Like many people, I played Pokémon Go for a few months when it first came out in 2016, then I abandoned it for three years. Since I work from home and the game’s levelling mechanics revolve around a pedometer, I could never seem to level up my Pokémon fast enough. For the past six months, I’ve been dating someone who plays Pokémon Go, so I’ve given the game another try. I normally like playing video games against people in person to experience the reactions that come with it, but the in-person competition in Pokémon Go happens across a larger distance than, say, two Street Fighter players sitting side-by-side in front of a TV set. That’s how I ended up embroiled in an old-Western-style shootout with someone several feet away from me. It was weird.
In Pokémon Go, there are three different teams: Valor, the red team, Mystic, the blue team, and Instinct, the yellow team. The gameplay has changed a lot since it first came out. In its current iteration, the game’s pedometer still tracks your steps even when the game isn’t open, which helps. More importantly, it’s now possible for low-level players to take down a rival team’s Pokémon gym, provided that other players’ prior fights against that gym have chipped away most of the defending Pokémon’s health (technically the health stat is called “motivation,” a fun euphemism).
My girlfriend has been playing the game quite a bit longer than I have, so she is level 35. Since the weather has gotten nice, I’ve gone from level 15 to level 22; we go for walks together and explore new locations (and Pokéstops). Sometimes we team up to take down Pokémon gyms.
The only problem is that we are on different Pokémon Go teams. She’s on the blue team, and I’m on the red team. There is no benefit to being on any one of these teams. It’s entirely about what colour you like or which team name you like the best. Even though it doesn’t matter, I don’t want to switch my team, and neither does my girlfriend. This means that we can only work together if we want to take down the yellow team’s gyms.
This past week, we went on a quick Pokéwalk together and came across a blue gym. I saw that the health of the Pokémon in the gym was too high for me to take it down by myself, so my girlfriend threw some health items at the other blue fighters in the gym, and we kept walking. We then reached another blue gym. This time, the Pokémon’s health looked low enough for me to stand a chance. My girlfriend abstained from healing these Pokémon and let me take my shot. I picked my best monster lineup and headed in.
After I had been fighting for a minute, she looked over my shoulder. “You’re doing really well,” she said, a note of surprise in her voice. We soon figured out why. Another trainer had joined me in my fight against the gym. It was obvious from looking around who it was. There was only one other person in our vicinity: a tall, dark-haired man in a black coat, standing at the end of the block, tapping over and over again on his phone’s screen.
After only a few more seconds, the stranger and I defeated the gym. I felt a rush of joy. This guy had helped me! We were best friends now! Pokémon Go bringing strangers together!
But then he brought out one of his Pokémon to plop down into the gym and defend it. He was team yellow. This was now a yellow gym. Hell no.
This team yellow sucker was in for it now. Little did he know that I had a powerful ally standing right beside me, one from another team who could now help me in defeating our common enemy. (Forget that seconds ago I was taking down my girlfriend’s team. That doesn’t matter, OK? It’s fine.)
My girlfriend and I huddled up. I turned my back to the stranger, bent down over my phone, and selected a new lineup of Pokémon to take him out. Once we were ready, we headed in and got to tapping. Together, we took down this guy’s gym in seconds. Not a word was exchanged between us and our opponent. We each stayed on our respective ends of the block, silent as the battle waged.
As soon as our victory screen popped up, I told my girlfriend to go ahead and put one of her own Pokémon into the gym. Had I just defeated a blue gym, only to result in it becoming a blue gym once again? Yes. But this was about honour. Well, that, and my girlfriend’s Pokémon are way stronger than mine, and we needed to humiliate this guy.
As my better half and I walked back down the street toward my flat, the tall, dark stranger started ramming his own Pokémon against hers, trying to take back the gym again. He ended up winning, eventually, and picked his own version of the exact same Pokémon that she had originally left behind in the gym to defend it for his team. “Petty,” she declared, but kept walking.
I told my girlfriend not to worry. After all, this was my turf. I would avenge her. And then the gym would be red. But maybe she and I will have an actual, out-loud conversation about that. Or maybe we won’t.