“Do you want a ride?” asked the botanical gardens employee. She resembled Supergirl, not just in appearance, but in the way she swooped in to help. It was a ninety-degree day, and her solar-powered tram held twenty other sweaty people with their phones out.
I had been to the Springfield Botanical Gardens at Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park before with my daughter, but I never knew there was a tram tour until a post on the local subreddit declared that it was the best location in town to play Pokémon Go. And I wasn’t the only one who read that post—on a given day the park hosts dozens of Pokémon trainers who, conservatively speaking, probably wouldn’t visit otherwise.
As I took a seat, another player complimented my umbrella. We had a light conversation in between Pokéstops, tram stops, and the occasional appearance of an Eevee. At the tram stops, the two of us and our fellow passengers looked up from our phones while our guide described the 1800s schoolhouse, Japanese tea house, mosaic sidewalk, and master gardeners demo area. “I’m coming back,” said the trainer who liked my umbrella. “I’m going to volunteer here.”
Pokémon Go’s locations (Pokéstops and gyms) are tied to real world landmarks, mostly public art, civic buildings, and parks. How many people in my town had never noticed the American Bicentennial mural in the loading bay behind a downtown office building? Now that trainers can get items and experience points there, it’s a stop on many downtown circuits.
It’s also an outdoorsy introvert’s dream: a structured, goal-oriented, group activity, where I can discover virtual creatures hiding on the greenway where I already love to stroll. How many people already have their phones out while they walk? Now I pass other trainers with a knowing nod and, occasionally, tips on where to find the nearest Vulpix.
When I posted an abbreviated version of my trip to the botanical gardens on my blog, I received a lot of responses from people with similar experiences. One friend said she’s spent more time on her town green playing Pokémon than she had since she moved there. Another informed me that Satoshi Tajiri designed the original Pokémon games to get kids to collaborate, rather than cloister themselves away in traditional videogame fashion. I hope he’s proud of what Pokémon Go is accomplishing.
Pokémon Go’s developers at Niantic are working on adding greater accessibility for trainers with limited mobility, and removing Pokéstops and gyms from locations like memorials and hospitals (which worked fine in its previous augmented reality game, Ingress, but not for something with Pokémon’s market saturation). In the meantime, you’ll find fellow players and me outside, discovering the unexplored corners of town on our way to “catch ‘em all.”
Helpful Tips for Trainers
The staff at the Springfield Botanical Garden would like patrons who are playing Pokémon Go to remember to respect non-gaming activities. Trainers can share the path with joggers and cyclists by moving to the right when they stop to catch Pokémon, and should be aware of non-gaming activities including weddings, pavilion rentals, and maintenance work. Gates close at 9p.m. and a visit to the Botanic Center Gift Shop can help you refuel with snacks and drinks during a long day of monster hunting.
In any park, whether or not you’re playing Pokémon, be sure to stay on marked paths to keep both yourself and the ecosystem safe!