I caught my Laddie’s arm before he stepped off the curb, uncomfortably close to an SUV speeding down our street. The neighbor scowled at us from behind the wheel, but my Laddie was too absorbed in his phone to notice.
“Stupid zubat got away,” he muttered.
“You need a bodyguard to play Pokemon GO,” I teased him. “Come on, let’s head back.”
“Yeah, we should probably—ooh, there’s one down here!” He wheeled around on the sidewalk and headed down a cul-de-sac.
Now I know how Thorn and Hazel feel in chapter two, trying to protect Ash while he wanders off after a dragonfly, I thought. The realization stopped me in place on the pavement. Watching my husband chase digital creatures through the sultry dusk, the similarities between the game and my new novella series broke over me like a sudden summer rainstorm. Playing Pokemon GO is a lot like being a terranaut!
In my ongoing Syzygy series, adolescent “terranauts” brave a post-apocalyptic Earth in search of species for use in space colonization and terraforming. Each three-person team includes a “Gatherer” tasked to identify and collect specimens, and two “Hunters” who protect the former from environmental hazards they’re often too preoccupied to notice. That first evening of Pokemon GO gave me a glimpse of a hunter’s role: save your charge from harm and they’ll probably just gripe at you about a missed catch.
When I downloaded the game myself, however, it immersed me in the world of the story’s protagonist, a Gatherer named (ironically) Ash. How many writers can say that a phone game afforded them insight into their character’s psyche? A few nights ago my Laddie and I tramped down an overgrown trail, tracking an elusive silhouette on the game’s radar. The only signs of human existence were litter and the dilapidated shell of a building across the way. Exploring this landscape felt like living a scene from the story. Just a few more blocks…just one more find…maybe the next discovery will be better than anything I’ve encountered before. The object of the game–capturing adorable monsters–is eerily similar to what my characters do to survive.
I even experienced something akin to the terranaut equipment failures I describe in the story. Out on a Pokemon expedition, I plugged my phone into the portable charger my Laddie carried in his pocket (yeah, we’re that nerdy couple). The cable tethered us together, just like the scenes in Syzygy where two characters must share a single air filter in an emergency. Of course, the most I sacrifice in breaking the connection is a few minutes of battery time and a Pidgey or two. My characters risk exposure to deadly airborne toxins. But since I’m currently writing some sequences that hinge on this dilemma, the sensation of being physically linked to my partner–and the warning tug of the cord when I step too far away–will help me make the story more realistic.
Chasing Charmander lacks Syzygy’s dire imperative of cataloging species to help save what’s left of the human race, but it gave me a visceral appreciation for how Ash’s determination strays into obsession. Now that I’ve walked in his shoes, I have a better understanding for his position and more sympathy for some of the questionable decisions he makes. Now, if only I could find a game that reveals the world of my other protagonist, Skye. A game that—hang on, I can’t divulge all of her secrets without spoiling the story!
In any case, realizing the parallel between Pokemon GO and the world of my latest sci-fi story enriched my gameplay experience considerably (although it doesn’t make up for all those glitches—please get on those, Niantic, I’m tired of the game crashing every time I catch a decent-level Eevee). Any budding app developers out there want to collaborate with me on a Syzygy-inspired augmented reality game? Even a modest hit would finance all the raspberries, incubators, and great balls we need to keep pace with the horde of distracted Pokemon GO addicts.