Pokemon Go has become a national and international phenomenon. It has brought hard core, old school fans, and newbie explorers alike to the forefront, building up community while strengthening connections. There’s no arguing that the hoards of players crisscrossing the globe are… Enthusiastic to say the least.
But what about Pokemon Go makes it so special for so many people? Is it really just the chance to chase after these little creatures that pop up on your screen, the documented thrill to your nervous system and brain as the app awards even the smallest of victories? Now I know my own connection with Pokemon itself goes way back to when I was a kid and not allowed to play the games that my older siblings lorded over my head – so my original connection with these lovable beasties? Practically nonexistent (though who doesn’t like Team Rocket). While I’m sure a lot of people have different reasons (examples ranging from ‘oh God I just love Pokemon!’ to ‘I want to have legs like the freaking Hulk’) for enjoying the game I want to share mine: Never before have I felt so connected to a community.
Yes, this includes the LGBTQ community, one that I should arguably be more connected with than most people (being transgender/queer identifying as well as having the queer community make up most of my work and life). Admittedly I’d love to be more connected with that community, too, but moving from the desolate mountains of Montana to the culturally inept innards of small town Indiana hasn’t made this likely. Even after being in Indiana for nearly half a year I have barely managed to meet or talk to anyone – here, if you can’t drink or aren’t in school, there aren’t any activities to occupy your time with.
Then Pokemon Go happened and suddenly the normally abandoned streets of downtown are PACKED with people. And not just any people – bonafide geeks, flashing their Doctor Who tats and colored hair with pride. One woman I met on my first night out there – I complimented her Pokemon related tattoo, since I love complimenting strangers and making other people happy, and we struck up a conversation. Funny enough, I mentioned I was a writer and she was too! Not only that but one of her best friends writes for Queer Voices on Huffington Post, just like me. Jackpot! Already I had been thrown into a much more culturally diverse and aware group of people.
Why are nerds that way, and especially Pokemon fans? Who knows. Maybe it’s because they’re already on the outskirts of what is typical for the population (having pursued nerdy things since they were young) or it could just be that truly geek geared things are too good for people who AREN’T open minded to fully appreciate them. Maybe it also has something with the banned episodes of Team Rocket and cross dressing, or that the show and game preach incessantly to be kind to everyone, no matter who or what they are. Either way when you get a bunch of us together, you’ve got yourself one big boat of happiness and shared interests, that we just can’t contain – and don’t want to!
The hope that I would find that boat was why I even downloaded the app, not gonna lie, because ever since its release I’ve been hearing from friends all over the country and seeing all over social media how easily it brings people together. I wanted a piece of that, wanted to be a part of something great. Even more surprising? I spent all this time looking for a queer community I could easily access only for it to suddenly be right on my doorstep thanks to Pokemon Go.
Even if not all the people I run into that play are queer themselves, I have a 95% shot that they know someone who is or are at least an ally and supporter. That’s HUGE compared to the otherwise sky high rates of harassment and ignorance faced by the queer community (especially in rural areas). And not only are they accepting but they, like me, are actively searching out other people with the same ideals and “lifestyles” (a funny word to use these days, when looking at the still looming negative implication of it), wanting to actively love and be loved, while offering and seeking acceptance in turn.
Thanks to this and the opportunity for people to finally get out of their homes and explore their communities, Pokemon Go has evolved into something so much bigger than I think anyone thought it would be – it’s a new type of cultural cuisine that people are still sampling, tweaking, and making their own.
Where will it go from here? I think many people can guess but no one can know – all I know is that it has already helped me better connect with people locally and my friend group, once a bit dehydrated and left to collect dust too long, is finally starting to expand again. Everyone, whether you’re gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, transgender, cisgender, or anything and everything sprinkled under the queer and allied umbrellas alike, want to have the ability to connect with people. We all want friends and people that care about us. Ultimately it’s part of the human condition to spend a lifetime seeking those people out and holding on for dear life to every flicker of a connection.
People are beautiful, vibrant, complicated, and messy. When all those gorgeous disasters are hiding behind closed doors, though, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important – and when we ourselves spend more time on our computers than exploring our community, we can lost track of being our own hella awesome selves. It’s no less true in the queer community and something that genuinely surprised me when I started going out with my Pokemon Go leading the way. I’d forgotten what it was like to be out in the open and not feel nervous.
Now normally I can be as jittery as a newborn lamb or as confident as a strutting gazelle – all dependent on where I’m going, who I will be surrounded by, and how many dirty looks I’m liable to garner if I combine my well trimmed beard with a splash of lipstick and cozy leggings. But when I’m surrounded by the crowd of nerds brought out of their hidey holes to embark on a new Pokemon catching adventure, I don’t feel like I have to be confident or afraid. I just feel… Like Bentley, the International Superstar!
I’m kidding (or am I…) but the point still stands. This game isn’t just a game for most of us. From the smartphone obsessed all the way down to the occasional app opener swept up in the torrents of pop culture, Pokemon Go has become almost as queer friendly as premieres of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ or, really, the very ‘Give a Damn Campaign’ itself that you’re getting this story from!
So go out, enjoy the hoards of nerds you come across and who knows, maybe you’ll also be surprised by the people you meet along the way.