Who says that today’s young adults only communicate through their smart phones? On a recent Sunday afternoon, thousands of Millennials got to know one another in person while enjoying what may have been the country’s largest Pokémon Go Meetup in Millennium Park.
It began at 2 p.m. on July 17, when a legion of enthusiasts transformed the area near the Bean into a temporary Pokémon Go community. As a series of impromptu break dances broke out among the crowd, they held spontaneous rallies for the individual Pokémon teams — Instinct, Mystic, and Valor —while small groups pealed away to play the game.
Viewing an augmented digital version of the real world through the screens of their smart phones, the individual competitors — known as “trainers” in Pokélingo — searched for the animated monsters that the application pops in their paths.
With names like Charmeleon, Squirtle, and Butterfree, the monsters are, literally, the Pokémon. Named after the words “pocket” and “monsters,” the animated insect-like creatures can be subdued and apprehended with the Poké Balls that are controlled by the players’ thumbs. Besides adding points to players’ scores, the monsters are also stored for later team competition in the Poké gyms.
Unfortunately, none of that really happened because Nintendo’s servers were down for most of the afternoon. But the glitch did not appear to diminish anyone’s enthusiasm for playing the game or enjoying the park.
“People just download it and get together and play,” said Derrick, a UIC grad student studying bio statistics. “You know, it’s free.”
Derrick got into the game as a kid with a Pokémon Red — a Game Boy cartridge released in the United States in 1998 — and has “played ever since.” He came to the meetup with his friend Scott Chau, who has achieved an impressive Pokémon level 27 by accepting and embracing his Pokémon obsession.
Derrick and Scott Chau
“Just no-life this game,” he jokes. “Pretend you don’t have any real word responsibilities and devote your life to, like, a phone app.”
In truth, Mr. Chau is an interviewer with Dev Bootcamp, a professional school that trains people in web development. He also launched and dominated the breakdancing spectacle. His introduction to Pokémon came through the trading cards that he collected in grade school. “Everyone had a holographic Charizard,” he remembers.
He caught the majority of his monsters by “sitting in a park for, like, six hours in a row,” in downtown Libertyville. “A billion Pokémon show up,” he said. He increased the effectiveness of his trainer and his Pokémon with Lucky Eggs to help make it happen.
Lucky Eggs double the amount of experience points (aka “XP”) rewarded to the trainer for a 30-minute duration. This helps the process of evolving to higher levels. They are one of the extras that can be purchased with Pokécoins, a virtual currency that trainers earn for free while playing the game or acquire with real money by buying them through the app.
A bundle of 100 Pokécoins goes for 99 cents. 14,500 cost $99.99. According to a recent Forbes article, Pokémon Go earns $1.6 million every day from the US alone.
Susan Densa, an Art Director at CareerBuilder, earns her Pokécoins exclusively by playing the game.
Tony Valdivieso and Susan Densa
She works across the street from a PokéStop, a digital location near a physical landmark where the gettin’s good. But on one day, when a menacing turtle with built-in water canons called the Blastoise 1450 was drawn to the stop by a Lure Module, which attracts Pokémon, her performance suffered from circumstances beyond her control.
“I used up like all my Poké Balls and then the game froze and I lost it,” she says.
Although a similar snafu occurred Sunday afternoon, she nevertheless enjoyed the occasion with coworker Tony Valdivieso, a Social Media Manager who suspects that the game satisfies more than an urge for recreation.
“It definitely appeals to, like, the OCD / collector kind of anal-retentive element of my personality,” he says. “I just can’t stop.”
Like Ms. Densa, he has been looking forward to the augmented reality of Pokémon Go since he began playing the traditional version in grade school.
“You always had that idea in the back of your mind of, like, what happens when you’re in the game,” he says. “What happens when you walk and a character walks, when your, like, movements control a character’s movements.”
“You are playing in real time,” Ms. Densa adds. “There are different Pokémon in different areas of the city. Like, the water type Pokémon are by the water. The technology is amazing.”
CJ “Kai” and Cahron “Cam” Cross
Millennium Park’s Pokémon population tempted half-brothers CJ “Kai” and Cahron “Cam” Cross — who were separated at the age of six and reunited more than a decade later — to journey from Chicago’s south suburbs and hunt for pocket monsters in the park.
“The city has a lot of Pokeymon and I’m able to level up pretty fast,” said CJ. “The best spot would probably be by the Bean because they put a lot of Lure Modules there.”
The brothers also enjoyed the meetup because it offered a break from their professional responsibilities as the singer / songwriter duo KaiXCam.
But for Chanel Ro, a private wealth banker, the event reminded her of downtime at the office. “The cubicle I sit in is actually right by a Pokeystop,” she says. “There’s constantly Pokémon coming up, even while I’m working.” But, she is quick to add, “I still get all my work done.”
Chanel Ro and David
She and her friend David were among the players who wore costumes to the meetup. “We literally go on night walks, sometimes for, like, four hours, catching Pokeymon,” she said.
“A lot on Michigan Avenue,” David added.
Chanel laughed. “We actually walked into the middle of traffic yesterday.”
“I wasn’t even playing,” explained David. “They were the ones playing and I was the one that was supposed to guide them and I led them into a car.”
As of press time, no injuries related to the Millennium Park Pokémon Meetup have been reported.