Free-Range Kids

#PokeLives Matter

PokemonGo isn't making people less safe. It's bringing people together.


Dean Hanson/Albuquerque Journal

The white cop/African American male stories that make it to the news are usually awful. And then there's this one, that I reported in today's New York Post:

Aaron Burrell and his three friends took the N train to its last stop in Brooklyn Tuesdaynight.

It was 3 a.m., and they were playing the game that is sweeping the country, Pokémon Go. They roamed the streets in a growing group of about 20 African Americans, whites and Mexicans, almost all male, almost all in their 20s and 30s.

And then a black, unmarked car pulled up.

The window rolled down to reveal four shiny badges on four Caucasian cops. The driver looked at Burrell — a 26-year-old Harlem resident who recently lost his job at Dollar Tree — and informed him, "There's a Pikachu two blocks up near the school."

A Pikachu!

The group thanked the cops and went running off to find it.

I spent Tuesday chasing Pokémon and meeting more people beyond my boring demographic than I would at a rave. While the warning class keeps coming up with the terrible ways predators with Pokemon can lure kiddies to their doom, I found that:

…even odder than this outrageously popular game is the way it is knitting the city, and maybe humanity, back together. That's because you walk around swapping sightings of non-existent creatures with people with whom you have non-existent relationships — strangers.

The game brought me and a gaggle of other folks together. We were all standing on the same corner a few blocks south of Union Square, drawn there by a virtual "gym." …

For the rest of Tuesday I drifted through the city, capturing Pokémon and striking up conversations with friends and strangers as easily as if the Yankees were in the World Series. "You have to spin this part," someone would explain. "Should I trade this guy in?" someone else would ask.

Fact is, this game is getting everyone out of the house and starting conversations we'd never had.

Some of the strangers strike up friendships, or even partnerships. One guy I met sells beauty products and he'd met someone else who does this online. They might work together. Another guy told me about a long conversation he'd had with someone who seemed to be on the Autism spectrum. With something they both loved to talk about, they did. 

And then about 11 at night I was on a subway talking to a friend about the game and another guy joined in:

Robert Williams, 28, a tech worker I started chatting with, told me he'd stumbled on a group of young people in Soho at 2 a.m., and joined them in a Pokémon hunt. "The interaction was amazing. Indescribable, really."

I asked him to describe it anyway.

"Me and my friends, we were very riled up and angry about everything going on in the media, the violence," said Williams, who is African American. "But then that stopped the moment this came out."

Just like Burrell, Williams found himself spontaneously playing the game with a couple of cops. "Something as innocent as this allows everyone to connect," he said.

The stories in the media are about the worst of everything: Worst crimes, worst hate, worst potential crimes, even, when no child has actually been harmed in the making of this phenom.  

What you don't hear about is how easy it is to change the narrative when people start playing. It sounds just too simple. But maybe it is simple.