Pokemon Go, Queer Spaces, and Queer Contact

Curator's Note

Shortly after the release of Pokemon Go, stories of players’ accidental finds, mishaps, even dangerous encounters made headlines and social media feeds. One such story broke in July 2016 about players trolling the infamous anti-LGBT Westboro Baptist Church, which is a designated in-game Pokemon gym, with a cheerfully chubby and bright pink Clefairy named “LoveIsLove.” Beyond Poke-activism, there are numerous accounts of Pokemon Go-inspired friendships, meet-ups, sex, health benefits, and alternative fandoms. In other words, the mobile app and “augmented reality” game has become a catalyst for movement, behaviors, bodies, relationships, and shifts in public and private spaces all mediated by a digital game.  Pokemon Go allows players to queer space, to repurpose ostensibly non-gamic places and geographies, and to engage in what Samuel Delany calls “queer contact” or the ways desire and intimacy often flows from chance encounters, particularly in metropolitan spaces, across race, class, gender, and sexuality.

Delany in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue writes, “Contact is the conversation that starts in line at the grocery counter…It is the discussion that begins with the person next to you at a bar…contact is also the intercourse—physical and conversational—that blooms in and as ‘casual sex’ in public rest rooms, sex movies, public parks, singles bars, and sex clubs, on street corners…from which nonsexual friendships and/or acquaintances lasting for decades or a lifetime may spring” (123). According to Delany, contact is broadly social, appears random, invites socioeconomic diversity, and takes place in public, often outdoors. Contact is a necessary function of queer and queering space, which David Bell and Gill Valentine in Mapping Desire describe as a process where “the presence of queer bodies in particular locations forces people to realise that the space around them…have been produced as (ambiently) heterosexual, heterosexist and heteronormative” (18). In a fun, campy, and semi-serious way, Pokemon Go requires contact, encourages the queering of spaces, and offers the opportunity for people of different identities, bodies, erotics, and gaming and non-gaming goals to cross paths.

Granted there are limits to this queer possibility—particularly for already marginalized or precariously raced, classed, gendered, and differently-abled bodies—but perhaps the “augmented reality” of Pokemon Go can be the occasion and the creative agent for a queerer, more generous reality. Indeed, Clefairy hopes so.

Comments

Alenda Chang's picture

And then there's Diglett

This comment may be inappropriate for some users. Ahem.

How do we read the appropriation of Pokémon Go’s AR tech to create “Diglett” dick pics? Some of the shots I’ve seen (and I haven’t really looked) are rampantly heterosexist, with women staged in the background, ready to appreciate Diglett’s emergence. That’s not to say queer play wouldn’t be possible with the same meme, especially now that the new appraisal feature offers double entendres a-plenty: the difference, let’s say, between team leaders Candela or Blanche saying “The size of your Diglett is… colossal” and Spark saying “Your Diglett is just HUGE!”

And while we’re at it, for fun, here’s an experiment from an earlier installment: “I joined Grindr and only used trainer quotes from Pokémon Red”

Edmond Y. Chang's picture

Fortuitously, my #WGS361

Fortuitously, my #WGS361 students are reading all of the Pokemon Go posts for class this week: http://edmondchang.com/courses/361/. Pokemon Go is one of the games we are looking at this week.

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