Back in the mid 90s, Pokemon was a massive part of my life. Not out of choice (although that could be argued), but because my two sons were obsessed by it. Me and the wife would be compensating. Struggling from post- Bugged Out hangovers and guilty from another ‘Nan & Grandad’ night, we would be supping anything alcoholic in the local, and somehow treating them to a day out with similar reprobates and their kin. In between many lagers and more Fruit Shoots for the kids, there was an echoing directive to go the corner shop and “PLEASE DAD CAN WE GET MORE POKEMON CARDS.” Fitting that the shop was next to my GP, that I visited later that year and took a decision to have no more children.
As an adult Jaffa now, I still found myself drawn to this curious Japanese culture once again. My news feed was filled with this game, and I was reminded of these youngsters, now fully grown men. I don’t consider it a game, because I have found it more of a soft obsession. Games are played with others and don’t allow a solo participant to waste time so easily, distracted from their own surroundings. Just like other obsessive distractions, I felt smug and groundbreaking when I got it on US import, and then several days later downed it when everyone else got into it. Churlish, which could easily have been my own Pokemon name.
Taking a walk with the son that had coined so many cards from me back in those post-club days, it was an enormously satisfying and future glimpsing moment when I peered over the terrace bar in R$N haunt The Mayflower and caught my own bloody animated creature. That Magikarp floundered in the silted tide of the Thames, it’s gills gasping, close to the real working class homes of London while the gilded towers of oligarchs London shone in the horizon. I threw a deft ball at his gormless head and my well earned gold taught that daft inbred bottom feeder a lesson in social politics. Yeah.
One of the immediate and continuing pleasures with this little game is that while it keeps your head down looking for more Pokestops (basically cashpoints for kids), it also makes you look at pieces of historical, cultural and artistic merit. Street art in Shoreditch (of course) and wall plaques celebrating Russian artists in Bloomsbury. But I also learned about Alfred Salter, a doctor and Labour politician who was appalled by the slum conditions in Bermondsey and introduced a local health service, long before the birth of the NHS. I didn’t expect to learn about that while I was looking for augmented reality, and I readily accepted his Pokeball philanthropy.
The game became more addictive. I learned how to preserve battery life on my phone and keep data charges to a minimum, much like most addicts learn to hide their shameful secrets from their closest. I had a quick scout around the house before I went to bed to see if there was any left, and woke up looking for more. If there was none in the house, I had to go out and get some.
The park just outside my home is a veritable breeding ground for the hybrid critters. It is also the home for a large number of homeless refugees, themselves enslaved to varying forms of addiction. While I threw a curveball at a Drowzee, two men fought over their cheap cider and a woman urinated up a tree next to the kids play area. I filled up my bag with pokeballs and potions while a young man on a bike dealt weed to the kids piling out from the college that faces the park. More augmented reality.
I decided to walk from Seven Sisters to Stoke Newington, in need of some flaxseed (did I tell you I was vegan?) Memorable landmarks and therefore refuelling points were certainly less artistic yet culturally symbolic in the N15 area (a long abandoned bank and a plaque above a job agency), but still plentiful. Then I noticed something I hadn’t across the rest of London on my Pokemon journeys. As I walked through Stamford Hill all game activity ceased. No pokestops or creatures to catch. The area is home to the large Hasidic Jewish community in London, and it seems that the games creators have taken a decision not to place anything there. Was this out of respect for the religion, or an understanding that this culture would not be a core participants in this modern phenomenon? I pocketed my phone and strode on towards the middle class leafy burbs of Stokie, where the cultural significance of the Pokestops hit maximum and I happily grabbed the twee, soft and fluffy Poliwags and Eevees. Names of Pokemon, not the floppy haired offspring of the liberals in the neighbourhood.
So, I have had a blast playing Pokemon Go. I am not concerned with the ‘tin foil hat’ voices that the CIA invented it to track our movements. Anyone who uses a mobile phone can be tracked and we don’t seem bothered when we are falling out of a club, pissed and clumsily ordering an Uber. I’m not bothered that it’s geeky and uncool, because I am that. I’ve earned that. It has definitely increased my activity, which is only a good thing, and encouraged me to think a little more about each area I pass through. It’s not changed my life, but it has made it a little cuter. Right that’s it, there’s a Zubat on top of the telly.
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