“Remember to be alert at all times. Stay aware of your surroundings,” warns the opening screen on Pokémon Go. And with good reason. Some people are so engrossed in the game they’ve fallen into ditches, walked off cliffs and been lured into armed robberies – and, sure, there have been moments when I’ve nearly stepped into traffic trying to catch a Magnemite. You have to be careful.
But in another sense, Pokemon has made me far more aware of my surroundings, showing me things I hadn’t noticed in months, even years, of walking the same streets and going to the same places.
Who knew my local church was called St John the Evangelist? Or that Sunday services were at 11am? Not me, until it became a Pokestop. Who knew that the piece of street art on the side of that coffee shop had a title and was by a particular artist? To be honest, I’d never looked very closely at it before, it’s kind of cool. And a great place to stock up on Pokeballs and potions.
Turns out that park I go to for lunch every day is an old school grounds – and that’s why the hotel that just opened up next to it is called St Paul’s, it’s named after the school.
I’ve drunk at the Swan pub plenty of times – it’s got a really nice gin palace vibe. But I never bothered to look up, so I never saw that gorgeous old mural right at the top of the building.
Of course, I knew there were loads of pubs in London but I never realised quite how many churches there were, squeezed in between offices and shops or in buildings that look more like NHS clinics.
And the blue plaques – they’re everywhere! “Mahatma Gandhi lived here as a law student”, “Piotr Demianovich Ouspensky, Philosopher and Author, Teacher of the Fourth Way, taught and stayed here” – all this fascinating historical information, all on my way to work, and all because I’ve been playing a computer game that is supposed to make you oblivious to your surroundings.
Pokémon Go is like a free walking tour of London, or wherever you happen to be.
Forget Lonely Planet or Rough Guide – next time I visit a new city I’m letting Pokémon Go be my guide.