Video Games

Fresno’s ‘Pokemon Go’ players are one step away from forming a new culture

I (briefly) held this gym during my “Pokemon Go” travels in Old Town Clovis.
I (briefly) held this gym during my “Pokemon Go” travels in Old Town Clovis. rappleton@fresnobee.com

I have found the modern-day hearth, and it’s a cluster of benches in Old Town Clovis.

Specifically, I encountered the cultural crossroads in front of the Big Dry Creek Museum at the southeast corner of Pollasky Avenue and 4th Street. There’s a Pokestop there and plenty of sitting space. You can spin two other stops without getting up. The trainers who claimed this turf on Wednesday – mostly 20-somethings, but also two families with young children – are working smart, not hard.

This is one of several nightly meeting places that have popped up in Fresno and Clovis in the two weeks since the release of “Pokemon Go.” The mobile game has been elevated to Pet Rock or Furby cult status overnight, with one major difference: It forces us to go outside. While outside, we sometimes use our mouths and bodies to communicate.

Sometimes.

I went to Old Town with three friends, but we had a handful of conversations with other people. Not once did my party or the other parties introduce themselves. The conversations were short, simple and only about Pokemon.

“There’s a Charmander over there,” a boy – probably about 6 – said while walking with his mother and father on 4th.

My friends and I, as well as two other small parties walking nearby, responded in unison: “Where?!”

The boy and his father pointed us toward Bobby Salazar’s. We did not find any Charmanders. That was my second big miss of the day. Earlier, a Raichu escaped my clutches on the steps of the Old Clovis Hotel Bistro. I did snag a Pincer in front of the very same Bobby Salazar’s later that evening.

The highlight of the night was an interaction I had along Pollasky. That street could easily be called the Murderer’s Row of the Clovis “Pokemon Go” scene, as it has several gyms just feet from each other.

I sat quietly on a bench. A few other guys around my age passed by, pausing for a few moments to perform the handful of “Pokemon Go” actions too complex to do while placing one foot in front of the other.

One stopped. “Are you yellow?”

We may have been in Old Town Clovis, but he wasn’t challenging me to a gunfight. He was asking if I was part of Team Instinct, the yellow team in “Pokemon Go” and the owner of the Ken Curtis Statue Pokemon Gym I was standing in front of.

“Nope,” I replied.

“You taking the gym?”

“Yep,” I said.

“Oh, right on.”

Seconds after I took said gym, he smashed the Magmar I left to protect it to pieces in the name of Team Instinct. Neither of us expressed any emotion at this. We both kept walking, stopping only to toss Pokeballs at yet another Pidgey.

Is this a social revolution for the gaming community? Not quite. I have dozens of similar interactions while playing online games in my underwear. But it is a huge start. “Pokemon Go” is bringing people of all sorts together. Now we just need to work on figuratively coming together.

I had similar interactions in trips to Fresno State and Courthouse Park. The lure module I dropped into a Woodward Park Pokestop drew more actual people than digital monsters, but we kept conversation to a minimum. The Fresno Police Department estimated the pub crawl in the Tower District last Saturday drew close to 3,000 people, but I didn’t see anyone making new friends there, either.

We all go to these places for the same reason. Many people go there alone. But we aren’t talking.

I am not sure what the missing ingredient is. It could be the fact that games naturally draw in the introverted, much in the way sports seem to draw out the extroverts. It could be that years of online gaming have conditioned these responses. It’s fine to talk strategy, but introducing yourself by name is dangerous.

How do we get over this? Maybe there is nothing to get over. Maybe quietly doing the same thing in the same place with 25 strangers is enough to elevate a game to a social movement.

I’m hoping to see the local “Pokemon Go” community squeeze everything out of this fad, as that’s almost certainly what this is. Let’s write our names on stickers at the next big gathering. Let’s combine the 12 groups of three trainers into one group of 36. Let’s get to that next level.

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