventure somewhere out in the Kanagawa mountains, we’d need to prove loyal to their plan, and intelligently assess the values our trainers brought on. I was sure Niantic had their own vetting process, but also knew we could help with that as we were the ones actually interacting and getting a feel for other players. I started to come around to this new role as somewhat of a co-leader, despite still walking the streets myself, not reaching out aside from acknowledging Darian’s initial texts.
In the week that followed, I’d made significant progress with both my captures and the achievements. The buddy update came out and my dratini (named Kouros after the Greek ultramarathoning legend) quickly collected candies as I racked up almost 100km. Stopping for Cuban sandwiches became something of a ritual, and as Florida slowly cooled down into a temperate late-fall atmosphere, this diet was perfect for my pedestrian ways. I had captured 132 pokemon, and when a final few gastlys found their way into my ultra balls, I evolved my ghost collection into a gengar and had only dragonite to evolve or catch, since Kouros was now an elegant dragonair. Aside from him, completing the ‘dex would be a matter of fate – aerodactyl, snorlax, chansey, magmar and a few others would have to find their way into my life and into my collection.
When Julia first texted me, I felt a bit of guilt at needing to lie to her, or at least omit the glaring truth about what we’d learned in the meeting. Rob, Darian and I were officially on a different clearance level in terms of information dispersion, as knowledge of the real pikachu divided us. But I told myself she’d eventually learn, and resolved to encourage her to contribute and keep playing hard, because that was the only way she would be able to join in on our wonder. I’d avoided her for a few days and figured she was kindly giving me space for any number of reasons I might need it, but when she texted again to check up on me I felt compelled to go for a walk with her. Aside from any pokemon-related reasons, I missed her dynamic energy, and the way she filled in the hollow parts of a conversation with positivity. I wouldn’t mind the taste of her lips, either.
We met up near the pier at Dania beach, and she breathed out a long “heyyyy”. It was concerned but maintained belief in my ability to take care of myself, as if she didn’t assert I needed looking after, but was honest and open about how she cared. I ignored it.
“Hey there. How’s your progress been? How have you been otherwise?” I smiled and strolled up to her, my legs becoming stronger and quicker each day from all their movement.
“I’m great! Nothing new really, except trying to maintain decent grades while running around catching pokemon all the time. This little guy is getting more powerful by the day.” She showed me her buddy, a snorlax named “Tiny”, with 68km registered.
“Oh nice,” I laughed. “I’m on the way to getting this first generation boss, dragonite.” I showed her Kouros, spinning his sea-colored body left and right, the blue pearl-like spheres on his tail swivelling around the screen. I was pretty excited to evolve him actually – it seemed like the penultimate accomplishment in the game, at least within my control. She smirked approvingly, and we went on our way south, towards the Hollywood boardwalk. We quickly fell into rhythm, and rather than address anything about the meeting or my recent stretch of isolation, she let me commandeer the conversation. I stayed focused on the simple pleasures of strolling down the beach, flicking through the pokedex and comparing hers with mine, and discussing the buddy system. She wondered about the future of the game, and what lied ahead. I followed her thoughts, then downplayed things pragmatically, suggesting that Niantic seemed to want users to beta test certain features before releasing them worldwide. She agreed, but seemed skeptical – we’d just had a meeting and had no incredible news to report, aside from the buddy system.
Her trust won over, and she returned to a cheerful state. She quieted, and looked up at me with an imperceptive smile. She clasped her hand in mine, and skipped forward as we reached the boardwalk. We spun pokestops and caught a few random unnecessary pokemon, her for the stardust and myself for the mindless fun of it – I didn’t have any other pokemon to catch so they mainly were bolstering a few achievements like pushing towards the 200 fairy pokemon medal.
Eventually we got close to Margaritaville, and Julia exhaled quickly and softly. We slowed our pace and she turned to me.
“Ed, remember that day we walked up to the balcony here?” I nodded. “Well, I had a reason for it. My Niantic contact told me to lead you there. I don’t know why they did it, but I was just following orders. I hope it doesn’t offend you.” She seemed worried.
“No, it’s fine.” I smiled. “I wondered if there was something to it, but I’ve started to get used to the mystique of this community.” I was being honest, despite withholding the new information she didn’t have.
“Ok, well, I’m glad to hear that. But I’ve been told to bring you back up there, if you don’t mind.” I looked straight at her, pursing my lips. “Just please let me fulfill my duty. Nothing bad is going to happen.”
I relented, and we walked up together, still hand in hand. When at the top, I looked out toward the beach, but she put a hand on my shoulder.
“Ed, take these, and look up there.” She handed me a small pair of binoculars from her little pack, then pointed towards the highest floor of the building. She waved upwards as I took hold of the binoculars and peered through them, aligning my sight upwards. It zoomed up through empty windows until finding one, the right one, with the right man, standing with his arms folded and looking down at me.
It was Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of Pokemon.
On his right shoulder rested a squirtle, its curled blue tail swinging gently from side to side. Satoshi uncrossed his arms, revealing a great pokeball, before dropping it on the ground. The squirtle disappeared in a flash.
I looked back at Julia, a blank expression on my face. She wasn’t even looking at the window, she was pulling out a mirror from her pack, along with a red and white hat. She put the hat on my head, momentarily apologetic. She then lifted the mirror to my face.
“What do you see, Ed?”
My dark hair lengthening, the pensive, determined expression on my face betraying my bright eyes, I saw a startling similarity as soon as the hat meshed with my features.
“Ash…” I breathed. “The original trainer.” I blinked, then looked towards the sky, aligning the binoculars with the window again. Satoshi was gone.
END PART 1
-chapter end???? Idkmybffjill? It sounds like closure but also great transition to the nex chaoter :) ok maybe fitting it in ch 9 Or meeting in this chapter hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm
Niantic meeting omg so crazy bro
“ mew mew ” – Hannah
OUTLINE (don’t read!) – i see your mouse hannah don’t read further ;)
-goes to first gathering, learns a bit about things on a deeper level but a clue and a feeling imply there’s much more depth that he’s not told about
+apparently there’s a viable theory that the game is to find the most dedicated pokemon trainers and have them take part in something “much more real” (revealed later to be a wildlife area created by a rich man who’s been creating real pokemon through animal mutations, living out his fantasy but needs young “trainers” to fulfill the capture/collecting aspect of things)
+one of the group members is in contact with a Niantic employee, who explains Hollywood’s importance cryptically, says he intends to meet up with select Hollywood trainers soon
-but is it highest volume, or unique game decisions that select certain players?
-continue hunting, debates if he’s willing to join the team’s “plan” (some reasonable idea for how the game could spread/help people?)
+starts to focus on the milestones suggested by the group members
-him and Jack discuss it, Jack seems curious to learn more but is fine training on his own
-Darian initially seems prickly, but rationally has good intentions and Ed is more focused on his curiosity for the club than worrying about hating Darian
-further effort by the club, theories and strategies to progress in the game “correctly” (schism happens, some trainers don’t like the obsessive goal-oriented nature and leave)
-Ed and Julia’s relationship progresses, she pries him open a bit
-Ed and Jack’s relationship becomes a bit one-sided and Jack starts to become a bit judgmental of Ed, but doesn’t have the self respect to confront him
-Time leading up to meeting, Julia relationship progressing
-Meet up with Niantic Employee, learn more about the game and get some questions answered
-Ed and Darian drama
-Larry shows video of real pokemon? Tells them the most worthy trainers will be asked to take part in some sort of experimental event near Machida in the mountains, where these creatures have been developed
-Julia reveals their history
-reason hollywood is involved? Final scene on the balcony, again with julia. Look up and see tajiri
-Ed reveals some of his history to Julia, since she’s finally fed up with his closed off nature and argues he knows a lot about her
-Significant Pokedex progress, reaching milestones or close to it
-Reach level 30? Some relaxation/personal growth/reflection through realizing I admitted to Julia what’s going on, and accomplished this simple goal, marveling at the importance and benefit of PoGo for mental health
+this chapter is mainly reflectionary and reaches a tentative conclusion
-go with Julia again to the balcony
-it’s revealed that the spot on the balcony is XYZ and then *fade out*
-end of the prequel will be a dramatic reveal, illuminating some deeper parts of the story, and give Ed a desire to fully devote himself to the game
-Edward: Just got out of something and drove across the country
-Julia: Open, honest, bold, passionate but her oppenness and sense of emotional justice get her in trouble
-Jack: Guy, cool, chill, and enjoys pogo and respects Ed’s dedication. Ed takes him a little for granted at some point
-Darian: Julia knows him somehow but doesn’t say much yet. He’s actually against Ed; they clash and eventually Julia reveals more
The beginning saga of Edward's adventure into Pokemon Go's first generation. As he begins his training and quest to catch all the pokemon in the game's initial release, he finds a community that is more than meets the eye. Playing the game soon seems to be much more than he expected, and leads to some discoveries as to some of Niantic's true motivations for releasing this virtual reality to the world. Edward comes to understand that there's something much more real going on behind the scenes.