Finding love with Pokemon Go

With many people now playing Pokemon Go, the hit game is a place for singles to look for a date

A woman plays the augmented- reality game Pokemon Go in Tokyo, Japan.
A woman plays the augmented- reality game Pokemon Go in Tokyo, Japan. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON • About a week into the Pokemon Go craze, Mr Peregrine Teneo, 27, was trying to take over the Pokemon Go gym near the National Zoo in Washington and he was getting frustrated.

He spotted a woman at the bus stop across the street, "finger- smashing" away, as he calls that signature Pokemon Go swipe, and realised that she was his problem.

"I'm trying to take this gym," he yelled across the street. "Stop making it hard for me."

The gym was held by Team Mystic. She appeared to be driving up the gym's points, making it harder for someone on a different team, such as Mr Teneo of Team Instinct, to capture it and install his mightiest Pokemon.

"Buy me a drink," he recalls her yelling back at him, "and I'll give you the gym."

Later that night, he did meet his Pokemon rival for a drink. Afterwards, they hunted for Pokemon.

That she was a member of Team Mystic was not a deal-breaker, he said. They could bond over hunting for fictional creatures regardless of team alliances.

But back in the real world, actual creatures that breathe, shed and lick got in the way. "She ended up being allergic to dogs and I've got two huskies," Mr Teneo said. "I knew at that point it wasn't going to work."

Pokemon Go has more daily active users than the dating app Tinder, so it was only a matter of time until it became the new way to find dates.

There are a few ways these connections can go: Players might meet in real life (such as Mr Teneo and his date); help one another catch that Charizard or Jigglypuff lingering nearby; and then eventually go out.

Singles are also connecting via dating apps such as Tinder or Bumble, dropping Pokemon mentions into their profiles and then meeting to hunt for Pokemon together.

And then there is the more direct play for a Pokemon paramour: Last week, at least three dating sites and apps launched to help Pokemon Go fanatics find one another.

For example, Project Fixup, a dating site that arranges dates for users for US$20 (S$27) a date - generally things such as whisky or coffee tastings - last week launched PokeDates. If players cannot find their own Pokemon date in person or via existing dating apps, Project Fixup will make all the arrangements, from matching its users to deciding a time and place to meet.

Last Wednesday, the first day the service went live, Mr Daniel Korenevsky, the company's chief fixup officer, said the immediate interest was overwhelming.

An e-mail blast went out to users that night saying: "We weren't expecting PokeDates (to be) this popular - we thought it was an awesome idea, but did not think the universe would necessarily agree - and are now scrambling a bit."

Meeting through video games is not a new concept. Couples have met while playing the fantasy game World Of Warcraft, the military science-fiction game Halo or through the "random opponent" feature on Words With Friends.

But Mr Korenevsky sees something different about connecting via Pokemon Go: There is more potential for collaboration, he says.

For example, two players standing side by side can catch the same Pokemon rather than be forced to compete for it. "They're both looking at the same screen," he said, "not screaming at each other with headphones."

He hopes that after an icebreaker of catching Pokemon, daters will put their phones away "and get to know each other even better".

Which is essentially how Pokemon enthusiast Jeffrey Zhang became a Pokemon dating app developer. Mr Zhang, who describes himself as shy, said in an e-mail that he often does not know how to talk to women.

However, "if I am playing the same game with a girl, I will know how to talk with her because we already have something in common".

While hunting for Pokemon at a square near the University of Tampa, where he is studying for an MBA, "everyone started shouting and running to a Pokestop, so I was following and ran without looking at people around me", he wrote. "All of a sudden, someone crashed into me."

At first, he was angry, but less so once he realised the person he had collided with was an attractive woman.

"She took me to the hospital and accompanied me the whole night," he wrote. "We talked a lot that night and, luckily, most of my injuries were superficial. We have been dating since then and I'm proud and feel lucky to call her my girlfriend."

Since that encounter, he and a fellow developer launched the Pok, a Tinder-style app for Pokemon Go players.

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a trio of developers stayed up around the clock to create a similar app last week, called PokeMatch, with a somewhat self-serving goal. As one of them posted on Reddit: "My friend needed a date and wanted to go Pokemon hunting, so we made this."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2016, with the headline 'Finding love with Pokemon Go'. Subscribe