I know some people are totally burnt out from Pokémon Go! And I know you know what it is—it exploded last week, after a series of other, familiar, tragic explosions. And I know I don’t have to explain to you what it is or how to play it (unless you are my 61-year-old father, whose place of employment happens to be a gym, and who had to suffer my quick lesson on GPS and augmented reality games only to tell me I don’t care, whatever), because if you want to play it you’d already know, and if you don’t want to play it then you just don’t care.
Since I am a social media coordinator for three literary journals, I spend an almost criminal amount of time online. Luckily, I can do most things from my phone, but I am still tethered to Facebook from the time I wake up until the time I go to sleep, and I see a lot of shade being thrown at Pokémon Go! Things like “I’m not ten and I have a life!” or “Way to distract yourself from what’s really going on”. This bothers me, and I want to let you know why.
On Wednesday, July 13th, I spent the first quarter of the day despondent, the second quarter of the day crying. So much that my son Aidan told me to “text him” if I “needed anything” (he was going out for the night). My eleven-year-old. Presently, I am going through a lot of emotional turmoil, through a lot of major life changing things that I haven’t yet discussed with my family, or most of my friends—very few people know what is going on with me, and it makes for a lonely, scary, and overwhelming existence. My son does not know what is going on with me, but he saw me upset and it upset him. Which of course upset me more.
The third quarter of the day I was alone and needed to drop off some mail to the post office, so I decided to take a walk. I had received a Fitbit for my birthday and I’m a little obsessed with it. Since last Wednesday I’ve been averaging about 15000 steps a day and am trying to keep that streak. I’ve always loved to walk, but I don’t like to move when I get depressed. And lately, I’m always depressed, so it is a real struggle to motivate myself.
Anyway, as I was walking I thought “fuck my data coverage” and threw the game on. In case you aren’t aware, you don’t really have to look at the screen to play; it’ll buzz when a Pokémon is near you, and you very quickly realize where the stops and gyms are. There is really no reason to stare at your screen and walk in front of a train or something. I walked and I kept trying to catch a Jynx, but unfortunately they’ve been eluding me. They’re so fancy!
Look: there were so many people out. It was like, 90° outside with 80% humidity; it sucks to walk in that sort of weather. Everyone I encountered gave a self-conscious laugh, and then chatted with me for a bit. Four teenagers dropped a lure (lures attract more Pokémon), and as I sat with and spoke to them they said they were happy to see people walking around and having fun instead of “killing each other”. These kids were like, 17. They were young, but not too young to know that our country is in a lot of turmoil when it comes to violence and hate. I am at least twice their age, and we talked for twenty minutes. Cars stopped at the light and the drivers would sometimes poke their heads out to give tips (I do not condone driving while playing—that is what your eleven-year-old is for).
After dinner I went back out. Pleasant Street, right in the center of town, had cars lined up on both sides of the street. There were at least 60 people there, all ages. Lures dropped everywhere. Laughing: annoyed laughter at missing whatever Pokémon they wanted. Happy laughter at catching whatever Pokémon they wanted. Lawn chairs. I’ve never seen that many people in one spot all getting along. “Same time tomorrow”, one kid said. I say kid, but he was probably 25. Everyone happy. It was mind boggling.
I think it should be said that, as a kid, I never got into Pokémon. I was a little too old for it by the time it became popular (I was part of the Pog generation). I did not anticipate getting into this game at all, but here I was at 11 o’clock at night, hanging out in front of First Church Congregational in Methuen with what seemed like half of the town. The church even put out signs urging people to have fun but to keep the grounds clean—it was sweet, to see them embracing the foot traffic. It felt good to be out there with everyone. We felt like a community, united by something as silly as a game.
I will tell you: the last time I felt any sort of positivity on this level was in 2004, when the Red Sox were in the World Series. That was the year my son was born. I remember his father, leaning forward with his hands clasped, just hoping. Every local business with GO SOX on their placards and LED signs. Winning each game, everyone smiling and slapping each other’s backs. We won that year; you never saw people so fucking happy. Friendly. Together. Mind boggling. It was the best time I’ve ever experienced in Massachusetts, and I have lived here my entire life. It was twelve years ago.
There is A LOT of bullshit happening in the world; none of us are ignoring that. To suggest that “even my kids are beyond this, the world is BURNING” (actual Facebook comment I saw!) is not only totally fucking condescending and pretentious, it suggests that we as people cannot handle multiple feelings and social situations. Just because a game became popular and has people out there socializing and happy and exercising doesn’t mean suddenly we’ve forgotten about Black Lives Matter, or the mess of this election season, or misogyny, or whatever. I can’t speak for everybody, but I am still thinking of police brutality, I am still remembering that right before Pokémon Go debuted Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were shot to death (the latter I watched as it was livestreaming, hoping it was a hoax, it seemed so surreal), that five Dallas police officers were shot to death, that things are bad out there. But it’s insulting to insinuate that people can’t be multilayered, can’t take a moment or two to enjoy themselves amidst this sort of chaos. Also, it makes you come off as a total douchebag. And I should know; we smell our own.
People can’t win. If we focus too much on the bad shit, we become jaded and sad and no one wants to talk to us because we’re bringing everyone down; if we focus on happy shit and we’re not concerned enough and are shamed for being so selfish as to take some time for self-preservation and happiness in any way that we can take it.
This is a fad, and it will die out. And if you know me, you know these dark places I can go to, and this is a dark time for me as well as for the world. But let me have the fact that I salvaged a day spent waiting to get blackout drunk by playing some dumb game. I walked 6.5 miles and caught a Jigglypuff and didn’t overdose on Klonopin, as I am always on the edge of doing—that’s how depressed I am.
Let people enjoy themselves, for god’s sake.
Don’t be such a fucking basic.
Kolleen Carney is a Boston based poet with a B.A. from Salem State University in Salem, MA, and an MFA in Poetry from Antioch University Los Angeles. She has served on the editorial team for Soundings East, Lunch Ticket, Paper Nautilus, and Zoetic Press. Her poetry and other writings have appeared or will be appearing in Currents, Vision/ Verse, Lunch Ticket, MassPoetry.org, Golden Walkman, The Watershed Review, Incredible Sestinas, Uno Kudo Vol. 4, A Quiet Courage, Yellow Chair Review, and Drunk Monkeys. She is obsessed with California, Pez dispensers, and macarons. Her website is www.kolleencarney.com.