Pokemon Go is a fun game when you don’t live in an area devastated by industrial contamination and toxic waste. Pokemon Go is a fun game when the Poke Stops aren’t at local landmarks steeped in mercury and lead. Pokemon Go is a fun game when innocent gamers don’t congregate in areas where the grass no longer grows because of carbon tetrachloride and dioxin and radionuclides in the soil.
For the kids in this city – and even for the adults in this city – Pokemon Go should be the kind of game to help them through the hell of their day-to-day lives. It should be a distraction from the omnipresent horror of living in a place that’s no longer on anyone’s map – a place that the outside world thinks is better off forgotten. If only playing it wasn’t killing them.
At the community hospital where I work, we’ve had a substantial increase in the number of patients displaying some effect of being poisoned: skin deterioration, pregnancy complications, respiratory distress, etc. – all consistent with the various environmental pollutants in different parts of town. Nearly all of those admitted have been Pokemon Go players.
Our city council had a meeting with officials from the police and fire departments, hoping figure out a way to keep those dangerous locations off limits to visitors. Lots of ideas were floated, but they all got shot down. The city has no money to erect barriers or police the areas. There’s simply far too many of them.
Signs started to go up. That was the one thing everyone on the council could agree on. The signs explicitly mentioned Pokemon Go and featured the frightening biohazard and radiation warning symbols.
No one was deterred. The poisonings continued.
I’d never played Pokemon in my life. I didn’t know anything about it. As more and more people started to show up at the hospital, though, I got the impression I should get at least a basic grasp on what everyone was obsessed with. So, when I got home, I downloaded the app.
Right away, three of them showed up in my living room. I tapped a turtle-looking one and threw a ball at it. It was mine. Pretty cool, actually. Simple mechanics. There was a radar thing on the bottom right and three pawprints under silhouettes of other Pokemon I hadn’t seen yet. I didn’t have any idea where the things were in relation to me, and it seemed stupid that the radar was so worthless, but as I walked around, I’d eventually run into one. Not one on the radar, mind you, but still one I hadn’t seen before.
I started to understand why people enjoyed the game so much. I found myself wishing the residential areas had more Pokemon to catch. When I zoomed my map all the way out, in the distance, I could see those spinning blue towers – many of which were shooting out pink confetti. From what I’d read online, that’s where all the good Pokemon were.
It’s also where all the industrial contamination was.
When I got to work the next day, I was shocked to find one of those blue towers in the hospital. When I clicked it, the little blurb said it was in the children’s wing. I never go on that side of the building, but I figured “what the hell” and walked over. Once I was in range, I spun the wheel and all this stuff popped out: balls, potions, and even an egg! It said 10km on it. I threw the thing in my incubator, knowing it’d probably hatch at some point on my shift. I do tons of walking.
Halfway through my day of walking up and down the labyrinthine halls, I checked my phone. Less than .4km. God damn it. A familiar alarm sounded and I rushed to the ER. Before I saw what had happened, I could smell it.
A group of teenagers had jumped the fence of the old battery factory. Apparently there are three Poke Stops inside, two of which are overlapping. The third, though, is inaccessible unless you go through the basement. The spot is a memorial for the company founder, and is located in the viewing area above a group of vats. As the factory deteriorated, the catwalk leading to the memorial had fallen. To reach the Poke Stop, the kids had traversed the profoundly toxic basement. They reached the Poke Stop without incident, but then one of them saw something called a Lapras on his radar.
One kid, David, headed in one direction, while his friends went in others. Whoever found the Lapras was going to yell and his friends could come catch it for themselves. It was David who found the Lapras. But it was also David who, in the process of yelling and gesturing to his friends, slipped.
When David slipped, he crashed into an unlabeled, rusty container. His friends saw the whole thing. The container, filled with contents that had corroded it over the years, burst. From the waist down, David was completely covered with a viscous, caustic combination of concentrated acid and various, unknown industrial toxins.
The friends received severe burns on their hands and arms when they hauled David out of the building and into the car. After they pulled the car up to the ER doors, a very kind, but very dumb, samaritan, who’d been nearby, rushed to help. He made the mistake of grabbing David by his foot and ankle. He degloved David’s leg all the way to his crotch. The sloughed skin splashed onto the pavement as the samaritan screamed with horror, and then pain, as steam began to rise from his own hands.
Long, terrible story short: surgeons had to amputate everything below David’s ribcage. The rest of his skin was damaged beyond repair, leaving him covered with an otherworldly patchwork of hard, gray burns. His friends, as well as the dumb samaritan, lost their hands. Two of the ER rooms needed to be closed for 48 hours so they could be decontaminated. Of all the Pokemon Go accidents we’d had in the short time following its release, it was the worst.
One might think the accident would deter other people from going to the industrial zones. Quite the contrary. Once people learned they could catch a Lapras near that factory, despite warnings and promises to arrest trespassers, trainers swarmed. They knew no one would be there to arrest them. Cops had better things to do.
Two days later, we had a handful of patients with burned lungs, a few with debilitating fatigue, and two pregnancy complications, both of which ended in miscarriages. The remains of the fetuses were indescribably deformed. How such deformities could occur in such a short period of time was beyond anyone’s guess.
I needed to take my mind off everything I’d seen, so what did I do? I played Pokemon Go. I used the Poke Stop at the hospital frequently. Whenever I had a spare moment, I’d go into the parking lot and catch pidgeys and ratattas. I yearned for the bigger, better Pokemon that I knew could be obtained from the old factories. I even drove up to the fence outside one and saw something huge on my radar, but I was too afraid for my own safety to get out and investigate. In the brief period I was sitting in my car out front, I watched six people hop the fence and run into the factory. I admit, I felt a little jealous. I forced myself to get over it.
Last night started like all the other nights since the game had been released, but turned into a tragedy felt hospital-wide. Lenisha Davis, who’d undergone successful fertility treatments a few months prior, was expecting sextuplets – a first for our hospital. She was in excellent health and only a month away from her due date. She’d never played a second of Pokemon in her life, but her husband and son had. Lenisha never knew they’d frequented an abandoned factory that once made herbicides. Over the few days they’d gone and come back, Lenisha was walking barefoot on the toxins they’d tracked into the house.
The pain and bleeding that caused her to come to the hospital ended the same way as it had for the other pregnant women exposed to the toxins. The deformities of her miscarried sextuplets were hideous. Their complexions were albino and their limbs were gone. All that remained were round, hard blobs containing lidless, glaring eyes and fully-toothed, gaping mouths. Lenisha had to be sedated. She wouldn’t stop screaming.
The image of the sextuplets stuck with me. I was scheduled for an overnight shift, and there was a free bunk where I could’ve slept, but that was out of the question. I wandered the halls aimlessly, watching for Pokemon, and gathering supplies whenever I passed the Poke Stop.
Around 3 this morning, I saw a shape on my radar. It was a big one, and I think it was nearby. Two other, smaller ones, were also showing up. I speed-walked in all directions until I finally saw them appear on my map. I felt pretty lucky to have them all come at once. Seven balls later, I’d captured all three. A horsea, a kakuna, and the big one was an exeggcute.
I looked around. I’d walked without paying attention to my location in the hospital. When I realized where I’d gone, I shuddered. It was where abnormal specimens were dissected and tested. Dr. Ahad was working on one of the deformed miscarriages from the day before. To his side, about to go into the refrigeration unit, was a large biohazard bag containing Lenisha’s sextuplets.
Sorrow suffused through me as the scenario played out again in my head. As I stared, a feeling I can’t explain pricked the hair on the back of my neck. My phone vibrated in my pocket. There was a Pokemon nearby. I checked the radar. It was the silhouette of a big round thing with two arms. I remember seeing that online when I was learning about the game. A geodude.
I did my best to shake off my misery as I trawled the halls until the geodude showed up. I caught it, had a little moment of excitement from adding another entry to my Pokedex, then returned to my weariness and sorrow. I checked where I was. I was right in front of David’s room. He was on a ventilator and he was covered in bandages. Fluid kept seeping through his gray, cracked skin. A nurse was getting ready to change his gauze. I felt such sympathy for the kid. My eyes blurred with tears.
While my eyes welled up, I stared at the shape of David on the bed. Gray, with a round, hipless torso and two long arms. My breath caught in my throat. Before I knew it, I was running back to where Dr. Ahad had been working. The room was dark. He’d gone home for the night.
I scanned my keycard and let myself in. I opened the refrigeration units and removed the two bags of the miscarriages from the days before. One was shaped like a seahorse. Another looked like a cocoon. I thought back to the three I’d caught right outside the room.
My hands shook as I opened the larger cold box housing the remains of Lenisha’s sextuplets. The inside of the bag was coated with grayish-red slime and I couldn’t see the contents. I put on gloves and made the sign of the cross. As tears ran down my face, I took out each horrifically-deformed fetus and arranged them on sample trays. My weeping turned to wracking sobs as I examined their features. Pink. Limbless. Wide eyed.
Six in a row.