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Pokémon Go and Adults Gaming in Public

The summer of 2016 is coming to an end, and while there’s no real consensus on the “song of the summer,” which is, let’s be fair, mostly a marshmallow thrown to hot, cranky bloggers who have to crank out content even in July and August, the game of the summer is clear:  Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go has been successful in large part because it is the first augmented reality game to have broad appeal—it’s a pleasant novelty to catch a Pidgeot at your Dunkin Donuts drive-through. It’s gotten butts out of seats and even offers the opportunity for real face-to-face human connection, something my generation and those following are notoriously terrible at.

While Ingress, which provided the backbone for  Pokémon Go, or more localized alternate reality games like the Jejune Institute, have been turning the world into a giant playground for some time now,  Pokémon Go is the first one with simple, broad appeal, which is why it’s stuck.

But because of its notoriety, and because  Pokémon Go takes you out of your house to stalk the neighborhood in search of a wild Rhyhorn, it also means that players are gaming in public in a highly conspicuous way. This is very different from the smartphone games that function as something to do while waiting in line or in general insufficiently entertained by life. When I walk around the neighborhood with my smartphone in hand and then stand still for thirty seconds, flicking my finger on my screen, most people know perfectly well what I’m doing and that I’m relatively invested in it.

And I’m pretty sure they’re judging me.

I live in a small, rural town whose median age is fifty-three. That’s hardly to say I’m the only  Pokémon trainer in town—indeed, judging by the stiff competition at my local gyms, I really need to up my game if I’m to be of any use to Team Mystic.

What it does mean, though, is that there’s not a lot of cover. We don’t have the urban foot traffic that would render me invisible, nor a high population of Gen X-ers out there with me. And that leaves me feeling highly self-conscious as a thirty-seven-year-old woman who favors cute retro frocks. I’m not a kid who would earn an indulgent smile, I’m demonstrably an adult gamer.

This feeling of being ultra-visible isn’t just a construction of my overly developed sense of awkwardness. This spring, after testing out Zombies Run for an article, I began running semi-regularly. It felt good, I was excited to build my stamina, and all was well.

Until an old man in a car decided he really needed to “congratulate” me and tell me to “keep up the good work.” Why? Well, there’s one more factor I didn’t mention: I’m fat. I was mortified, and his intrusive, if well-intentioned, commentary on my activity led to the demise of my burgeoning running habit just as much as the advent of Arizona summer did.

Because while it’s amazing to have an app that gets us out and about, walking and talking to each other, for bodies that present differently, whether they are differently aged, sized, or abled, there’s always the potential for such a shaming encounter.

Pokemon GOSo what does that mean? Do I give up the fun of searching for Ponytas so I can evolve my beloved Fancy? (Yes, she is named after the Bobbie Gentry song, and no, she is not the most upsettingly named of my  Pokémon. That honor belongs to an extra ferocious Raticate named TravisBickle.) Do I let the bastards, and my own insecurities, win?

Nah. One of the things I love about writing for Remeshed is that it lets me witness the experience of gaming as a woman who “remembers when.” But there’s a degree to which internet writing for a friendly outlet often amounts to preaching to the choir.

In the physical geography of my world, there’s no choir to be found. But that only makes my witness, my bodily witness, more important. I’ve often thought that the gaming world needs its own version of the interesting and effective “I’m a Mormon” YouTube series, to make visible people like my gamer mom and all the other people who demonstrate that our community is neither so male, so white, nor so young as we are commonly imagined.

Fighting the challenge of feeling like a dork hardly qualifies me as some kind of Social Justice Warrior (a term I deliberately misunderstand as incredibly flattering, though I think I personally am more of a Social Justice Bard—hybrid classes tend to be more my jam). But it’s a baby step towards changing the way my community of gamers is perceived, and if it inspires one awesome grandma in my community to download  Pokémon Go and take a spin around the block, letting her freak flag fly, that would be a disproportionately huge reward for my simple action.

Internet talk is cheap, but when we put our bodies where our mouths are, the message is much more powerful. Besides, this neighborhood is absolutely infested with Rattatas—someone has to keep them in check. Seems like it’s up to me.

Sophie Weeks
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Sophie Weeks received a Masters degree in English Literature from Mills College in 2006 and completed her PhD in Victorian Literature at Rice University in 2013. She is the author of Outside the Spotlight, Unsettled Spirits, and The Soured Earth.
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Sophie Weeks
Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Sophie Weeks received a Masters degree in English Literature from Mills College in 2006 and completed her PhD in Victorian Literature at Rice University in 2013. She is the author of Outside the Spotlight, Unsettled Spirits, and The Soured Earth.

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