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SDCC: Playing “Pokemon Go” at Comic-Con Brings Out the Very Best

by  in Video Game Comment
SDCC: Playing “Pokemon Go” at Comic-Con Brings Out the Very Best

When it was announced “Pokemon Go” would be released in July, my first thought was that it would make Comic-Con International in San Diego a glorious, unholy mess. Incidents like a stampede in Central Park to catch a rare Vaporeon seemed inevitable, to say nothing of the simple logistical challenges of thousands of people in a confined area meandering around while viewing the world through the game screen.

But as of this writing Friday morning, foot traffic inside the San Diego Convention Center doesn’t seem any more frantic than usual. And the other seeming inevitability, an exponential repetition of all the heartwarming stories of Pokewalks, is indeed sweeping through San Diego.

As trainers arrived Wednesday after traveling across the land, Preview Night began with a rough start, with many Pokedexes offline as “Go” experienced another of its frustrating server outages. I had the game crash multiple times after snaring a Spearow in a Pokeball but before seeing him officially caught, creating a Schroedinger’s Pokemon scenario. This largely resolved before the show floor opened, however, revealing several Pokestops in or near the convention center, including one at exhibitor We Love Fine.

Gyms changed hands rapidly, a pattern that would continue through the hours and days ahead. Walking for six or so miles each day offered an excellent opportunity to hatch eggs. And for folks whose hometowns might have had a limited selection of readily available Pokemon (if anybody needs a Drowzee or 10 …), San Diego provides a wealth of new characters.

Of course, this also leads to the social aspect.

Whatever Hall H presentation is going on, or whatever major new series Marvel or DC Comics have announced, “Pokemon Go” is what people are talking about. Every panel moderator I’ve seen has made a joke about it (usually along the lines of “stop playing ‘Pokemon Go’ and listen to these guys!”), folks are chatting about the game while queuing for autographs, people are trading tips on where to find rarer creatures in the greater San Diego area. Pikachu sightings on the beach, shared excitement for new catches, promises to trade once that function becomes available. You received a New Friend badge. It’s adorable and heartening.

There are the expected dangers, of course. Two or three Pokestops near the trolley crossing means folks should prioritize not getting hit by the train. And in general, it’s a good idea to watch where you’re walking, though convention-goers appear to have got a better handle than this than the general population – possibly because of the self-selecting nature of a group like this, in which we can expect more expert players than would occur in a normal community. One might also want to take care not to appear creepy when trying to catch a Pokemon that’s sitting on or near another fan, though again, this crowd is more likely than your typical stranger to know what you’re doing and sympathize.

With worst fears averted (at least, again, at this point in the con) and all the best aspects of the mobile game taking root among convention-goers, the power that’s inside “Pokemon Go” is the ability to evolve the social space of Comic-Con into an event with even more possibilities to meet new people and bond over common fandom.

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