Friendships blossom with game players

Allie Vassalotti, Contributing Writer

The Pitt-Johnstown Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center’s entrance, to passersby, Sept.22, is no different from what it normally was: a large building with a round roof and columns closest to the entrance.

To a small group, however, it was the site of a battle. At noon, a massive, smooth-skinned, bipedal cat-like creature roared and smashed against four earthy Godzillas and a scarecrow-shaped cactus.

Though it was powerful, the cat was outnumbered. Soon all of its “health” disappeared, and the opponents primed themselves for their reward.

With a few flicks on their phones, a small white ball struck the cat and placed it inside. One by one, the group members proclaimed victory: a strong character had been turned into a potent ally, ready to fight for them in battles to come.

Battles such as these are commonplace in a mobile phone game, Pokèmon Go. The game combines the aspects of capturing fantastical creatures known as Pokèmon with a GPS map overlay, rewarding players for seeking out specific locations called Pokèstops by giving them tools to catch Pokèmon and items to make their Pokèmon stronger.

The Pasquerilla is a common location type; known as a Gym, players deposit a creature to guard the area for precious currency, as well as item bonuses. 

Gyms also can be the sites of raids, where players group up and work together to defeat, and hopefully capture, a character that has claimed the Gym as its own.

The game also has events known as Community Days, when the encounter rates of specific Pokèmon are greatly increased, and players scour their local areas in the hopes of catching a rare variation known as a Shiny Pokèmon.

Events such as these–combined with the game rewarding players that walk around–bring people together.

“I’ve made friends pretty much by going to raids and meeting with people that are there for the raids,” said Pitt-Johnstown student JèanMarie Trichel, “and by people just happening to see me playing Pokèmon Go. They’ll come sit by me and we’ll talk about Pokèmon for a little while.”

The game can easily be used as a way to acclimate to a new location. People can create, find, and join chat groups to coordinate raids and trade Pokèmon with each other, finding new friends along the way.

“Actually (Pokèmon Go) was the No.1 thing that helped me meet people when I moved to Pennsylvania,” said Gwendolyn Jones, a Lockheed Martin Corp.  industrial engineer.

“I moved here 10 months ago and spent the first three months knowing absolutely no one.

“Then I discovered the Johnstown area Facebook group which lead me to the Discord. From there I met a plethora of new and interesting people of all ages. It has been nice because it gives me an excuse to get out and socialize.” Since its release in 2016, the game has expanded to include Community Days every month, player vs. player battles, trading, and Pokèmon from five generations of the handheld games they originated from. The increased features provide even more reasons for people to meet up and form friendships.

“Some of my favorite Pokèmon moments have been doing public raids in which a whole army of people show up,” Brennan Brokaw, a Pitt-Johnstown student who works at the Pittsburgh Zoo, said. 

“It’s nice seeing such a large group of people getting together over a common interest.”

Companies and locations can also use Pokèmon Go to their advantage by offering discounts to players or creating Pokèmon Go-themed events to draw in customers. “The Pittsburgh Zoo had a Pokèmon Day in which people were invited to play Pokèmon at the zoo,” said Brokaw.

The game also tends to create memorable moments for some players.

“We had a group of people come out and raid,” Jones said, regarding a character called Entei. “Together we took down 18 Entei raids in a huge train of cars. It was a lot of fun.”

All in all, the game causes people to get outside and discover people with similar interests.

“Pokèmon Go has a special way of bringing together and just creating a good time,” said Brokaw.