“Because of this game, for the first time in a long time, people weren’t uncomfortable with my presence.”
That's the title of a popular post on the social network news site Reddit that was voted to the top of the page about Pokemon Go, a newly released augmented reality game for mobile phones. It was written by Marcellus King, a 40-year-old black man living in Johnson County, Kansas.
King writes about racial discrimination he's experienced as a black man living in Johnson County — one of the least diverse areas in the Kansas City metro. He says he often notices people becoming guarded and threatened in his presence.
“They don’t realize that as soon as the black or Hispanic person or Muslim person comes within their vicinity all of a sudden they're pulling their kids closer, they’re grabbing their purse a little bit tighter," he says. "They don’t realize that they’re doing this, but we realize that they’re doing this.”
King says that changed considerably when he started playing Pokemon Go, which lets players walk through the world and capture Pokemon using GPS technology. At Corporate Woods Park — where a lot of players hunt for a specific kind of Pokemon — King says he started to notice people seemed relaxed around him. They even began to initiate conversation about different Pokemon in the area.
“It’s like I’m in a group of friends that I’ve known for like a long time and everybody's just talking to me as if I’m just one of them,” says King. “And at one point it became intoxicating to be able to be in a conversation like that where you aren’t being judged by how you look.”
The response to King’s Reddit post has been mostly positive. But his experience hasn’t held true for everyone. A piece published on Medium details the possible dangers of playing Pokemon Go for black men, and last week a black man was surrounded by cops while playing the game in an Iowa City park.
However, King says his experience has been overwhelmingly positive, and he’s happy that people have been able to come together around a common purpose.
“You know we’re all here for the same thing, and that’s to catch this dang Mewtwo wherever the heck he’s at,” King says, referencing a Pokemon character.
This piece was brought to us by Paris of the Plains Podcast. You can listen to a podcast version of this story at their website.