It’s 10 p.m. and I’m being hunted by three furious 20-somethings in a pitch-black National Forest. They’re pretty pissed off right now. It’s like I’ve lined up all of their mothers, gotten a good running start, and combo-slapped the bunch, Mexican wave style. All of the champagne swear words are coming out, too, folks. F ‘n’ C combos, mostly – a rural Aussie classic.
The vast, empty bushland around us echoes their rage back to sender, doubled. It’s a racket loud enough to disturb a colony of flying foxes who screech back in annoyance, as if they’re angry Zubats about to be caught. Like me.
How did I get into this predicament? That requires a little Pokemon Go lesson and a fifteen-minute rewind of this pretty unheroic tale.
A quarter-hour ago, the Pokemon gym at my current position, on the edge of Mad Max-esque nothing, was controlled by a rival team. Somehow, the developers of this game thought it’d be a super-effective idea to install a major player hub, off the beaten track, in Australia’s tourist-eating Blue Mountains.
We’re talking about 11,400 km² (4400 mi²) of some of the most rugged bushland my sunburnt country has to offer. You lose it out here – especially at night, and in the current below-freezing season of winter – and you’re in a world of hurt.
I suppose developer Niantic’s reasoning was: “Oh, hey, Google Maps reckons there’s a Scout Hall out that way. Kids like Scouts. Kids are our target demographic. Gym location: created!” The grim reality of this place, however, makes it far from ideal.
Picture, if you will, a walking-access-only dirt road; vehicles are completely restricted by a large metal security gate. It’s a two-minute stumble to the hall, and the thick scrub instantly swallows all trace of the sleepy, safe suburbia you’re leaving behind.
Zero illumination, of course. At night, with an icy wind thrashing through a sea of leaves above you, it feels like you’re the world’s stupidest decision-maker. The teenage star of the next big found-footage slasher, perhaps; or maybe just a bonafide future murder investigation.
After a few twists and turns, the old Scout hall looms up, lit with dull orange lights that do little to pierce the Stygian gloom. I can’t tell you why the local council chooses to waste electricity on what could be The Blair Witch’s holiday house. Security? A deterrent for would-be burglars? Not likely. Civilisation has no eyes or ears out here.
It feels so off the grid. You could probably slaughter a pig on the front steps, and nobody would come and ask what the ruckus is all about (or to enquire about free bacon). Given my current predicament: this is not my favourite feature of this locale.
It would turn your spine into ice water in the fricken daytime, is what I’m trying to get across. But I’ve willingly chosen to be here at this ungodly hour because my “Defense Bonus Timer” is about to reset, and I’m an idiot. You see, after seizing a gym and collecting its rewards (Pokecoins that can only be bought with real money), a 21 hour timer will trigger. You may collect no more rewards from any other gym until the timer resets.
I’ve been eyeing this particular location, and my countdown timer, all day. I want to add it to the three gyms I already control to maximise my gains. In order to achieve this, I have to dethrone three Pokemasters who have combined their forces to effectively lock the area down with an impressive trifecta of 1200+ CP Pokemon. I’ve had time to prepare the perfect counter-team which will use Pokemon’s rock-paper-scissor system of “types” to my advantage. If I approach the gym at this ungodly hour, the servers will be at their stablest, due to low traffic, and there’ll be little chance of anybody rocking up to counter-take it.
At ten-minutes to deadline, I jog out to the Scout hall and prepare to dive-bomb this place like a Pidgey of pure malevolence. First problem: it’s so ridiculously dark, I flashbang myself with my own phone when it wakes. Reeling, I squint my eyes, and drop the brightness to nothing. It still feels like I’m in a staring contest with the sun.
I quickly melt through the enemy Pokemon like butter. Sorry, but I don’t have time to go into details about the battle – but trust me, I use three Pokemon that are all 1/3 of my opponent’s CP to do it. It’s surgical. A goddamn Pokemasterpiece.
Better yet, as a bit of a middle finger to the previous tenants, I quickly rename a 9CP Caterpie and install it as the new boss of my gym. That’s the non-gaming equivalent of conquering Rome and putting a chicken in charge.
With my job done, I linger maybe five more minutes and set up a few Pokemon egg incubators to tick over as I jog home. I stash my phone, turn to leave, and freeze. I think I can see some distant pinpricks of moving light… car headlights on the distant road, perhaps, stabbing through the maze of eucalypts. A minute later, there’s a lull in the wind, and my ears snatch the sound of hurried footfalls and multiple voices. They’re getting louder. They’re also coming from the only exit.
A weird moment of silliness washes over me, and all of a sudden I’m nine-years old again, playing hide and seek. I throw an arm up to protect my face from wayward branches, excitedly bound a few metres off the path, and put my back against a gumtree.
Not much later, I hear the crunch of gravel as three random dudes sprint up to the nearby Scout hall. They’re holding their phones outwards, in reverse, like searchlights. When my visitors get to within GPS range of the gym, their devices swing back around to access Pokemon Go.
“Ahhh, fuck me eyes!” shrieks one of them. I slap a hand over my mouth to lock it down.
“Shaddup!” barks a different guy. I don’t chance a peek at the group, but I can tell he’s the leader of the three. Textbook Moe.
It quickly becomes apparent that the group is annoyed with me for killing their prized Pokemon (this will require a bunch of revives and quite a few potions to fix). They also spot their new Caterpie overlord who bears the moniker ‘LOL’. I can tell this because the bemused swearing starts in earnest. Though, to be fair, the guy who nearly blinded himself is directing his fury at a ‘servers unavailable’ message. I commiserate, and mentally favourite him as “Curly”.
“What the FUCK, man?!” bellows the last member of this dugtrio (Larry). He doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp of the mechanics of the game yet, because he assumes I’ve just used the lowliest stinkbug imaginable to take out their ‘roided up Pokemon.
Also, I imagine the name to their pain – my gamertag, “Yourmumsawesome” -– could be exacerbating the situation. Amusingly, they start to use a shorthand of it, like Yourmumsawesome is as common a name as Stephen or Kylie.
Who the hell’s Yourmum? Yourmum’s everywhere in town. How did Yourmum take down our best with a Caterpie? Seriously, dude, fuck Yourmum.
I find this to be pretty hilarious, right up until the point when the most pressing question of the day becomes: Oi, is Yourmum still about?
Quick as a flash, their mobiles twist outward again. My dear, sweet, body-hiding tree suddenly sprouts three new shadows that twist and skew crazily across the forest floor. These quickly wheel away into the darkness, however, as other trees are checked.
My heart restarts.
“Nah. He’s not here, ya dickheads,” snaps Moe. “Dude’s a hacker. C–t’s probably sitting at home, right now, with a fuckin’ GPS-faker, or somethin’. We should report him, aye?”
I get the feeling that Moe’s minions aren’t quite picking up what he’s putting down, but they murmur in assent anyway. The group promptly re-heals their glorified pack of Eeves, they squash my Caterpie, and reclaim “their” gym. Curly starts bitching about the cold, and the pack retreats, probably to resume driving around the deserted streets very slowly, in some shitbox, hunting for more Pokemon.
I wait until I can see the lights of their car switch on, then disappear, and soon after I make a start for home. I’m buzzing on adrenaline as I go, replaying the incident in my head, and imagining how it could have gone. None of the scenarios are too pleasant.
I think I can hold my own in a fight, and can usually talk my way out of most situations before things reach that point … but being out-numbered, by three guys 10-years younger who have their blood up? Yeah, nah. Who’s to say how messy things could have gotten?
So, I guess my main PSA of the day would be this: be very mindful of where you venture during your Pokehunt. Also, be aware that right now Pokemon Go is something of a craze. Pay particular attention to that word. People can get swept up in the heat of things, and momentarily mistake silly pursuits for serious business.
Lastly, it’s probably not a good idea to piss in someone’s eye with a Caterpie, and know that if our paths do ever cross, Yourmum’s actually a top bloke.
This story originally appeared in August 2016.