Pokémon Go’s popularity has surpassed Twitter’s, with more users now playing the game than tweeting. For the last few weeks its stories seem to have been everywhere. Whether causing a stampede in search of a mythical Vaporeon, being politely asked to stop playing in the Washington Holocaust Museum, or risking life and limb in the search to catch ’em all close to the world’s most heavily militarized border, Pokémon players (or trainers, as they’re known) have been filling the headlines.
Despite Pokémon Go not having been officially released in Mexico, there are still many thousands of trainers. So to find out more, we armed ourselves with a few Pokéballs and teamed up with a Mexico City local who has been busy building his name as a trainer.
We met “CoolChad” (his Pokémon trainer moniker, not his real name) at Parque México, in the Condesa neighborhood. This is a dry area, in the midst of a built-up city, so we’d only be able to catch Pokémon who like to live in Rock and Ground type environments, I was informed. But as a triple Pokéstop, it was still a good place to set a “lure” — a trap that attracts Pokémon to your location — and you can often find over 20 trainers playing here during their lunch breaks.
“All Pokémon are geographically specific. You find different Pokémon in different areas,” CoolChad told me. “Here there are mainly Geodudes and Sandshrews. Over in Bosques de Chapultepec you’ll find more water dwellers on account of the lakes there. There are some that exist here in Mexico that don’t exist anywhere else. Australia is the only place where Kangaskhan are found.”
So how is Pokémon Go so readily available and popular, despite it not yet being released? There are various ways to circumvent security, none of which are difficult to find out. CoolChad’s mobile is registered to the United States, so there’s no problem for him.
And clearly not for others, judging by the many — mainly young, mainly men — hanging around the area after CoolChad had set a “lure.” While some were unabashedly scanning the area for a Diglett or Groundon, others were making more of an effort to go unnoticed. Their attempts matter little to someone in the know. “You can always tell who’s playing because they swipe upwards on their mobiles. They’re throwing a Pokéball out,” CoolChad said.
Though in the park the majority of players looked to be male teenagers, this doesn’t represent the diversity of Pokémon trainers worldwide. According to StartApp, a company that tracked more than 600 million Pokémon Go downloads, over 40 percent of trainers are over 25. This can be explained in part by nostalgia; the original Pokémon game was released in the mid-90s, so this age group probably played the first time around.
But diversity is purposely built into Pokémon Go. Nintendo was praised for allowing players to choose their character’s “style,” rather than the usual choice between the gender normative, binary male and female roles. This decision came after a series of online petitions that asked “Pokémon themselves have three genders (male, female, and genderless): so why can’t trainers?”
This is not the only positive thing to come out Pokémon Go. People who wouldn’t usually exercise now say they walk a lot more due to playing, and new friendships are forged when individual players group to attack opposing teams’ Pokégyms. (CoolChad is a member of the minority Instinct team, the other others being Mystic and Valor.)
However, Pokémon Go has had well publicized downsides. A young boy found a dead body when playing, and there have been recent reports that the in-game “lures” are being used to attract other players, rather than Pokémon, to be robbed.
Clearly, the affects haven’t all been positive. But as CoolChad said, “People in Mexico already use public spaces, but in the States the game is forcing people to actually leave their homes. There’s a feeling of camaraderie.”
And for the hotspots in Mexico City? You’ll find Pokémon just about anywhere, but according to CoolChad, the best places for catching Pokémon are on the main streets of the city or the major landmarks like the Angel of Independence. He also said that outside Pizza del Perro Negro in Roma Norte, there was a level nine Pokégym. By all accounts, that’s impressive.