It is 9.43 p.m. on a Friday and I’m standing on the corner of a bustling block in my neighborhood of Astoria, New York City, slouched over, staring transfixed into my tablet, which I wave around trying to locate and capture an elusive beast unseen to those around me. People pass me by in a brusque manner, strutting and swaggering in search of food, liquor, and titillation. I am not part of their world. Rather, I am wired into a parallel realm experienced through my tablet, where the images I see are the truth. You could say my reality is augmented.
Is it Pokemon Go, you ask? The augmented reality game so mesmerizing it has led to incidents such as two men walking off a cliff while playing? No. This is about cats. It’s PokeCat Go, and I am a PokeCat Go trainer.
My days and nights once were filled with the trifles of work, conversation, and civic responsibility, yet my new agenda is simple: Use my tablet to track down and capture an exotic smorgasbord of PokeCats, train them up, and show them off to my rival PokeCat players. It is a noble calling — some would say the only calling — and I am duty bound to devote all of my faculties to the cult of PokeCat Go.
Every day, I wake up and take to the streets with my eyes on my tablet. When the device senses a PokeCat nearby, it buzzes to alert me. Swiftly, I use my tablet to capture the digital soul of the PokeCat. Many times, I encounter a Pidgey. These are the foot soldiers of PokeCats. They are common and I have collected many. Too many, some would say.
I head to one of the many PokeCat Stops around my city. This one is a bodega, a haven for ensnaring PokeCats. I open the establishment’s grubby glass door and step inside. The store keeper glances at me with eyes revealing a weary soul that has long been extinguished of any fire and zest. I hurriedly move through the bodega, but I have no intention of spending fool’s gold on the selection of chips, sodas, and toilet papers on display. My focus is only on finding the PokeCat. The weather is hot outside, and the bodega’s air conditioning unit leaks more than it cools. I decide maybe the PokeCat is by the beer cooler.
No, no, he is not.
But I know the PokeCat is here. The logic is crystal. This is a PokeCat Stop. The PokeCat must be here.
Suddenly, I feel the exhilarating rumble of my tablet as it sniffs out the PokeCat. There he is! Meandering on the tattered vinyl sheet flooring between two shelves of cleaning products and garbage bags! What a curious PokeCat, I think, as I take note of his awkward lounging position. But then my giddy enthusiasm is cruelly quashed as I notice his run-of-the-mill tabby stripes and bland coloring.
The crushing realization hits me: It is another Pidgey.
These common PokeCats are everywhere, and I’ve had my fill of them. To compete, I need colorful, eye-catching, tropical PokeCats. Nevertheless, I capture the PokeCat as I exit the store.
The PokeCat Go deities seem to be smiling down on me as I make my way to the PokeCat Gym, a meeting place for like-minded PokeCat Go comrades. With eyes glued to my tablet, and seemingly unaware of the comings and goings of the human world around me, I am fortunate to chance across some marvelous PokeCat specimens in the urban wilds.
First, I run into a glamorous PokeCat called a Zubat ambling around outside a ramshackle tavern. Her soul is quickly mine.
Then I meet a portly Snorlax. This hefty but docile PokeCat has made the mistake of loitering outside his PokeCat Stop. The transaction is swift and seamless, and my collection bulges. A productive detour.
As I turn down a deserted side street, my tablet alerts me to the presence of a shining Kakuna with splendid all-white whiskers. Unfortunately, this lesser-spotted PokeCat proves to be an elusive mistress, as she darts behind some man-made fencing before I can add her to my collection. I curse out the folly of modern civilization with its futile insistence on creating and abiding by physical objects. I glare at this white-whiskered temptress. She knows I’ll be back soon. I have to collect them all, you see.
The PokeCat Gym is now in sight. PokeCats swarm to these places, seduced by the use of Lure Modules — an irresistible pile of treats left outside by cunning PokeCat Go hunters. I become obsessed with a nearby bijou chocolate brown PokeCat who sports some majestic, athletic black stripes.
Yes, it is a Charizard!
My heart rate careens and my palms become moist with nervous anticipation. The PokeCat races for the Lure Modules. I brace myself and put my trust in my PokeCat Go tablet. The real world stops while my augmented reality world moves at warp speed.
Do I have the Charizard?
I do not.
The Charizard escaped. My soul collapses. My dreams shatter. A crushing disappointment engulfs me. So close, but nowhere near close enough. This is the life of a PokeCat Go player. Physical and emotional ups and downs traversed in the name of a sworn duty to collect them all.
Why do I continue to play? Because in the world of augmented reality, there is always the hope of a brighter tomorrow. PokeCats, you will be mine.