Games

I Played 'Pokémon Go' Without a Phone

I can't download the app, but that didn't stop me having a Poké adventure of my own.

by Oobah Butler
Jul 14 2016, 4:30pm

I couldn't wait any longer. I didn't care about anything else any more. I just wanted to feel the sensation of chasing a Vulpix through a meadow; of feeding a Rattata candy and watching it evolve; to trade japes with other aspiring Pokémon masters. I want to be in a Huffington Post story about getting mugged outside a Pokégym in Dalston. I need to get Pokémon Go.

There's only one problem: My phone is shit. Honestly so shit. The screen is cracked, it can only hold about four photos, sometimes it crashes before it's even switched on. It can just about send texts, but that's it. The camera is broken. I can't log into the App Store. There's no way I'd be able to download it.

All photos by Chris Bethell

But why should the absence of an app stop me? It shouldn't, because Pokémon Go is more than just an app. It is a force that did the unthinkable, that awoke a generation. It lifted us out of our ergonomic chairs, stopped us caring about fucking, and kicked us out of the door. So would I let the absence of a poxy app get in my way? Or would I follow the call of my generation, get out there, and make it happen? There was only one option, and it was destiny. I would hit the streets of London with no app, and play the game with one simple task: to catch them all. I just needed a few items.

Poké Balls, check, Poké outfit, check—I was almost ready for the journey to begin. But there was one imperative thing left to do: embark on the same ritual that 70 million had taken to enter the universe and surrender all of my personal information. So I kissed my passport and bank statements goodbye and left them in my front yard available for public consumption. It didn't matter anymore. I was ready to be enveloped, for my new life to begin: I was ready to become a Pokémon master.

Now I had a lot of catching up to do. The world had been playing Pokémon Go for nearly a week now, and every posting of a wittily named Rattata or rare Articuno sighting on Reddit had become torturous. I had neither Pokémon nor a sense of humor about it. So I went out in search of a community of trainers. And after walking the streets, poking my head over fences, and gamboling through alleyways, I eventually happened upon a group of likely candidates.

"Hey, buddies. Do you have any idea where is a good place to catch Pokémon around here?"

"Sorry what?" this man replied, tossing down a bag of gravel.

"I'm a Pokémon trainer, and I'm looking for a place I can catch Pokémon, preferably fire-type but not picky."

"You sound like you're talking nonsense to me, mate." Looking around to his friends, he continued. "Seriously, you sound like you're talking a different language."

With the alarm bells ringing, I sprint off into the distance. I know this kind of talk, and I know those three faces—Jessie, James, and, of course, Meowth. This was a classic Team Rocket ruse. And it was going to take better disguises to ensnare a trainer, especially one with these instincts. Still, I needed to seek council from someone who knows the ins and outs of this universe. I needed to speak with Professor Willow.

I began looking on Google. And after a thorough search, I had it. The professor is working at Northampton University, albeit under the name of "Dr. Willow Berridge," and has disguised himself as both a woman and an expert in Sudanese history. Classic Willow. So I hurriedly sent over an email with my all my questions.


And though the professor ignored my email, I think he made his message clear: You can't be coddled through everything in life. Sometimes you're led to the door, and you just need to trust yourself to take a step through. I thanked the professor, as I understood now that I needed to take those steps alone.

So I shut down from the rest of the world, stared at my Poké Ball and followed my nose for Pokémon. And after ups and downs, meanders in the river and many dead ends, as if by magic, I landed exactly where I needed to be: the park. The kind of place you read tweets about Magikarp bubbling at the surface and Nidoran frolicking in the grass. Staring out over the horizon and breathing in the Poké air, I couldn't believe my eyes: another trainer.

"Are you playing, my friend?"

"Pokémon Go," he says. "I am, yes. The name is Doug."

"Me too!" I say. "My name is Oobah. Can we play?"

"Cool. Sure."

"Where are the Pokémon?"

"They're all over the place here."

"Where though?"

"Well, there's a Vulpix just there!"

I had to trust Doug here. We were on the same team now. I hurled my Poké Ball instinctively at the Vulpix.

"Eureka," I yelled, jumping in the air and chasing after the Poké Ball. "I have my first Pokémon!"

"Are you mocking me?" Doug asks. But I scowl at him and walk off into the distance—he was a competitor now, and there were clearly more Pokémon nearby. "Like there," I ushered the river birds out of the way. "I think I see a Gyarados!"

Boom! I fished my Poké Ball out of the river, and within an hour, I had an arsenal of Pokémon under my belt. The dream was coming alive. I'd evolved from a meager person into a trainer. And there was only one logical step to take next: I had to go and claim a gym. But to do that, I needed to stock up, get candy for my Pokémon, and press the refresh button. I needed a PokéStop. So I headed to the nearest one.

It's a weird thing, a PokéStop. Very much like the shops we have in the real world, but simply lawless. For example, I'd read online that it was possible to exchange Pokémon you don't want for candy, but when I asked the man this question, he shook his head vigorously. So I picked up a carton of eggs and asked whether these hatched at 5km or 10km. The man simply took a deep breath. I bought the eggs.

I was ready to take on the gym. It was high time for me to claim what's rightfully mine, so I took a deep breath and burst through the door.

I span out, past the badminton courts, the beta trainers, and straight up to the home of the beef cakes: the alphas. In this, the amphitheater that would decide my destiny, I started calling people out.

"Anyone want to battle with Pokémon?" I snarled. "I'm done training, and now I'm ready to really take the gym." The people could barely look me in the eye: They were terrified. I strutted across the middle, between the Poké weights, spinning my Poké Ball and their eyes followed, watching my every move. They were begging for mercy. One even asked me to leave. And it was my time to pity them, to oblige them, for there were no trainers who were capable of challenging me. I had won the battle.

The gym was mine! I was on top of the world, a master in the making. I couldn't believe what I'd achieved and from this day forth, I would—

What the fuck? What the actual fuck? The whole thing completely crashed on me. "Are you for real?" a woman asked, and I wanted to scream the same thing: I'd lost all of my Pokémon, gym, and everything I'd worked so hard for in an instant. How could it be fair? Pokémon Go, you fucking suck.

At least I still had my eggs. I must have walked 5km by now.

It was useless. What had I been thinking? That lady who shouted at me in the street was right: Was I for real? Of course I fucking wasn't, look at me! Deserted by my own Pokémon, with nothing to live for. I had tried to jump the line with Pokémon Go: to define a generation and become a master, but I was no Pokémon master. I was just a boy wonder in a cool hat. But then. But then I looked up.

Of course! The Battersea Park Children's Zoo. I rushed through its hallowed doorway and stumbled upon an oasis. I couldn't believe my eyes: It was Pokémon Valhalla! I rushed from cage to cage, humming the Pokémon theme.

Psyduck!

Growlithe!

MEGAMULE!

I was right all along! They were all here; every Pokémon in the land, and me, the only human in sight. In mere hours, I had become the greatest master in history! Sweet victory, I would taste you for eternity. "I am the very best, the best there ever was!" I sang at the top of my lungs and pointed at MegaMule, "To catch you is my real test, to train you is my cause!"

It was then a trainer from the zoo emerged from a nearby building, presumably to congratulate me or complain about my singing. He took steps in my direction, each one increasingly tentative. His expression exploded into a smirk: His phone was out. Pointed directly at me. And that must mean, that I wasn't a Pokémon trainer after all. Hapless and appless—I was just a Pokémon.

"You thought you could get away with it, didn't you, Oobah? And now look at me, bearing down on you. The truth is: If you don't have the app, the app has you."

"Please sir, no."

"Yes, Oobah. You did all your frolicking around thinking you were the Poké hunter, but it turns out, Oobah, that you were the Poké prey after all. Like the rest of the world: merely part of the game. And there's one thing I've got to say about Poké prey, Oobah: I've got to catch them all."

"That's my phrase!"

"Wild Oobah: Your CP is low, but it's time for you to go!" He shouted.

"No, no, noooooo!!!!"


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