Becoming friends through Pokémon Go app in De Uithof

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DUB asked Chemistry student Winnie Henderson to talk about the fanatical Uithof-based Pokémon Go WhatsApp group, which brings students and non-students together.

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It’s been a few years since the Pokémon Go hype made headlines. You may remember the chaos that happened at the Zandvoort beach. People between 15 and 25 years old trampled the plants in the dunes, rubbish cans could not take the scale of the unexpected visits. Day tourists stayed away, cafés lost revenue. Chaos, indeed. It was so bad that at a certain point, the game was banned from the area, and the app took measures to ensure you wouldn’t encounter as many Pokémon at that location. All this for an app in which you can catch monsters, just like in the popular cartoon series and Nintendo games – but this time, catching monsters is done in the ‘real world’. Slow news season was saved – at the expense of dune flora.

At first glance, it seems as though the hype has passed. When I reopened the app after a full year while standing next to a fellow student, the opposite turned out to be true. She was still as fanatic as she’d been in the summer of 2016. Asked if I wanted to join the Uithof WhatsApp group. I wasn’t expecting much, but still decided to join. I entered a jam-packed group app with around 250 participants, with Science students, Humanities students, hbo students, UMC patients, anyone, really. It’s a large group whose strength lies in the variety. But what (else) makes this group app, and the game, so special?

Coming together
The main goal of the WhatsApp group is getting people together for so-called raids. In these raids, it’s vital to work together in order to catch rare or strong Pokémon. These raids can happen a few times a day. Raids are mentioned in the app group. Someone sees one in Pokémon, and informs the other, indicating when it’ll take place. People sign up for the time slot to come together to beat the Pokémon (you can only catch it after defeating it).

The raids happen in fixed locations. You see participants coming together near the Johanna, the Cambridge building, Casa Confetti, the David de Wied building, TNO, in the botanical gardens, the library, and the Administration Building. You show up to meet a group of people you don’t really know, all of you chasing the same goal. At the same time, you’re just making small talk. “It’s really a lot of fun,” says student Shannan. “This really helped me get to know people from outside my study programme, with whom I still have things in common.”

Friendship and rivalry
In the game, you can also be each other’s rival. This sounds a lot less friendly than the previously mentioned scenario. There are three teams, and when you sign up, you choose which colour you belong to: blue, red, or yellow. As team, you can dominate a place of interest. This yields coins, which you can spend in the game on clothes or things that can help you catch more Pokémon.

During a raid, you often work together with rivals, so it’s not all hatred and envy. It’s also the moment you can make friends in the game. This offers all sorts of benefits, one of them being that you can send each other presents. Nobody cares which team you’re on. Everyone’s willing to help each other, even if it technically makes a rival stronger. “It’s really nice, actually, because at least you’ll have someone that provides some true competition, which makes the game a lot more exciting.”

Contact outside of the game
The raids aren’t the only goal of the WhatsApp group. Sometimes, some goals aren’t in the game itself. We’re all neighbours, and we interact like them. People ask whether they can borrow something, like a drill. Or groups form of students meeting up to study in the Library. There’s a sub-group of biologists and mathematicians who help each other out. It’s said that there’s also been some romances that started in the app group.

A few weeks ago, there was a fire in the parking of the hospital. A worried cat owner asked the group whether there was smoke surrounding the high-rise buildings in De Uithof where he lives. The app group quickly put his mind at ease, telling him that the situation was perfectly safe for the cat. Regular neighbours, really.

Fanatical players
Some are more fanatical than others. Where one player may open the app on the way from home to class, another may scour the entire Uithof area. The fanatical players are often those who forward the news from the app developers to the group, or notice when a new raid is about to start. You notice that these are the people for whom it’s almost more than a hobby.

Take Remco, for example. He walks around for half an hour or more every evening. But, he says, there’s a lot more time to play on the weekends, when you can easily walk around for one to three hours. This can get especially fun on the ‘community days’. On one of these days, one type of Pokémon is more common, and you can catch special editions of that Pokémon. This makes days like that a lot of fun, and makes these types of app groups very useful.

If you’re on De Uithof on any given day and you see a large group of people gather in broad daylight who seem to all be staring at their phones, then don’t be surprised. They’re actually working on making friends, and helping and meeting each other.

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