Pokemon Go: The Mumbai adventure
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Much like Ash Ketchum, the stubborn, brash and amateurish protagonist of the anime Pokémon, I was late to the party. The 10-year-old had woken up late on the day he was supposed to meet his mentor, Professor Oak, and get his first Pokémon, before he could start his journey as a champion trainer. The result was that he was stuck with the equally stubborn and brash Pikachu. The rest, of course, is highly-animated-yet-funny-and-exciting history.
So, last week, when I heard of the augmented reality game Pokémon Go, not only was I drowning in nostalgia, I also jumped up and scrolled through my Android App Store for a couple of minutes. Soon, though, I realized the game wasn’t available in India yet. Dejected, I went about my life. Not only was I a week late in getting to know about the game, it took me two whole days to find out that I could download an Android Application Package (APK) and play the game.
Unlike a lot of my peers, my introduction to the Pokémon universe wasn’t through the video game, but through a Hindi-dubbed anime that was shown on Cartoon Network in the early 2000s. Aside: Children’s television programming in India has only worsened with time.
The anime was funny and had bright characters with exaggerated expressions and a faux sense of purpose that was often based on a fantastical premise. It caught my fancy before you could spell Brahmaputra. To finally be able to participate directly in catching these beasts was turning out to be an exciting new development. And it would have continued to be so had I not been playing it in...Mulund West.
Much like the popularity of the central Mumbai suburb, the Pokémon available there were insignificant. All the PokéStops near my house were temples and barely touched by other players, while the only PokéGym was the Mulund railway station, which wouldn’t let me enter without reaching Level 5 on the game. Curse the stars!
My experience in my little suburb is in no way indicative of how people elsewhere seem to be enjoying the game, though. Over the weekend, a video from Central Park in New York surfaced, showing swarms of people willingly running into bushes at night to catch Vaporeon, a rare-type Pokémon. A friend living in Andheri was quick to tweet that he found his Vaporeon while sitting in an autorickshaw. The game’s popularity skyrocketed after it became a good excuse for most people to exercise, as players are required to walk a few metres each day to move forward in the game.
I ended up catching about three Zubats and a Pidgey on my first day, an abysmal performance going by my own assessment. The assessment was also based on multiple Twitter updates by friends who were apparently catching Pikachus by the dozen.
But I was soon reminded of Ketchum’s conundrum when he heard that his rival on the show, Gary Oak, was far ahead of him in catching Pokémon and collecting badges after winning matches against PokéGym trainers. It would be stupid to measure my success by what others were doing around me. My journey as a trainer had to be my own. A faux sense of purpose based on a fantastical premise, I figured, was all I needed to get out in Mumbai during the monsoon.
So I remained patient and took an early morning local to Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus last Sunday, looking for new Pokémon in and around Fort, coming back home with a beautiful water-type Squirtle, a ghost-type Gastly, a poison-type Nidorina and finally, a rubbish-type expired data pack, which I blamed for not being able to log in to the game later in the evening. Later, I learnt, a hacker collective called OurMine had hacked the Pokémon Go servers using a distributed denial of service attack, not letting users log in for many hours.
Hopefully, in the days to come, I will improve my Pokémon capture rate and maybe win a badge or two. What I will continue missing in the game, though, is a crucial element of the Pokémon franchise. An essential part of the universe that can make or break a good trainer, something that can only enhance the experience of playing the game further and make it more acceptable for people to find out what an APK actually is. Something that every true follower of Pokémon will always remember: Team Rocket. Seriously, where in the world are Jessie, James and Meowth?