Given the thunderous rise of Pokémon Go this month, it was only natural that “trainers” and PokéFever would find their way to tap rooms and brewhouses. Especially those lucky enough to be designated PokéStops or gyms.
For those unfamiliar with the game that now draws more active daily users than Twitter: Pokémon Go is an augmented reality, mobile device version of the classic, Game Boy game. Users strive to collect Pokémon and battle with them, but rather than trekking in a virtual world on a device screen, gamers wander reality looking for “wild” Pokémon that are located via GPS and correspond to actual settings (you’ll find more water-based Pokémon near lakes and rivers, and apparently Rattatas are common in New York City).
PokéStops are physical locations where players in the augmented reality game go to stock up on supplies such as Pokéballs, and gyms are where players can interact and do battle. Nintendo, the creator of Pokémon, designates those locations, and the only discernable pattern in its choices seems to be the presence of frequent traffic and dense population. Some breweries, like Mad Fox Brewing Co., Bell’s Brewery, Anchor Brewing, Real Ale Brewing Co. and Carton Brewing, won the lottery in having Nintendo designate a gym or PokéStop on their premises.
“We’re getting a lot more outside customer base … so we have a number of large tables outside that we fill constantly now,” said Brandon Moser, executive chef at Mad Fox Brewing Co. in Falls Church, Virginia, whose employer houses a Pokémon Go gymnasium. “Here at Mad Fox we’re predominantly battling for the gym,” he continued, noting that he was one of the beta testers of the game and that much of the staff plays as well. “When people come in they’re typically on the other team so we battle them and try to hold it down.”
Businesses can also attract Pokémon gamers by buying and setting lures, which bring in creatures to an area for a specific time period. Grasslands Brewing Co. in Tallahassee, Florida, and Bell’s Brewery (which also has PokéStops and a gym at its locations) have already done this, and video game-themed bars such as The Baxter in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, have embraced similar events and bar crawls.
“While I want to shout from a mountain top I’ve been playing Pokémon this whole time, I’ve enjoyed seeing people at the bar checking their phones to see what monsters are nearby and sharing celebration when something less common than a Spearow shows up,” said Audrey Ragle, who is a brewer at New Jersey’s Carton Brewing and a Pokémon trainer since the games first arrived in the ’90s, in an email.
Carton Brewing is a designated PokéStop and it has also embraced the game in the workplace. Tasting room employees, Ragle and owner Augie Carton participate.
“Just yesterday two distracted kids were getting in the way of our forklift,” Ragle said. Though the kids were at no point in any danger, and they were on the sidewalk outside of the building, they seemed to have forgotten Carton is “an active production facility,” according to Ragle.
This inattentiveness, of course, gives rise to Luddite skepticism about how people staring down into their phones, steeped in an augmented reality, could ruin the social atmosphere of a bar or brewery. In a recent column for All About Beer Magazine, editor John Holl suggested beer drinkers avoid using their phones so much. “While a tavern is still a gathering place in the electronic age, much of its charms have been lost,” Holl wrote. “Conversations still take place in person, with a beer in one hand, phone in the other, to accommodate the rest of the world.”
Interestingly enough, Moser said that having staff and customers that play the same game creates a better point of access to build rapport, rather than just having a “dry run” to build a connection.
However, Ragle noted that the game’s currently limited multi-player capabilities hamper its social capacity.
“Right now the app is proving to be a bit of distraction and not much for socializing,” Ragle said. “While it’s enjoyable to discuss the game with a group of people the game itself is very much one-player.”
“I expect we’ll see some more faces buried in phones this weekend,” she continued. “I think we’ll make the best of those situations.”
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