I Played Pokemon Go At The Republican National Convention, And I Learned Something

The first thing I discover when I begin playing Pokémon Go at the Republican National Convention is that Pokémon Go, for all of its popularity, isn’t always a super stable app. Due to the app's super-overloaded servers and the poor Wi-Fi at the RNC, you can't blame the app alone for this — there are around 50,000 additional people in Cleveland for the convention this week, which means there are a whole lot of smartphones eating up mobile data. I give the app a pass on this.

Once I manage to get a working signal, I start my hunt outside the convention hall. I catch a few, but I’m not finding a terribly wide variety of Pokémon. Just about every one I come across is either a Rattata — an angry purple rat, essentially — or Zubat, an annoying purple bat that’s nearly impossible to hit with my Pokéballs. A friend quickly informs me that once I catch more Pokémon, I’ll start seeing more Pokémon.

I collect a few more outside the convention, and I soon reach level five. This, I’m told, means that I can now go to a Pokémon gym, presumably so my Pokémon can hit the treadmills and get in better shape. I notice that the convention hall itself is a Pokémon gym, so I go inside.

Security at the convention is complicated and weirdly inconsistent: There are at least three different types of credentials one must have to enter the arena, and at times, the security staff gives me a hard time despite these credentials hanging visibly from my neck. I’m often directed to the wrong end of the arena, while other times, there’s no security at all.

It’s early, and the day’s events haven’t started yet, so I’m able get into the main convention building without difficulty. I reach the Pokémon gym and learn that actually, the gym is for fighting other Pokémon, not exercising.

I wasn’t prepared for this. I thought the point of Pokémon was to “catch them all,” not “fight them all.” None of the Pokémon I’ve caught look particularly well-suited for battle, either. Nevertheless, I enter the gym and prepare to get them fighting.

As soon as I do, though, I run into a friendly reporter from New Jersey who I’d met earlier in the week, so I put my phone away. I ask her what she’s up to; she says she just got out of a press conference with Sens. Cory Booker and Al Franken.

“How about you?” she asks.

“I’m catching Pokémon,” I respond, realizing that I’ll never gain back whatever respect she may have had for me.

We say our goodbyes, and I reach for my phone. I’d turned it off minutes earlier, assuming this would simply pause the battle I’d just entered. That was a bad assumption: My entire Pokémon squad is dead, dispatched of quicker than Rick Perry in a Republican primary.

I soon discover, though, that I can revive and power up my team. I also realize that I can name each of my Pokémon, and so, in the spirit of the event I’m attending, I do.

After reviving my fallen Pokémon and strengthening my wounded ones, I’m ready to head back into battle. Unfortunately, a technical glitch strikes, and the screen freezes.

I’m disappointed. But my disappointment doesn’t last, because I soon hear an unmistakable voice from a few feet way. It’s none other than Rudy Giuliani, fresh off of his thundering speech to the convention a few nights earlier. I get up and follow him into the main arena itself, and hear another familiar New York voice. It’s Trump himself, doing a mic test.

“See, this is smart,” Giuliani remarks to his staff while watching the presumptive Republican nominee talk about how police are to an empty arena. Odd — I’d always thought mic tests were standard operating procedure at events like this, but the former mayor of New York is impressed nonetheless.

I try and get closer, but Giuliani's security isn’t having any of it, so I keep my distance and follow him out of the arena. After remarking that “this is one of the happiest conventions I’ve been at,” Giuliani indicates that he wants a hamburger and heads to the concessions stand.

This is my chance. As he’s in line, I jump back into Pokémon world and find one of the few items that I know how to use: incense, which “lures wild Pokémon to your location for 30 minutes.” I light it, by which I mean I tap the screen, and a Spearow — to my eyes, a sparrow — appears mere feet away from Giuliani.

America’s mayor, blissfully unaware of the danger nearby, orders his burger. I catch the Spearow, and disaster is averted. Soon thereafter, Giuliani is ushered away by his security team, so I return to the mission at hand.

I once again enter battle. This time, I get one or two hits off on my far-better opponent before they demolish my entire team again. I find, to my surprise, that I’m now determined to win a Pokémon battle, or at least lose one with some of semblance my dignity intact. And this is when it occurs to me that, to my surprise, there is in fact a connection between Pokémon Go and Donald Trump. Sort of.

Jeff Swensen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Pokémon Go and Trump both have an oddly addictive, can’t-turn-away quality. I can’t deny that I get a little thrill every time I toss a Pokéball at a Rattata, nor that I really would like to win one a battle with a fellow Pokémon collector. Similarly, I find Trump repellent on numerous levels, but paradoxically, I never feel compelled to turn his speeches off when they come on TV. To the contrary, I stop and pay attention.

Maybe this means nothing. It dawns on me that quite often, we become fascinated and even addicted to pop culture phenomena that, on some level, we don’t exactly approve of.

It's fair to say that Pokémon Go isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And in all likelihood, regardless of the outcome of this election, neither is Donald Trump.

I still haven't won a Pokémon battle, but I'll admit that I'd still like to do so.