Walking Away From Pokémon Go

For the first time in what might actually be years, I logged into Pokémon Go. Once I updated the app, remembered my password, and waited several minutes for it finish loading up on a phone that wasn’t new four years ago when I got it to play Pokémon Go (my previous phone overheated and died within an hour of starting the app which made it intolerable for the special events), I was in. Before I could do more than register that the app had forgotten my preferences for zero volume and no vibration, I was inundated in notifications, pop-ups, and notifications that there were activities to explore that didn’t exist the last time I opened the app. It was a truly harrowing five minutes as I felt like my phone was going to melt through its case because the game was demanding so much from my poor “old” phone, but eventually I cleared everything and the app settled down enough for me to look through the many Pokémon I had collected in a surprisingly bittersweet stroll down memory lane.

That summer of 2016 was the last time I really felt hope for the future without needing to force myself. It was such a strange phenomenom, to see people all over unite to play a dumb phone game that never worked super well (they never managed to fix the “nearby Pokémon” feature), but it felt amazing to see people walking around and know that they were doing the same thing you were. To be able to walk up to a random group of people standing around and start making small talk because we knew we had one thing in common. The wonder eventually faded, but it took months. For an entire summer and part of the fall, we stayed united in this. This sense of connection and unity was broken (for me) by the divisions of politics in the United States, and that gulf has only widened since, as it has grown to contain human rights issues and the basic thought that we should care about the well-being of those around us even a little bit.

It hasn’t even been six years since then, but it already feels like it was generations ago. Maybe it’s my own warped sense of time or the collective trauma we’ve experienced thanks to the pandemic and… well, everything else, but it feels like it happened so long ago that nothing like it could ever happen again. I know that nothing really changed, that recent years and their events have only highlighted the divides between us all that were there even back then (as evidenced by the results of the 2016 US Presidential Election), but it is difficult not to mythologize that one amazing summer of connection and united passion for catching Pokémon.

I didn’t do much, once my phone had finished cooling down and my stroll through the past was finished. I wasn’t there to reconnect with the past or to support my current walking habit. I was there to take my entire collection of Pokémon and move them to a different service. Pokémon Home allows you to collect Pokémon from any game or app, though it sometimes requires a few steps to get there for the older ones, even if sometimes you can’t get them off the service after that. I’ve been using it to build a complete Pokémon as games come out and I’ve been putting off the tiring, slow labor of transferring all several hundred Pokémon from Pokémon Go. You can only move so many at a time, you see, and the number goes WAY down if the Pokémon you’re moving is a rare event Pokémon or a shiny Pokémon.

I should have started right when the feature became available, given that the only way to transfer more Pokémon is to wait or pay to recharge the transfer mechanic, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I treasure those memories of 2016, and even the ones from later years when I was still playing with my friends. Less connected to the world around me, sure, but it was still fun to walk around and chat with my friends while we played. Saying goodbye to something I spent this much time on, made so many important memories alongside, wasn’t ever going to be easy and doing it at a time when I have so little unbridled joy in my life always felt a little too punishing.

In some respects, I was right. I’ve been feeling a lingering trace of grief that has become all too familiar these past few years. I’ve moved on from so much that used to be an important part of my life. Even if that has always been the right call, even if it has been the difficult but healthy thing to do, it is still difficult to leave something behind I poured so much time, energy, and emotion into. It was time to start the process of letting go and moving on. I’ll always have the happy memories and they’ll only shine brighter amongst the difficult or bad ones as the years pass.

Even though I really wish I could say that I was going to say goodbye to Pokémon Go entirely and completely, there will still be weeks, months, and maybe even years of moments when I have to reopen the app, transfer a few Pokémon, and the wait another few days before I can do it again. It will take a while to finally, truly leave it behind in a way that allows me to bring the parts I enjoyed and can still enjoy, into the future with me. So I guess this is a long, slow goodbye of fading relevance as I leave Pokémon Go behind. And the same for everything else this post is a metaphor for.

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