A newcomer tours NYC through Pokémon Go—and lives to tell the tale

Image via Isabel Navarrete

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With Pokémon Go a bonafide national phenomenon, it’s nearly impossible to walk down the street without spotting passersby with their phone in their face, stopping often and without warning to catch nearby Charizards or Rattatas. (For those of you who aren’t versed in the ways of this app, Pokémon Go is a game that, using your phone’s GPS, allows you to virtually “catch” Pokémon that you find while exploring your area.) But is it really possible to enjoy the beautiful city that is New York while you’re viewing the world through a game? How would newcomers to NYC—like me, for example, who's only here for the summer—experience it with Pokémon as their guides? We decided to put it to the test.

At about 3 pm, I started out at the apartment I’m staying at on the Upper West Side and headed toward Central Park just a few blocks away. (I waited to whip out my phone until after I had entered the car-less safety of the park). It, unsurprisingly, was chock-full of Pokémon trainers. (With their portable chargers, sensible walking shoes, and frequent stops, they aren’t hard to spot). Some smiled at me, recognition in their eyes, as if to say: “You and I are the same, friend. We share the same mission in life: the mission to catch 'em all.” Or, maybe, "You, too, huh?"

Most didn’t even realize there were other people around.

My first Central Park Pokémon was a Rattata, though as I continued walking, it quickly became clear to me that this was no big feat (those things are ubiquitous). Slowly but surely, a stream of Pokémon became to flow in– Zubats, Pidgeys, and Nidorans (oh, my). For the uninitiated, the Pokémon hierarchy is based on not only what level they are– you can level them up using points– but also their "CP" or combat power, which helps them battle other Pókemon later in the game. 

Meanwhile, I walked from PokéStop to PokéStop, attempting to give myself direction by following the virtual breadcrumbs. PokéStops, which can give you bonus points and extra PokéBalls, are located at what Niantic, the Pokemon Company, has deemed to be an area’s quirkiest and most notable locations.These locations are marked by a blue marker on the in-game map. While most of the PokéStops were benches or plaques dedicated to beloved family members or friends, I managed to find myself in the middle of a few hidden Central Park gems.

The first of these gems was the Belvedere Castle. I had noticed the slew of PokéStops and immediately sprinted up the stairs, hoping to not only collect some more pokeballs, but to catch the inevitable crowd of Pokémon that usually hang out around the stops.

The castle was cool enough to distract me from the game for a couple of minutes, but after wandering around for a bit and taking in the sights, I went back to attempting to catch the Magicarp sitting on the railing. In retrospect, the castle was stunning– the setting sun behind the lake made the experience almost ethereal– and I so wish I had put down my phone to look at it. 

I made it out of the park by about 6:15 pm, reemerging into the real world as a level 5 PokéTrainer. I once again began to rely on the PokéStops to guide me– I had arrived on the Upper East Side (an area I’m not incredibly familiar with), and I figured the game probably had a better idea where to go than I did. (It did). 

I ended up at Corrado Bread and Pastry, an adorable little cafe, where I munched on an almond croissant and caught a couple of Zubats. Note to fellow Pokémon-ers out there: Pokémon are few and far between on the Upper East Side, and the ones that do show up are pretty low-level. (PSA: Playing Pokémon Go on 5th avenue will make you feel like a super-dork. Really. I don’t recommend it. There’s nothing quite as embarrassing as stopping to catch a Doduo in front of a Dolce and Gabbana.)

Once I had refueled, I set back out on my mission. I made my way around, occasionally stopping to check out the architecture that Niantic deemed worthy of a PokéStop– mostly gargoyles and plaques, though the St. Jean Baptiste Church was a highlight. At some point I realized I had managed to make a circle, putting myself right back at an entrance to Central Park. I had planned to play until I made it back home, but something stopped me. Something very small, and very alive. A firefly.

In my rush to find a higher level Pokémon, I hadn’t noticed that I was standing in a field full of fireflies. They flitted around me, glimmering and flashing. How could I miss that? How could I have been so distracted that I missed such an incredible sight? I put my phone away (and it was probably for the best; I only had about 10 percent battery left), and walked the rest of the way undistracted and peaceful.

Is Pokémon Go fun? Duh. It’s every 90’s child’s dream. (It can also help sell your house!!)

But save it for when you’re not looking to explore a city. Save it for when you’re home and looking for some exercise without hitting the gym. Because if you can’t focus on anything but your phone, if you’re literally experiencing the world around you through your screen, how could you really truly “see the city”?

I love exploring New York, and I love Pokémon Go, but both at the same time dulls the individual experiences. So if you’re gonna see it all, don't also try to catch ‘em all.

Players descend on Central Park for Vaporeons. (YouTube/Dennis450D)

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