Gotta Catch ‘Em All

I still remember the early days. How happy we all were. How excited. I took my kids (my kids!) out with me two days after Pokemon GO released. An innocent outing downtown to go and search for Pokemon. We were amazed to see how many other people were out and about hunting for the little critters as well.

“Gotta catch ’em all,” we’d say to each other, smiling. Laughing.

It’s important to remember now just how much we didn’t know then. How naive we all were. The all-caps GO didn’t sound any alarms with anyone. Why would it? Would we have made the same mistakes if we’d known what far reaching effects those decisions would have? Of course not. Who would?

The truth didn’t begin to come out until a month after the release.

The game had swept the globe by then, everyone still caught up in the euphoria of getting out and interacting with those lovable digital creatures. The rumblings of trouble first came from New Zealand, which makes sense. It was the first country to get the game.

I remember reading the post on Reddit: “lol check out this Pokemon addict.” It led to a picture of a person with sunken eyes, smartphone clutched in his hands, a haggard expression on his face. He’d been found in the middle of Long Bay Regional Park in Auckland, whimpering next to the swing sets. Police dismissed him as a junkie, and why wouldn’t they? The tiny holes on his arms were obviously needle tracks.

No one had seen a Pidgey swarm yet. No one even knew they could. The first video of the phenomenon was still months away. Now the sight of their tiny beaks jabbing in for the veins is seared into all of our memories, but then? It was unimaginable.

In the days to follow, more and more victims began to crop up, and the symptoms became more defined. Loss of sleep. Inability to focus. A permanent feeling of being watched. An urge to continually check for Pokemon in the area. The gym battles between Mystic, Valor, and Instinct began to cool off after a few weeks, with only the really dedicated fans truly dueling it out for control. In the end, most of the players just stopped trying to catch so many.

But the Pokemon were in the wild by then. Invisible to human eyes, but clearly present when you looked through a smartphone’s camera. We thought augmented reality was a fun little toy to play with. We didn’t know it was so closely connected to the real world.

But the Pokemon did.

The world thought it was a publicity stunt by Niantic. That the company had tried to spark more interest in the game by upping the spawn rates of the Pokemon. And it was clear that something had changed when you went back to the game. Weeks before, Pokemon sightings had been steady but not overwhelming in population centers, and away from towns they had been almost non-existent. Now they were everywhere. Too many of them to keep up with Pokeball supplies, and more of them coming every day.

The streets were crawling with Ratatas and Caterpies. Beaches littered with Staryus. But it wasn’t just the basic Pokemon. They were evolving. Growing in power. Haunters, Beedrills, Raticates, and more. Hungry for Razz Berries, of course, but more than willing to settle for substitutes in a pinch. Substitutes like fingers or toes or even eyeballs.

That’s when the videos began flooding the internet. Firsthand sightings of feeding frenzies. When you see a fifteen year old devoured by a pack of Eevies, you can’t ignore the threat. And the world came together again, just as it had in the early days of the game.

“Gotta catch ’em all,” we told each other, our faces mirrors of grim determination. We grabbed our smartphones and headed for every Pokestop we knew, setting up a steady flow of Pokeballs to keep up with the rising numbers. Apple and Google began churning out free phones. Verizon and AT&T removed all data caps and charges. We transferred wave upon wave of Pokemon back to Professor Willow, morning and night, but it didn’t seem to matter. The combined forces of Mystic, Instinct, and Valor were nothing compared to our foe.

The Pokemon overwhelmed countries that didn’t have the technology to fight back. All contact with North Korea disappeared, which wasn’t overly surprising, but the same phenomenon happened across Africa and Central America. Entire cities were gone before we’d even known there was a problem.

They diversified. Digletts burrowing through the earth. Fearows swooping down from the skies. Snorlax terrorizing our dreams. Vaporeons, Jolteons, and Flareons roaming the skies in packs. Every type required a different defense. Our meager few tamed Pokemon couldn’t keep up, no matter how hard we trained them.

Germany fell. Then France. England. Canada. The internet went down. Power plants died. Nuclear plants melted, releasing massive amounts of radiation into the atmosphere. It killed humans, but it only mutated Pokemon. We were cut off from each other and had to turn to gasoline generators to keep our phones charged enough to protect ourselves. But without the infrastructure we needed to keep the oil flowing and the gas coming, even that failed us at last.

It’s been weeks since I last saw another human face. I’m holed up in a remote cabin, and my last tank of gasoline ran out a few hours ago. Even now, the generator is sputtering its last few breaths. I have thirteen phones and as many battery packs as I could scrounge together. Once the generator goes, I might last another week or two. Is it too much to pray the Pokemon might turn on each other? That deprived of a diet of Razz Berries and human flesh, they might begin to starve?

Probably. But I can’t completely give up hope. Maybe there are still pockets of resistance. Perhaps New York City or San Francisco still stand. There had been theories that electrical fields could disrupt the beasts. Human ingenuity might have won out at the last second.

I hear them now. Scratching at my window at night. Clawing at my door. Now and then, the knob jiggles. There are squeaks and chitters at midnight, because they know. Sooner or later the power will be completely gone. At some point, I’ll slip up and make a mistake. And then I’ll be nothing more than another statistic. Another loss in a battle against a swarm of beings with no regard or care for human life.

“Gotta catch ’em all,” we said, never knowing what would happen when we didn’t.

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