This weekend, Pokémon Go celebrated its latest Community Day - a monthly date for trainers to team up and, together, track down something special in the game.
Saturday's event centred on the rare dragon Dratini, which appeared in huge numbers throughout the three-hour Community Day window. It gave players a chance at acquiring an alternate-coloured "shiny" pink version of the creature for the first time, and a unique battle move only attainable during the event. It also let you easily boost your Dragon-catching medal, which in turn makes catching Dragons easier.
But really - and most importantly - it was an excuse for those who play to meet up with others who share the same hobby.
Three of Eurogamer's top Pokémon Go players were out in the cold, in London and around Brighton at various gatherings - and all reported back with some tales to tell.
Matthew Reynolds: If you play Pokémon Go and are struggling to find others to play with, I'd recommend a trip into London. Show up anywhere central - from Soho to Holborn - for whenever a raid starts and voila, a dozen eager players come out the woodwork to help you catch that Pokémon. It makes these player-intensive events - even the hunt for legendaries - really easy.
As such, it become my first port of call for this month's Community Day. Even though there's no shortage of organised meetups to join, it was a surprise to see over 50 people huddled in the freezing cold alongside Marble Arch, waiting for the event to start.
After some excited small talk as players caught their first Dratinis, the group swiftly moved to Selfridges, before breaking into smaller groups, bouncing back and forth between Bond Street to Oxford Circus to hoover up countless spawns from the many clusters of PokéStops that lined the road.
It was the perfect conditions to maximise your chances of catching shinies - which appear at random, so is simply a numbers game - and by staying around these condensed spots, the odds were in our favour. Getting a shiny was arguably the reason we were all there, and by doing this, it seemed like a lot of people were walking away from the event happy.
As well as filling our bags with dozens of Dratinis, shiny and otherwise, the cherry on top would be finding a one with perfect stats, which you could then level into the perfect gym toppling machine. This was far trickier, having to quickly weigh up the risk of leaving a lucrative catching spot to travel across the city for wherever they might appear.
I eventually made the call to make a 30 minute round trip as the event entered its final hour, only for it to disappear before I arrived. Thankfully, another appeared just five minutes from where I originally started, making for a rollercoaster finale as I raced back and joined dozens of others squeezing into a small side-street by Oxford Circus - one of the city's busiest hubs - to find and catch our prize.
The day was a success, with over one hundred Dratini and four shinies caught in just three short and busy hours. Though the volume of players racing round the city delivered an electric atmosphere, and the rewards were plentiful, with everyone understandably keeping to polite small talk as they focused on the day, next time I'd like to see what a more close-knit meetup in a quieter spot would be like - if the stakes weren't so high of course - to get to know other players a little better. But still, even smalltalk with strangers who share a passion for virtual creatures is warming enough to help you brave a chilly weekend morning in the city. The fact they know the best places to play also helps.
Tom Phillips: My Community Day was spent with the group of friends I've made playing Pokémon Go. A few years back I moved to a small town just outside Brighton - the city was getting a bit busy for me and half consciously, half-subconsciously, I ended up somewhere not unlike where I spent my childhood - a place surrounded by fields and not a lot else.
I've written before about how Pokémon Go helped me form friendships in a place I'd recently moved to and how it helped me find a group of people who, I think, are quite like me. People who don't mind being left to their own devices, but who will jump in cars or hike up a hill if something exciting appears as part of Pokémon Go's never-ending treasure hunt. People who, like me, get excited when they find others who play this often ridiculous game - others who can then be called upon for help when the time comes to team up and take on challenges which require larger groups of people.
Community Day brought us together in a local park and, among the ruins of an ancient abbey, we wandered seeing what we could find. There was the excitement of a nearby 100% Dratini - the best possible - and then the regular shouts of "shiny!" whenever the creature's pink-coloured variant was uncovered.
Large groups bring out the best and worst of Pokémon Go's randomly-generated variables - and so personal stories of having caught four shinies in a row, or none throughout the whole day were borne out in front of the crowd. We cheered when someone finally got their first shiny a minute before the end of the event. We commiserated those who were not as lucky. And we helped pick up a couple of people who slipped over while running about in the mud.
Back home in the warm after saying our goodbyes, I counted my catches and sorted through my haul. I'd snagged my fair share, but it was the photos we had taken, new players we'd introduced and the new stories we had to recall which were far more important.
Oh, and then an EX Pass for another Mewtwo showed up after raiding in the park. That was pretty cool, too.
Chris Tapsell: Pokémon Go is often talked about as a "dead game". It's the retort of choice for the cynics, and the people who lost interest about two days into 2016's maniacal summer but, actually, it still carries a bit of a sting, because occasionally it can feel a little true. I don't think of Pokémon Go as dead game, but I do see it as a sort of "existential crisis game". There are lots of these - Destiny, Monster Hunter - games about collecting things and making numbers go up that carry no meaning whatsoever beyond those collectable things and increasing numbers. They're games defined by the fact that it's best if you try not to think about them too hard.
I love Pokémon, and I like Pokémon Go, but this game has managed to quite effortlessly compress that existential dread into my pocket - there's a horrible metaphor in there somewhere about the "real pocket monster" - and so the only respite comes when I encounter other people.
Living in the inevitable disconnect of a city, though, rather than a tight-knit town, and living with a partner who doesn't love it when I jump out of bed at midnight and run into the local park, I haven't struck up a real connection with the community. So I often lapse, or just pop in to get that month's Legendary before it disappears, and the thirty or forty people I see around town might get a nod or a smile, but then it's back to the solitude - the dread - of a meaningless game played alone. "At least I'm just walking home," I tell myself every evening, waiting for the game to load. It's a bit of a backhanded compliment but it's true: Pokémon Go is something I play because I quite literally have nothing else to be doing.
I missed the first Community Day, and as you can imagine I came into this second one a sceptic. Take all my ambivalence from above and add to it that fact that it was freezing (I now have a cold), it had the word "Community" in the name (a bit trite), and it was organised by Niantic (enough said).
But, I was wrong, and I'm delighted that I was. I went to Hove Park on a Saturday and the first thing I saw was at least three teams of kids, aged about nine or ten, doing some football training, and I realised that this was the exact place I trained with my first team - the same team - for the first time. At that age I was probably running straight home to play more Pokémon, too. And now I'm here to play Pokémon, but I'm 25 and it's sort of my job, which is... ironic? That's a stretch, maybe poetic? Or depressing?
Anyway, as well as the few-dozen kids were a few hundred people - of all ages - glued to their phones. Hove Park has a brilliant "circuit" - a series of PokéStops dotted around a footpath in a big circle, perfect for farming Community Day's boosted spawns - and so most of the area's players had turned up here. It was also an archetypically glorious winter's day, despite the throat-shredding cold, and so maybe I should have expected it.
You can't help but imagine this is exactly what John Hanke, Niantic's eternally optimistic founder, has always had in mind for the game: a big, happy cross-section of society, all mixed in together, from mouthy grans, peering over spectacles into their phones and chin-wagging about the CP of their new catches, to the bois, fresh out of Nandos and head-to-toe in football kit, YouTube-ready hair perfectly coiffed as they tried to get a quick circuit in before training later, and who were arguing about whether or not to evolve their shiny Dragonair into a Dragonite because they "like how nice it looks in pink".
It was a day of weird contrasts like this. Early on, a tutting woman asked what we were doing, then interrupted as I explained to inform me that I should "enjoy this!" gesturing at the clear sky. I tried to tell her that's, actually, exactly what we were doing but by then she was already power walking off into the horizon. Compare that with another chat I had, towards the end of the three-hour event, with a man, probably in his sixties, out on his own walking his dog. He asked me if it was "that Pokémon game" we were playing. I expected more chastisement. "Is there a rare one in the park?" Yes! I explained what was going on, telling him about shinies and how good a Dragonite is and how rare Dratini normally are and, somehow, he was genuinely impressed. He downloaded the game on the spot, and started playing.
Pokémon Go is a lot of things. It's inconsistent and strange, it's exploitative of my urge to collect and to grind, and sometimes it's just a plain mess. But as Community Days are showing, it's anything but dead.
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