It was the 6th of July 2016. While the Muslim citizens in Sri Lanka were busy preparing for and celebrating Eid, towards the wee hours of the morning, there came a news so devastatingly beautiful that most people dropped whatever they had and rushed to their computers. What was the news? Well only that Pokemon GO, the AR game was officially launched.
Now mind you, it was only launched in Australia and a few other regions and nowhere in the Asian region. Nevertheless, I took my chance and headed over to a trusted site to get myself a copy of the installation file or APK for Android. Having my fingers crossed, I clicked the “Install” button and let the app install.
The Pokemon journey begins
Once done, I launched the app and held my breath as I looked at the loading screen and to my amazement and joy, the app directly took me to a sign-up page where I had to confirm my age and then I could log in using my Google account or a Pokémon Trainer club account. Still having my doubts, I proceeded to go through the walkthrough where Professor Willow introduced me to the game. I was then presented with the choice of one of the starting Pokémon from Generation one: I picked Charmander – the fire Pokemon.
My next task was to actually catch Charmander and I got to experience firsthand how the AR (augmented reality) feature of the game works. You basically see a Pokémon moving in front of you on the screen of your phone whilst the background is the real environment. Needless to say, I almost dropped the phone in my excitement but got a hold of myself. I proceeded to catch Charmander and continued the rest of the walkthrough.
Once done, I now had Pokemon GO running flawlessly on my phone and a world of opportunities opened up for me. I immediately walked out of my house onto the road in search of Pokemon and was rewarded by a Rattata and a Weedle. True enough these are weak Pokemon to start off with, but hey, this was me pretty much reliving my childhood. I managed to catch around 14 rattatas and an equal amount of weedles on that first day.
The next day would be the day that changed everything as it was a working day. Following my usual routine I got into the bus and was listening to music and the urge to play Pokémon GO hit me. So I did what any red-blooded Pokémon enthusiast would do. Throwing caution to the wind (much like trainers throw poke balls), I launched the app. From Dehiwala to Bambalapitiya, I caught no less than 12 Pokémon and reached level 2. That was it: I was hooked onto this game.
I entered my workplace to find my boss and two of my workmates engrossed in their mobile phones. Nervous that I had missed a meeting or task, I immediately looked at my agenda only to find it empty. It was then that I realized that they too were playing Pokémon GO. I breathed a sigh of relief and hopped in with them.
It turns out that Majestic City has two adjoining Poke-stops and these give you poke balls, revives, potions and the occasional egg every 10 minutes or so. It is also a spawn point for numerous Pokémon and we spent the day being on the lookout for Pokémon and also constantly charging our phones as we realized that the game eats more battery than a starving Snorlax.
The legendary teams appear
The next two days were spent fine tuning the art of catching Pokémon and reading tips on what Pokémon to catch and how to level them up and so on and so forth. By this time, a number of Facebook groups had been created and most people had reached level 5 and were choosing one of the three teams which are Instinct, Valor or Mystic.
I, myself, being a Zapdos lover wasted no time in joining the Yellow team of instinct while my cousin who also happens to be one of my best friends went over to the red flames of Team Valor. Apart from Facebook, there was also a WhatsApp group created and we would show off our Pokémon or decide where to go to catch Pokémon etc.
Things began to get a little competitive as the 3 teams were trying to see who could outdo the other. Me, being the peaceful type, took no part in these feuds but rather decided to devote my time to improve my Pokedex and increase my levels.
The battles we fought and adventures we went on
Travelling in the bus was now a whole new experience as I would find Pokémon all over the bus and catch them, amidst curious glances of the people around me, including the elderly gentleman next to me who seemed genuinely perplexed on how I was seeing something on a phone that wasn’t visible in real life.
Catching Pokémon with the AR mode on does have its quirks and awkward moments especially when a group of people get into a bus and are seated in front of you and next to you and the Pokémon decides to appear on the shoulder of the person sitting in front of me while her friend is looking at my phone. Explaining that I was trying to catch a Pokémon only resulted in a rather confused deer-in-the-headlights look and a “smh” moment.
My nights took a different turn. Rather than head home after a tiring day of work, I found myself and a few others making regular visits to places such as Independence Square and Viharamaha Devi Park, all with the hopes of catching rare Pokemon. And the plan actually worked. It was also pretty nice to see how people who are complete strangers come together and work as a team to take down a Pokemon gym for example or use one of their lure modules on a poke stop so that all players at that location can have access to Pokemon to get lured there.
It was a night like this that also made us do something that at the time sounded completely crazy but actually worked out. A mutual friend of me and my cousin sent us a screenshot of a Dratini (a rather rare dragon type Pokemon) that he had caught. Further inspection into the matter revealed that the Pokemon was sighted in the Battaramulla area and appeared extremely randomly.
The friend in question here had stood outside Waters Edge and the adjacent Diyawanna Oya from 7.30PM to 9.07PM to wait for Dratini’s appearance. While we were drooling over his catch, we jokingly told each other that we should go to Battaramulla. A few seconds of silence followed and the next thing we know, we hailed and Uber and literally went all the way from Viharamaha Devi Park to Water’s Edge, Battaramulla.
With feelings of trepidation, we made our way across to Diyatha Uyana and then began our hunt for the elusive Dratini. It took us about 15 painstaking minutes to triangulate its position and we encountered Dratini. We literally sat down right there in the middle of the park, our pulses racing and hearts beating wildly as we attempted to catch this magnificent creature who by the looks of it was at a reasonably high level given it’s a stage one Pokémon. The battle was intense but in the end, we emerged victorious. Not only had we travelled around 6km in the dead of the night, but we also were now the proud owners of a Dratini.
Gym battles also took on a whole new level of ferocity as we were among the few whose trainer level was higher thus giving us access to higher CP (combat points) Pokémon and also giving us the ability to raise the CP of our existing Pokémon as well. My friends and I were taking on Pokémon gyms stacked with 3-4 with my Flareon which was around 941CP and their Pokemon which were around the 400-500CP level.
Pokemon GO today and tomorrow
It is now day 9 since Pokemon GO was launched. According to the app, I have walked close to 40km. My trusty phone has died on me and been resurrected a good 15 times since that day. I have invested in a power bank and a power bank for my power bank.
There are two Pokémon gyms near my house which I capture each day only to have it taken over by another team and the cycle repeats itself. My mum regularly checks up on me and asks how many Pokémon I’ve caught. My life on social media is practically nonexistent except for when I check the Pokémon GO Sri Lanka page for updates on where new Pokémon spawn. Oh well, that’s the life of a Pokemon trainer, I guess.
It’s clear to me now why Pokemon GO is now considered to be Nintendo’s biggest hit in years. The tale you just read is just my adventure so far on the journey to becoming a Pokemon master. However, this tale is just one of many being told across the world. There’s much more out there that are even crazier.
In South Korea, trainers are flocking to a single city because it’s the only place in the country where they can play it. In the US, there’s a fierce battle raging on to find the most patriotic Pokemon of them all, to control the White house. Heck, there’s even trainers who will go as far as kayaking into the ocean to capture a gym. But the greatest stories we’ve heard so far is that Pokemon GO is helping people fight mental illnesses such as depression and PTSD.
#PokemonGo has already been a better treatment for my depression than anything my doctor prescribed or therapist recommended
— Jesseanne Pope (@gleefullyhello) July 11, 2016
With stories like this, it’s no surprise that only one day after launching, Pokemon GO surpassed Tinder. As the week progressed, it saw 21 million daily active users in the US alone. In other words, people play Pokemon GO more than they use Twitter!
But there’s no sign of this growth stopping. At this rate, Pokemon GO could easily surpass Snapchat and even Google Maps! And the game has still not officially available across the world! Take that fact into account and these numbers are mindblowing. Needless to say, Pokemon GO is the biggest mobile game in history to date.
Where Pokemon GO will go from here is still a mystery to us. But for now its new Pokemon and new adventures waiting for just ahead. All because we want to be the very best like no one ever was and I gotta catch ‘em all.
Pikachu! I choose you!