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WWB Weekend: Ancestors of Pokémon Go

By Susan Harris

As the Pokémon Go craze sweeps and swipes through the world, and we at WWB live in fear of discovering that the office has been designated a gym, we seek refuge in a tale from the Stone Age of Internet gaming. In “The Universe on My Hands,” the Japanese game designer-turned-science-fiction-star Hiroshi Yamamoto presents The Celestial, a club named for the starship setting of the group’s online collaborative novel. Each of the sixty club members assumes the role of a Celestial crew member and contributes to the storyline; the lead writer, who plays the role of the quick-witted captain Ginny Wellner, collates, edits, and directs the narrative. She’s immersed in the latest plot developments when a detective knocks on the door to report that a member, Shawn Mornane in Maintenance, has committed murder and disappeared. In disbelief, Ginny searches for Shawn not on the streets but within the group and the novel itself, rallying the crew members to create a safe space (so to speak) for Shawn to turn himself in. Yamamoto’s story moves between Ginny’s frantic search and the narrative she and the other members produce in its course; the two tales intersect in the conclusion, which—as in all good fiction—is both surprising and inevitable. 

The story is a dazzling commentary on storytelling and a fascinating snapshot of an earlier generation of gamers (and technology: the middle-aged detective asks if it isn’t expensive for Ginny to stay connected to the Internet). Like Pokémon Go, The Celestial blurs the boundaries of the real and the fantastic. The detective lectures the narrator: “I don’t mean to be nosy, but aren’t you embarrassed to be playing pretend at your age?” Perhaps that escape from reality provides much of the appeal behind Pokémon Go; in light of the events of the last few weeks, that’s a good game plan.

Image: Photograph by Eduardo Woo, cropped. Creative Commons.

Published Jul 15, 2016   Copyright 2016 Susan Harris

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