The original article can be found on my blog here.
Pokémon GO is great! This game has millions of gamers and counting from around the world investing their time and battery life into catching Pokémon. This augmented reality game has created a mass movement of exploration and collaboration amongst a community stereotyped as anti-social, non-active basement dwellers. I cannot remember the last time I went outside to walk around and actually felt a sense of discovery.
I decided to start my adventure at a park with a friend who lives nearby. Her and I walked around for about 30 minutes in 90-degree weather to capture Pokémon, and do battle because the park was also a gym (a virtual arena for Pokémon battling).
As we were hard at work becoming Pokémon masters there was a young woman, college-aged, sitting on a bench. Eventually, she walked over and asked my friend and I, “Are you guys playing Pokémon GO?” After responding yes, I took a moment to reflect on what just happened.
Isn’t weird to ask a random person what they’re doing on their phone? I followed up by asking the woman, “What level are you?” I do not remember what she said, but she was at a good level with some strong Pokémon.
My friend and I continued walking and headed towards our local university to see what Pokémon were lurking on school grounds. We stayed on campus for about 40 minutes nabbing Pokémon while noticing the many groups of students closely watching their screens and praying to catch something good. It was an amazing sight to see.
Let’s fast forward a couple days later.
I decided to grab a smoothie before I headed to my friend’s place again. With smoothie in hand, I hopped on my bike and started my trip back. As I was biking, I passed a police officer who turned out of the parking lot from the campus police station.
No words or eye contact were exchanged between the police officer and I, however this overwhelming sense of fear and disgust loomed over me. I slowed my bike down because I noticed I had been staring at the police officer for at least 5 seconds. To be clear, I have nothing against that particular officer. But the institution that he is apart of is what stunned me.
On July 6, 2016, I heard about the tragic death of Alton Sterling due to police brutality. I shook my head in disappointment, but went about my day as usual.
As my mother drove me to work the next, I heard about the death of Philando Castile on the radio. That is when I mentally checked out from reality. My mother was explaining how she felt, but I was not listening. I wasn’t listening because my heart hurt to much. I wasn’t listening because I felt no one was listening to those you are calling for an end to this kind of injustice and disregard for human life. I wasn’t listening, but I was enveloped in fear and disgust.
I have a Scrabble-like game on my phone which I use to get my brain jump-started in the morning. However, it was different this time. Way different. The game was no longer a tool to enhance my vocabulary and response time, but a filter to channel my anger, my fear, and to hold back my tears especially, since my mother was right next to me.
On July 6, 2016, Pokémon GO was released in the U.S.
Pokémon GO was also released in a reality that does not deserve it and/or can handle it responsibly. From the time of this post, there was the horrendous Dallas police shooting, people robbing Pokémon GO players, and many accidents happening due to people’s impulse to pay more attention to the game then the road.
Pokémon GO is widely accessible, and still being released in other territories, but who has the privilege to play it without worrying about anything?
I am a 22-year-old black male, a recent graduate from a well-known institution, and heading to graduate school to become a Doctor of Philosophy in Informatics studying videogame culture. However, none of that matters because my skin color is all the information a racist officer needs to interrogate me. That is all the background an officer needs to ensure that my day is ruined and life feels threaten in the midst of their power.
Pokémon GO is all about exploring your environment and hopefully leveling up with friends. It’s just too bad that I cannot explore my environment in a comfortable state due my blackness.
It feels miserable to spend more time wondering where law enforcement are rather than focusing on where a Paras, an Oddish, or Venonant are located.
Black Pokémon GO players are playing two games at once; the augmented reality game of capturing virtual creatures and the physical reality of the pressure to look non-suspicious and non-threatening. The game of chance of catching a rare Pokémon and the game of life of not getting arrested and/or killed because of America’s racial bias towards black bodies.
As the days go on and as I do my best to catch them all, I have to be even more aware of my surroundings. I have to be cognizant of the fact that I am not seen as a student or a gamer first, but a criminal.
I will still go out and strive for excellence in every sense of the word, but I must be aware that everyday outside could be my last. That a traffic stop could be my final stop. Pokémon GO is a privilege for many, but a risk for some.
I wonder, is spending hours in virtual spaces hindering my life, or ensuring that I can see another day?