I’m typing this while standing on a tram that’s going down Swanston Street — one of Melbourne's main streets. There are five people playing the game near me. The two nearest to me are chatting away about their highest CP Pokemon, when we hear a loud thud. Someone has dropped their phone — it falls face up. I see a Pokedex on the screen and smile. Make that six people playing the game near me.
On a crispy 12 degrees Celsius afternoon on Saturday, 400 strangers gathered around Melbourne’s Federation Square for only one reason: Pokemon Go.
It's 10 past noon and people start crowding around the stage to hear the admins explain the plans for the walk. We’re all straining to hear them because there’s a huge screen and nearby performer who are dominating the airwaves.
I look around. It’s a majority of teenagers to twenty-sometimes, but I see kids with parents as well as kids without their parents. I see someone rocking a blue mohawk and I see several people wearing Pikachu hats and bags.
I’m then distracted by a booming voice from the stage, “Who’s here from Team Instinct?!”, an admin shouts. About a third of the crowd’s hands go up accompanied by loud cheers.
“Valor?” More hands go up and even louder cheers.
“Let’s go catch some Pokemon!” — and we start leaving.
There’s now 400 people people walking across the Yarra River in an orderly fashion. Everyone’s smiling and laughing and looking down at their phones.
As with any large group, people walking on the right side of the path and across the road stare at us. A truly unique mismatched group of people. They’re probably thinking: “Who is this group, and why are they all walking together?”
Pokemon’s theme song cuts through the air, and starts playing loud. Teach Pokemon to understand, the power that's inside.
I hold my breath and hope we all start breaking into song as we walk. I’m disappointed that no one opts in — maybe later in the day.
We walk past three kids who were playing the game on the sidewalk. A person in front of me tells them to join the walk. They’re keen and join in on the ranks.
We’re stopped at the lights but leave a path so people could walk past; the group’s very well behaved and polite.
We're in a park now. There's a Slowpoke nearby, and a 643CP Pincer too. “Hold up, hold up,” I hear a guy behind me say. He really wants that Pincer.
We crowd around a large statue and the first lure goes down. The Pokemon with the highest CP caught in the next 30 minutes would win a Razer headset in the choice of their team colour, and admin explains, and the crowd scurries off in all directions — there’s other lured Pokestops nearby.
The teenagers with the Pokemon theme song on repeat walk past me, this time it’s the lesser- known second verse – I make a mental note to catch up with him later on the day.
As I walk in and out of the group, someone behind me is teaching his friend the more advanced tactics of the game. In front of me, I see a woman petting a stranger’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy. She knows it’s stopping the owner from catching Pokemon, but he says he doesn’t mind.
Squirtle alert. “GET IN THE (an expletive that we can’t publish on this website - Ed)-ING BALL, SQUIRTLE,” someone yells as I walk past them. I catch a 939 CP Pincer – not too shabby for this competition.
Everyone's now heading to the Myer Music Bowl to see who’s caught the highest CP Pokemon. A 1370 CP Pincer is the highest and two gamers have caught the same one. A quick game of rock-paper-scissors determined the winner and the runner-up.
A picture is taken of the group and we start heading to the next destination.
We find ourselves walking straight into a Valor-controlled gym. I look behind me and Pokemon Go players are occupying the curved snake-like pathway for a few hundred metres.
I check my phone again and the gym’s been taken over by Team Instinct but it's already being contested. Red controls it again after about three minutes. Savage.
We’re now walking along the Yarra River and loud screams of Dratini cut across the cold wind. It’s only 152 CP but I catch it anyway as it seems like I’m the only one in the world without a Dragonite.
We’re nearly at the next stop and pass a level 9 prestige gym controlled by Team Mystic; no one’s going to contest this gym as it’s too high level and we follow the path while avoiding Saturday bicyclists.
We gather and a lure is dropped at Morell Bridge. At this stop, the lowest CP Pokemon caught in the next 30 minutes will win a prize so we all get to work.
I chat to the organiser of the event, 18-year- old student, Jayden Traynor, about how the meet-up came about.
“Originally, I created this [Facebook] event because I saw how popular the game was becoming and I wanted to see if I could get a few mates to come along for a good time, gain some levels, and possibly even make some new friends.”
The Year 12 student, who DJs and produces music as a hobby, was overwhelmed at the momentum and virality the Facebook event gathered. Traynor explains, “I was stunned. It had gone from 30 people in the first two hours to 6,000 people 24 hours later! I was amazed so many people were willing to come together just because of a game.
"It made me happy to see people were getting along for a nostalgic reason that meant so much to me when I was a kid, and obviously so much to all these people. I didn’t think the event was going to get as much attention as it did, so I was a little bit overwhelmed with the planning, but I had some help from my mates Aaron and Chris who are also admins of our Facebook Group, Poke Spotting Australia,” he explains.
15 minutes later, I overhear someone explaining why Ash Ketchum in the original series is actually 16 years old. We all gather after 30 minutes to find out several members of the group have caught a 10 CP Pokemon (the lowest number in the game). So the lowest CP Pokemon race changes to a trivia challenge and a battle of Pokemon wit was tested.
Fast forward 30 minutes and we’re at the MCG now. Well, next to the MCG anyway, because a footy game was on and we weren’t allowed to enter the grounds — but it’s known to spawn a lot of Growlithes, and Arcanine is one of the best Pokemon to have in your Pokedex.
Here, another lure was dropped and it was all about catching the heaviest Pokemon. I asked Traynor about his favourite moment of the day so far. He said it was about all the attendees coming up to him and thanking him for organizing the event.
“I even had kids as young as 10 come up to me and show me their Pokemon. The excitement in their faces reminded me of when I used to play it as a kid. It made me really happy to see that.”
I left after this and caught an UberX back home as the event was running over time. I sat in the warm Nissan X-Trail and the driver started making conversation with me, “Did you see the big group of people playing Pokemon?”
“Yep, I was a part of it. Do you play?”
“Oh, nah,” he says, “I’m scared to start. I know I’m going to get addicted.”
I laugh, tell him I empathise with him, look down at my phone and throw a curveball at a Zubat.