Pokemon Go: What’s Going On?

In recent weeks, we have witnessed a phenomenon known as Pokemon Go, an augmented-reality game for iOS and Android devices. The game allows players to capture, train and pit Pokemon against each other in combat, using the actual physical environment as the playing field.

It should go without saying that, to someone not actually involved in the game, witnessing it unfold is a mildly surreal experience. While you go about your ordinary day-to-day life, your friends and neighbors, family and community members are running around in pursuit of virtual Pokemon that only they can see.

The game has become an obsession for people of a certain age demographic, which happens to be, roughly, ages five to 30. It has an unsettling way of intruding into the physical world.

On a recent trip to the grocery store, my roommate — who, I suspect, only came along to catch rare Pokemon in the produce section — spent most of the time running between aisles with her phone trying to kidnap and enslave virtual beings that were invisible to everyone but her. She announced triumphantly near the entrance that she had successfully caught a Starmie.

I congratulated her on her good fortune. Before reaching the car she managed to get a hold of a Krabby and a Staryu. Apparently they live in this environment. Overall it was a successful trip.

The sudden appearance of Pokemon in our physical environment raises some unsettling questions. Have there always been Pokemon living among us and we simply did not have the technology to detect them until now? Or is this a recent infestation?

While scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed, I came across the following status update from a friend: “Look, the Squirtle was IN. THE. HOUSE. Who knows what sort of rabble he was rousing.” She seemed genuinely terrified. Have Squirtles always inhabited her house? Or have they come to us via the game?

It also begs the question: What is the difference between a Pokemon, in this context, and an actual haunting? These questions were not answered in any of the Pokemon literature I came across, but it is well documented that these Pokemon cannot be seen or touched by humans, and yet they live in our communities and can interact with us through the right channels.

Ghosts behave in much the same way. Have the Pokemon always resided on a separate plane of existence? Have they recently arrived? How do we know?

To further explore the Pokemon/undead spirit connection, consider this: Late last week a news story surfaced of Shayla Wiggins, a teenager in rural Wyoming who discovered a dead body in the river near her home while searching for Pokemon. “I was just trying to find a water Pokemon,” she explained to CNN.

Somehow the game led her directly to a corpse, where she likely had to confront her own mortality instead of the water Pokemon she was searching for. Was she led there by the spirit of the dead man in the form of a Pokemon? Was this just a coincidence? How can we be sure? The article does not mention if she actually found a water Pokemon near the decaying corpse. Perhaps that was never the purpose of her being led there in the first place.

Thankfully, no corpses were discovered among the produce at New Seasons. However, I would caution readers against looking for Pokemon in riverbeds, shallow graves, mausoleums or any other places that dead bodies tend to accumulate.