Patrick Gomez is a 30-year-old staff writer at PEOPLE … and he’s obsessed with Pokémon Go.
I have a job I love, a boyfriend I adore and a large group of friends that keep me busy practically every night of the week. My life was just fine without Pokémon.
In fact, up until last week, I probably knew more about quantum physics than I did about the world of “pocket monsters” – which, I just learned, is what Pokémon means.
But last Friday night, just before going out for a friend’s birthday, I decided to see what everyone was freaking out about.
I downloaded the app on my phone, logged in and created my avatar. So far, there was nothing special about my Pokémon Go experience. “What’s the big deal?” I thought.
But everything changed when my phone vibrated. At first, I thought it was an incoming text from a friend who was going to walk to the bar with me. But when I looked down at my phone, there he (she? it? We’ll go with he, for now.) was: an adorable little turtle-like creature called a squirtle.
I clicked on the squirtle and suddenly there he was, sitting on my coffee table. I threw a Pokéball (that red and white ball you’ve probably seen associated with Pokémon) and missed. There was a bit of a learning curve but after a few tries I bopped the squirtle on the head and saw that magic word that has come to bring me such joy in the past week: “Gotcha!”
I’d caught the squirtle and he was mine.
In that instant, I was hooked.
What other adorable creatures could I find? Where are they hiding? What are all these leaves and hearts and floating boxes and other strange things virtually floating around my real-life neighborhood.
That night while out at the birthday party, I told a friend who is a long-time Pokémon fanatic that I’d downloaded the game.
I had many questions and he answered them all.
The floating boxes? Those are Pokéstops, real-life points of interest that are holdovers from another game that was created to highlight fun and interesting landmarks. They range from small pieces of street art to historical landmarks to meeting places like parks and restaurants.
The leaves? That’s a sign there’s a Pokémon hiding somewhere nearby.
And the hearts? The hearts are very special. That means someone has used a “lure module” to attract Pokémon to that spot for a 30-minute window of time. You want to be where the hearts are.
Someone dropped a lure at the nearby park? Within 10 minutes, I guarantee you there will be a congregation of like-minded Pokémon Go players popping by to see what new creatures they can collect.
(Side note: I still haven’t figured out what the battles are about, so I haven’t attempted one.)
My friend from the birthday party even added me to a Facebook Messenger group of our friends who had all joined the same “team.” (There’s only three teams for all Pokémon Go players to choose from, but all being a part of the yellow team gives us something to bond over and a sense that we are all fighting for a common cause.)
The group chat provides a place for newbies like myself to ask questions and for all of us to announce fun conquests, share when a lure is activated nearby and make plans of attack.
WATCH: Pok mon No Go: 4 Things to Avoid When Trying To ‘Catch Them All’
Another group of friends – all of whom had also never played a Pokémon game before – have begun organizing “Pokémon Walks” after work to explore the neighborhood and go on the hunt. Think of it as like a mall-walking group but less track suits…okay, maybe the same number of track suits.
I’ve been traveling for work, so I’ve yet to participate in one of the group walks but I’ve already experienced how a player can use Pokémon Go as a tour guide.
While visiting New Orleans this weekend, a friend and I went walking around the French Quarter after dinner. Neither of us were particularly familiar with the city (or Pokémon Go) but we turned on the game and were happy to see it was directing us to pokéstops of historical or cultural relevance. Buildings we would have just passed by without a second thought were revealed to be the former home of some historical figure or the last place a famous musician performed before his death.
Even back at home in Los Angeles, I’ve found fun street art and learned facts about landmarks I never knew existed just blocks from my apartment.
I’m taking my dog for longer walks so I can pass by Pokéstops.
The game has even become my new fitbit. I lost my fitbit on a hike a few weeks ago, but because Pokémon Go keep track of how far you walk while playing the game – and rewards you for reaching distance milestones with medals and new Pokémon – I once again am striving to hit my 10,000 steps a day.
Yes, you could probably say I’m addicted to Pokémon Go. But, honestly, my neck is probably no more strained from staring down at my phone than it was when I was just checking emails, texts and Candy Crush notifications.
And I’m well aware of the dangers of playing the game without any regard for my safety.
(I won’t go walking down a dark alley or go out on my own at 3 a.m. just to play the game. And I made sure the app doesn’t have carte blanche access to my Gmail account.)
But I’ve come to realize that this is not the video game our parents told us to stop playing so we’d go outside with our friends. This is the video game that is going to get us outside and making friends.
It was recently announced that Pokémon Go is being downloaded on U.S. Android devices more than Tinder. And that makes sense to me. We’re all looking to make meaningful connections in life.
Yes, the game basically asks you to hit adorable creatures over the head and imprison them in little balls until you’re ready to make them fight each other, but because of it I’ve made stronger connections with some friends and even made some new ones.
And isn’t that better than some horrible coffee date?