How I Caught ‘Em All: Pokémon Go and the Next Generation

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Brown’s Island, Richmond, VA

Beneath the shade of a leafy Dogwood tree, a quiet group of hunched figures steadies themselves on veiny roots or reclines against the wood panels of a nearby gazebo. It’s a brutally hot afternoon on Brown’s Island in Richmond, Va. A few newcomers take the hint, nestling in whatever space remains unoccupied. Nothing about these people seems outwardly similar, until each pulls out a cellphone, and prepares for the hunt.

They are just some of the millions of Pokémon Go users. I am one of them. The profile screen of my character, Chips4Spells, indicates that I started playing exactly one month ago. Some began to condemn the thing a few days later. But as I recently discovered, to play PoGo is to explore the forgotten and understand the generation who embraces it.

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Randy and I.
While playing PoGo, I learned that it was his first day in Richmond.

At the nearest rest stop, after pulling off Interstate 64, I wonder if there’s a Poke Stop here and decide to check my phone. Sure enough there is. I collect a couple Poke Balls and a Razz Berry from a state billboard showing all the highways and roads. As I walk back to the car, I hear someone shouting my name. I look up to see the wide-grinning, charismatic face of Stacey Evans, my former college instructor. “Small world!” she exclaims. I explain that I’m heading to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to meet someone and also hope to catch better Pokémon than what I’d found here. And while I’d planned on seeing a couple new exhibitions while there, I never do.  Yet, the random encounter seemed to be the first of many about to come.

Even the most visible places have a tendency to be overlooked. By utilizing Google Maps, PoGo redirects users to sites of interest once again. Art sculptures hold Poke Stops, neighborhood churches become Gyms for capture, and local business profit from Lures purchased to make the Pokémon bite. But not all places are what they seem.

Several miles north of Charlottesville, Va., I notice someone else at Holly Memorial Gardens [Cemetery] with me. The teen walks then pauses, then starts walking again. It’s just us, so I decide to approach.

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Trying not to be weird in a cemetery.

Joe Carson is 17, a sturdy kid with a bright face and gentle hazel eyes. He’s driven down from the neighboring county for the same thing I am here for: Poke Balls, Revives, Eggs, and stray Pokémon. For those who live in the rural countryside, this place is the best spot. We accompany each other to a few nearby statues with names like, “The Lord’s Prayer,” “The Praying Hands,” and “The Lord Watches Over You” and load up.

Suddenly, I hear the soft purring of an engine and see a black hatchback coming around the corner. It pulls to the side of the road and the door swings open. A short haired girl wearing cargo shorts and a baseball cap backwards steps out, staring at her phone too. It’s all too obvious now. Kay Baker is also from Greene County, but drives past here to work at JoAnn’s. Today is her day off. I find out that she’s only been playing a few days before me, but already she outranks me and comments that she’s joined the local Pokémon Go group on Facebook. There’s some technical stuff I still don’t quite understand and she fills me in on all the newest details.

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Next to one stop, I noticed the grave of an upperclassman who was killed in a car crash. I often visited this spot both on the anniversary of her life and death while playing PoGO.

I ask them if they think a cemetery is a weird place for this. “Nah,” Kay quickly replies. “You just have to be respectful about it.” It’s hard for me not to wonder with the white sandstone Jesus  glaring at us. “Well, I’m going to walk around some more,” says Joe, and we all decide to go our respective ways. But before I leave, I stop by the keeper’s office and inform her about why so many young people seem to be visiting a resting place for the otherwise old. “Yeah, I have the app too,” she laughs, acutely aware of the reason. She comments that visitors are welcome and hands me a packet that says, PERSONAL PLANNING GUIDE. “It’s never too early,” she adds. I shrug and then head for the car. Scanning the epitaph-filled lawnscape one last time, I notice two women and a young girl bending over the ground, their soft sobs within earshot. Later, I found out that their sister and mother had been killed in a car accident the week prior. Kay was right: respect your surroundings.

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An early morning hunt.

I left that place not only carrying Potions and Lucky Eggs in my digital Poké bag, but with the added knowledge to be more observant. So, from still mornings on nature trails to late night PoGo-themed bar crawls, I discovered a new perspective of exploring. I even started coming to work thirty minutes early with the added prospect of finding rare types of Pokémon across the street. But as interesting as these new places could be, it was the people, like me, who made the journey more fulfilling.

Peace looks like this: On a warm Saturday afternoon, next to the rapidly flowing and shimmering James River, people have gathered on the pebbled walkways of Brown’s Island to play.

On a hillside, some sit cross-legged and chat about the latest ‘Where To’ and ‘Where Not’. I overhear one couple who seems to be carrying the conversation. They’re both young but their casual posture and frizzled brown hair makes them appear tired.

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Brittany & Chris.

For the past two weeks, Brittany and Chris have spent much of their free time catching Pokémon. Both have full time jobs and evenings are the only chance they get to play. “It gets us out [and] doing something, even though we spend time together at home,” says Brittany with a flick of her cigarette. “That was the good thing that came out of it.” But it actually isn’t. While the PoGo app counts her steps to hatch a 5 km Egg, she also keep a second charity app open that does the same for a benefit or cause. She’s been telling other users about it during her outings. “Might as well,” she laughs.

As other critters begin to spawn, we decide to move on and I thank them. Sweat begins to dampen the headband of my Stetson and I decide to go inside. I stop in the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar Iron Works. They’re about to shoot-off the replica cannon for the daily show, so fortunately no one is around when I attempt to interview the Visitor Services rep. She’s reluctant to chat at first, but then agrees.

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Liz.

Liz Ale is a longtime employee of the museum, a sharp-dressed chick with a Sunbeam cut that fades down the sides. She finally catches a break and we escape to the quiet break room. “Usually I would be reading Science News or doing nothing to fill up the time,” she explains. “But with this, I can do something I enjoy in the down time.” Of course, on a busy day like today, that’s not possible at all. She prefers to play alone and unhindered by the company of other players. But she points out a rewarding moment a few days ago when she helped someone locate a rare Eggexcutor in nearby Monroe Park. “I was able to show him where it was, then he showed more people, and they were all like, running toward it,” she eagerly reports. “That was pretty cool.” She’s a real gamer though. And from the way she weighs the pros and cons of PoGo, it’s obvious that she believes mobile gaming will change the way users interact.

Preparing to brave the heat once more, I notice on my PoGo radar that someone on my team (Valor) is attacking a nearby Gym and I rush over to help. My strides rattle the uneven wood boards of an iron trestle bridge that spans over the murky canal below. Once across, I look around, attempting to see who the culprit may be, when a voice shouts out, “Come help me attack it!” That is how I meet Andrew.

Peering around the corner, I see him awkwardly curled up in a ball under the shadow of some low hanging ferns, but he’s much too big. I throw out my best Pokies to join him in the fight nonetheless. “Goddamn Snorlax,” I mutter minutes later, after tapping my screen enough that it leaves behind sticky fingerprints and droplets of sweat. Team Mystic still had claim over here. That gives me a little more time to chat anyhow.

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Andrew.

Andrew Arias is a student at VCU, his stubbly face is small, but his sleeveless t-shirt reveals his athletic build. It, ironically enough, says, “Victory is mine.” He works part time in a dental clinic during the week, but now he’s about to meet a friend. It’s not long before we cross over the bridge again and we prepare to leave each other. “Keep fighting for [Team] Valor, man!” he beams, giving me a low-five before going on his way.

It’s strange to see how sincere, yet brief, our moment in time is.

Roosevelts at War (Part 1) – The “Crowded Hour”

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Diving crew of the U.S. Navy inspecting the USS Maine’s forward aft wreckage.
(U.S. Naval Historical Center)

“SPANISH TREACHERY!” announced one headline on Feb. 16, 1898. “DESTRUCTION OF THE WAR SHIP MAINE WAS WORK OF ENEMY,” speculated another. A court of inquiry led by the U.S. Navy to investigate the mighty explosion which had torn apart the USS Maine and sent 262 patriots to their watery graves did little to console the anger many Americans felt. And the posed threat seemed greater than what officials had concluded was a mysterious submerged water mine: the kingdom of Spain.

The Maine disaster was simply the latest heinous act by Spain.[1] For months, citizens had grown agitated with Spanish attempts to control their far reaching colonies and media syndicates like the Hearst-Pulitzer owned New York Journal and World only stoked the fire of nationwide hatred.[2] From showcasing the shocking execution of Cuban teenager turned revolutionary Adolfo Rodriguez to scolding the deplorable conditions of Havana jails, what Americans read from millions of newspapers was that Spanish Rule was evil.

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Theodore Roosevelt, Sr.
(Harvard College Library)

No one hoped to confront the Spanish aggressor more than Theodore Roosevelt. Raised in the shame his father had taken to bribe a substitute in the last remembered Civil War, he sought personal redemption for what seemed to be a family tradition of inactive military service.[3] According to Historian Douglas Brinkley, T.R. spent his entire life, “anxious to prove that cowardice didn’t run in the family’s bloodline.”[4] Self-validation by warfare also reaffirmed Roosevelt’s thoughts about social Darwinism. From the pages of Edmond Demoulin’s Supériorité des Anglo-Saxons (1897) or On the Origins of Species (1859) he concluded that natural selection bred a elite class of homo sapiens. “Through all nature it is a case of survival of the fittest,” Roosevelt stated plainly, referring to nose sizes and wingspans of mosquitoes and enduring old trees as examples.[5] Furthermore, every generation’s heroic few (typically white Anglo-Saxon intellectuals) had a moral responsibility to combat recurring evil and protect the weak.

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39-year old Theodore Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy under John D. Long before the war. His cousin Franklin D. Roosevelt occupied this same office and post in 1913.

Political cartoon showing T.R. checking Europe's attempt to grab the New World, a response that would prove far less casual in actuality.

Political cartoon showing T.R. checking Europe’s attempt to grab the New World, a measure that proved far more costly.

While not a strict purist, Roosevelt believed this philosophy had practical application, especially “to drive the Spaniard from the New World.”[6] He disdained the oppressiveness of European power that had left Cuba impoverished and challenged the longstanding policy of Monroe Doctrine. But newly elected President McKinley didn’t share Roosevelt’s vengeful attitude. “War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed,” McKinley argued, hoping to resolve the crisis diplomatically.[7] Roosevelt was appalled at his superior, famously declaring that McKinley had “no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.” Up until the explosion of the Maine the situation had seemed more like a humanitarian mission. Now it had become a military imperative.

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Roosevelt shown in full attire. He loved being called “Col. Roosevelt” and hated “Teddy”.

The United States officially declared war with Spain on April 25, 1898. Since that time Assistant Secretary Roosevelt had not been idle, having diligently mobilized the U.S. Navy on paper and secured contracts with key strategists. These preemptive measures led to a brilliant victory by Commander Dewey and the model U.S. Asiatic Squadron in Manila Bay. But as he sat on the sidelines, Roosevelt’s obsession about the idea of personal involvement grew. “I cannot disregard the fact that my power for good, whatever it may be, would be gone if I didn’t try to live up to the doctrines I have tried to preach,” he explained.[8] Frustrated, he resigned his post and lobbied the Secretary of War for a more interesting role. Abandoning the office allowed time for more outdoor possibilities. So when the call went out to muster a regiment of rugged volunteers for the Cuban invasion, Roosevelt jumped at the opportunity. In rapid order he was commissioned lieutenant-colonel (deferring authority to his friend Col. Leonard Wood), procured a khaki ensemble from Brooks Brothers, and unlike his father, left his six children in their mother’s care before departing to San Antonio, Texas for training.

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Shown front and center, Col. Leonard Wood and Lt. Col. Roosevelt (right) drilling the unit in San Antonio, Tx. Roosevelt’s refusal to hire careerist Army officers led to notorious stubbornness and insubordination.
(Harvard College Library)

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Roosevelt conferring with celebrated journalist Richard Harding Davis at Tampa Bay, Fl. Davis’s coverage of their exploits helped catapult the future president’s career.

Once again, highly publicized media drew attention to Lt. Col. Roosevelt’s recruiting call to form the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry. More than 23,000 applications flooded the War Department’s office but only half were selected. Members of “Teddy’s Texas Tarantulas” (later renamed “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders”) consisted of cowboys and ranchers, Harvard students, Texas Rangers, and world class athletes. “We have a few [non-native birth men] from everywhere including a score of Indians, and about as many of Mexican origin from New Mexico,” Roosevelt wrote. Outfitted in cowboy garb, the colorful band seemed to contradict Roosevelt’s theory about being upper crust saviors in the traditional sense.[9] But then again, neither did he. As one biographer put it, Roosevelt embodied both his socialite East and cowboy West. Regardless, he placed himself directly alongside the men and showed favoritism to no one other than the Riders as a whole. Rough and tough uniforms, odd pet mascots, and celebrities were showy things that held little genuine value as the men steamed for Santiago Bay on June 13.

Things didn’t seem right when the Rough Riders landed a week later. The land was dry and shabby, Cuban buildings looked decrepit and cheap, swarms of insects and exhausting heat plagued the over-packed men, dense jungle dulled their machetes, and gigantic scorpions infested the town of Las Guásimas their objective point. Nevertheless, the Rough Riders first action there was short and violent.

Sgt. Hamilton Fish II, one of the Harvard boys, was the first of sixteen men killed at Santiago.

Sgt. Hamilton Fish II, one of the Harvard boys, was the first of sixteen men killed at Santiago.

“One man was killed as he stood beside a tree with me,” Roosevelt wrote to a friend. “Another bullet went through a tree behind which I stood and filled my eyes with bark.”[10] Their unit was sent alongside several others to assault the coastal fortifications protecting the surrounding bay and they did so with bold and determined success. McKinley tipped his black top hat of approval from afar by promoting Col. Wood to brigadier general and Roosevelt to full colonel. “I got my regiment,” he happily wrote.[11] But the “crowded hour” (as Roosevelt later called it) came on July 1.

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Soldiers of the 10th U.S. Cavalry standing in the captured Spanish trenches that protected the infamous San Juan Hill “block house.”
(U.S. Army)

That afternoon, Col. Roosevelt mounted his charger Texas hoping to outrun the stifling heat. No one expected him to survive the foolish decision. Scattered gunfire erupted from the dark jungle as the 1st Cavalry hesitantly started the march. “Are you afraid to stand up when I am on horseback?” he defiantly asked a trooper cowering in a bush. Seeing that their advance was going too slowly, Col. Roosevelt pushed through the ranks and positioned himself directly at the head, refusing to dodge bullets that whizzed by and somehow managing to change his glasses out. Cracking jokes and swearing at the men to get them moving, he coolly rode up and down the lines and picked up the momentum. Now within forty-yards of the peak, he leaped off the animal intending to finish the charge on foot.

 "Charge of the Rough Riders, 1898" by Frederic Remington. He witnessed the actual charge during his time as a war correspondent and was commissioned by the surviving Rough Riders to sculpt "Bronco-buster" for Roosevelt's send off.

“Charge of the Rough Riders, 1898” by Frederic Remington. He witnessed the actual charge during his time as a war correspondent and was commissioned by the surviving Rough Riders to sculpt “Bronco-buster” for Roosevelt’s send off.

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Roosevelt’s Hartford-made 1895 Colt Double-Action Revolver was salvaged from the wreckage of the USS Maine by his brother-in-law. It was stolen from the Roosevelt museum at Sagamore Hill and recovered by the FBI in 2006.
(FBI)

Spanish defenders greeted their attackers by opening a terrific fire upon them and sent shells screaming down from above. Amid the chaos, Col. Roosevelt noticed a large iron kettle and ordered his men to take cover behind it. Troopers were dropping like flies as the Rough Riders frantically attempted to return fire. Then the dreaded drumming sound of machine gun fire came. But it wasn’t from the enemy, it was from three U.S. Gatling guns brought up into the fray, sending 18,000 rounds of ammunition into the enemy and forcing the Spaniards to retreat. “Our men cheered lustily,” Roosevelt gratefully recalled. Excitement was so high that as Col. Roosevelt rushed into the enemy’s trenches, he was surprised to find that only five men had heard his order to follow. Ground shots hit two men before he decided to jump back over a wire fence and find the rest of the brigade. After reporting to various officers, a final rush was mounted but when they returned most of the Spanish had fled. “There were very few wounded,” he remembered. “Most of the fallen had little holes in their heads from which their brains were oozing.”[12] He had contributed to the body count after killing two Spaniards that had fired upon him when he returned. Men were railed, the artillery was brought up, and the American flag was triumphantly raised overlooking the valley. The battle of Kettle Hill (named after the sugar processing vessel they found) was over.[13]

Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders moments after capturing Kettle Hill. (Library of Congress)

Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders moments after capturing Kettle Hill.
(Library of Congress)

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Likely staged, Roosevelt dons his sweaty uniform for the media one last time while recovering in Montauk Point, Ny.
(Harvard College Library)

Roosevelt remembered the charge up Kettle Hill as the greatest highlight of his life. From the San Juan Heights, Col. Roosevelt looked down into the conquered valley of darkness “reveling in victory and gore,” as trooper Bob Ferguson noticed, flashing a wide grin and pointing his pistol at all the “damned Spanish dead.”[14] Alongside them lay 89 of the Rough Riders he had coached through the oppressive heat, found canned tomatoes or a bag of beans for, and helped whenever possible, whether it was fighting disease or the enemy. What made Roosevelt great was his ability to place the welfare of his men above his own— a devolution of his social philosophy. All of the surviving Rough Riders who had lost limbs or who later stood beside him at campaign rallies testified that he was an exceptional leader. With the war ending, publications across the country hailed him as the nation’s most celebrated hero. They didn’t have to flaunt his popularity but what did gratify Roosevelt while convalescing back in New York was the sense of relief and accomplishment he felt after the Cuba experience. “Should worst come to the worst I am quite content to go now and to leave my children at least an honorable name,” he wrote to a friend.[15] The spent cartridge shells he had collected atop Kettle Hill would make nice souvenirs for his sons and the legacy he had secured.

NOTES:

[1] “Cuba in 1898,” The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War, Library of Congress, accessed January 15, 2016, https://www.loc.gov/.

Since 1492, Cuba was an important Spanish base that connected Old World trade routes to the New World. For a century, pesos were exchanged for African slaves to produce sugar, making Cuba a world supplier. Widening divisions between the self made planter class and government officials ignited a Ten Year’s War (1868-78) that ended ineffectually, leaving the island in ruins and devastated by famine.

[2] “Yellow Journalism,” Crucible Of Empire, PBS, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.pbs.org/.

In fact, the same newspapers who had announced the USS Maine‘s sinking had used literary techniques such as melodrama, romance, and hyperbole to captivate the nation’s attention earlier that year—a style known as “yellow journalism”.

[3] “Robert Barnwell Roosevelt,” TR Center, Dickinson State University, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.theodorerooseveltcenter.org/. Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group).

Roosevelt’s admired uncle, Robert Barnwell (sic.), was the only family member to serve in the military prior to his own. Differing politically, Barnwell’s allegiance as a War Democrat compelled him to volunteer in a New York militia unit at the outbreak of the Civil War. He also founded support Union groups, like the Loyal National League and the Union League Club.

Edward J. Renehan, Jr., The Lion’s Pride: Theodore Roosevelt and His Family in Peace and War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 23.

In all fairness, circumstances had kept Theodore Roosevelt Sr. from enlistment. Pressured by his wife’s Southern ties, he was heading a seven-family Manhattan household and hoping to secure an inherited financial firm (Roosevelt & Son) amid domestic war. He did contribute in other charitable ways by creating a dependent’s system for soldier’s families.

[4] Douglas Brinkley, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2009), 53.

[5] Ibid., 317.

[6] Renehan, 26.

[7] “Timeline,” Crucible Of Empire, PBS, accessed January 15, 2016, http://www.pbs.org/.

[8] Brinkley, 312.

[9] Ibid., 315.

[10] Ibid., 327.

[11] Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1899), 126.

[12] Ibid., 136.

[13] Shortly thereafter, the hostilities ended with the Treaty of Paris which deeded the colonies of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to the U.S. The “splendid little war” had lasted only ten weeks and had cut off the Spanish Empire, placing America on to the world’s table.

[14] Renehan, 4.

[15] Ibid.

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