“To The Lighthouse”: How Pokémon GO created community in Wollongong

The Lighthouse was then a silvery, misty-looking tower with a yellow eye, that opened suddenly, and softly in the evening. Now—
James looked at the Lighthouse. He could see the white-washed rocks; the tower, stark and straight; he could see that it was barred with black and white; he could see windows in it; he could even see washing spread on the rocks to dry. So that was the Lighthouse, was it?
No, the other was also the Lighthouse. For nothing was simply one thing. The other Lighthouse was true too.
– Virginia Woolf

Pokemon GO has been available in Australia for just a little over two weeks now, but at time of writing it’s hard to remember what life was like before its release. In these two weeks the augmented reality game has surpassed the download rate of apps like Tinder. New friendships have been forged. Introverts have ventured cautiously outside. Thousands of think pieces and hot takes have been written as the country – and the world – grapples with the new social and cultural paradigms being constructed in the wake of Pokemon GO. For myself, it has meant investing in a robust spare battery pack (the likes of which have been flying off the shelves) and spending most of my afternoons and evenings at the lighthouse in Wollongong.

The lighthouse and its nearby café have become the local focal points for hundreds of Illawarra residents who want to catch as many Pokémon as they can. From the game’s day of release, this local tourist spot has seen a substantial boost in activity. Of an evening, the more devoted players come out with milk crates, chairs, and rugs to set up a comfortable spot next to the lures . You see familiar faces as you return each day. You learn who’s on what level and who’s playing for what team. Everyone knows who’s on Team Valor because they’re sure to boast it quite quickly, while the quiet one listening in on the rivalry between Mystic and Valor will eventually reveal they’re in the underdog faction Team Instinct when pressed. But here the teams don’t matter a whole lot; everyone is here to catch Pokémon. Some people set themselves up and settle in for the long haul, while others walk between Pokéstops on the hunt for some of the more elusive species. It feels a lot like a music festival.

The lighthouse has become a place of multiple realities overlapping. Tourists and young families enjoying the beach co-existing alongside the many new people milling about on their phones – observing them as they participate in a strange, massively multiplayer cultural hallucination that remains completely invisible to onlookers. To the uninitiated or fed-up (or ‘Pokémuggles’ as I like to call them), these players seem like victims of a strange new drug. As is alluded to in the quote from Virginia Woolf, both of these realities are true for this place.

Before Pokémon GO, the lighthouse was a place with a nightlife in its own right. Overlooking the beach, with the distant lights of Port Kembla Steel Works dancing over the churning waves, the car park at the foot of the lighthouse has enjoyed popularity as a spot for young adults and teenagers to eat fast food, smoke, and have sex.
Pokémon GO has disrupted this ritual.

Now, these same car parks are filled with the vehicles of prospective trainers – some hoping to secure parks that are close enough to the lures that they don’t have to get out and endure the chilling winter winds – but this disruption hasn’t occurred quietly.
The loop roads and roundabouts that engulf this Pokémon Go hotspot are now frequented by cars full of killjoys, frustrated youths, and your average garden variety jerks. I have never before had a stranger yelling at me as I quietly played a game – minding my own business – but here it’s the norm. “Get a life,” these people yell as they loop around honking horns, yelling from megaphones and even throwing eggs at players on the side of the road.

“Get a life” is a strange thing to have yelled at you on a nightly basis, especially when the community we’ve built together is so full of it.

During normal business hours, the proliferation of Pokémon GO has had it’s own unprecedented effect on the area. Levendi’s, the café situated right at the intersection between four Pokestops, always has a sizable line in order to get served. As I waited for my order, a frustrated middle-aged man made a comment about it being so busy. The young waitress replied, “It’s been like this all week. It’s because of Pokémon.” The man tucked his newspaper under his arm to sort through the change for his coffee, before declaring the whole thing was ridiculous. Meanwhile further up the hill, next to the lighthouse, an ice-cream van has been seeing a sharp spike in its sales during its typically slow winter season. Normally people aren’t at the harbour buying ice cream this time of year, but for Pokémon GO players these spots are essential for sustenance without having to leave the area and risk missing out on a rare Lapras or Blastoise.
This kind of experience is something that won’t quite be the same in any other cities or towns of the world. Wollongong has a high student population, but it’s also quite easy to get around in. The commute is easy enough by car, free city bus, or even walking from a lot of places – which is great for egg hatching. Thanks to the efforts of local Ingress players of yesteryear, there are four Pokéstops that are close enough together to be within range at the same time.

Much like any other festival, this layer of meaning for the area is only temporary. The cafes, the lighthouse, the cars of horny teens – these will all persevere long after the droves of Pokémon GO players begin to pursue other interests. It’s fleeting, but it has been a pretty amazing and unexpected thing to be a part of. As a regular attendee, the drop in numbers over the weeks is noticeable – the abuse yelled from cars, less passionate. The university semester is starting up again and life is pulling us all away again in different directions.

But the Pokéstops will still be there, and even when the hype dies down I’m sure that Pokémon GO players in the area will continue to be drawn to this spot. Pokémon GO has an invisible history here – the lighthouse and the harbour digitally haunted by the game that once brought a community of hundreds here for weeks at a time.
For players of Pokémon GO, this space will always have an augmented reality to it – even when the app is off.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

I first played Mirror’s Edge in 2009. My friend bought it for PC when it came out and I borrowed it off him a couple of weeks later–this was before the age of Steamworks or Origin activation. Since then, I must’ve played it at least twice a year. It was a short, refreshing campaign that, despite having its fair share of flaws, stood out as an entirely unique experience compared to what else was being released from AAA studios around that time. I challenged myself to complete what I’ve since learnt is known as the “Test of Faith” achievement, in which you finish the game without shooting at an enemy (it’s the way it was meant to be played). It’s one of the very few non-Nintendo games I’d place in a hypothetical top 10 games list. I fell in love with Mirror’s Edge in 2009. For seven years, Mirror’s Edge has helped me through countless tough times and has held a special place in my heart since I first ran across the rooftops of Glass. And, for seven years, I’ve been waiting patiently to see where the franchise would go next. I honestly thought I’d never see the day. But here we are, and Mirror’s Edge has been rebooted–no, it’s not a sequel–as an open-world freerunner, Mirror’s Edge Catalyst.

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Some of the set pieces are rather breathtaking (and super over-the-top).

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Atelier Sophie: Alchemist of the Mysterious Book

Femininity isn’t something mainstream games tend to embrace. Masculine, ‘tough girl’ tropes? Sure, Tomb Raider is kind of a thing. Sexualized femininity? Hoo boy, do videogames have that covered. But it’s almost never that we have a game celebrating femininity for its own sake – as a virtue or as a strength. However, one game series that has done a consistently excellent job bucking this trend is Gust’s Atelier games. Atelier Sophie: Alchemist of the Mysterious Book marks the 17th entry in the long running series, and is the series’ first venture on to the Playstation 4 console. But after so many installations in this JRPG franchise, has Atelier Sophie still got the magic touch?

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Life Goes On: Done to Death

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Death has always been used a core mechanic in gaming, typically as punishment and a definitive indication that yes, you sure did miss that jump. This is not always a Game Over scenario; upon death in platformers like Super Meat Boy, you quickly spawn back in and try again. The entire survival horror genre, and the rise of the Dark Souls series, are based on nigh-inevitable death. A small group of Canadian indie devs have taken another approach, and used the deaths of a battalion’s worth of adorable, misled and forsaken knights as the sole tool in the toolbox for players to solve their puzzler, Life Goes On: Done to Death. This irreverent release is light on story and far from morbid, and proposes some interesting puzzling situations. It’s somehow both simple, and not.

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Link’s True Face: An Analysis of Majora’s Mask

There have been few games in The Legend of Zelda series to have inspired as much textual analysis as Majora’s Mask. Since its initial release in 2000, the creepy follow up to the critically celebrated Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has become a focus for speculation and thematic discussion in a way that no other entry in the series has. From its unfamiliar setting ‘Termina’ to its narrative centred on impending doom and loss, this offbeat entry in the beloved Nintendo franchise has inspired many long-term fans to write and blog about their own interpretations of the game. It is my firm belief that Majora’s Mask presents a game world – perhaps imagined by Link himself – that acts as a space for the exploration of Link’s own psyche. Although Link is constructed to be an empty vessel for the player to enact heroism through, there are compelling reasons to believe that aspects of Link’s character maybe be reflected in the narrative arcs of Majora’s Mask.

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Battleborn Open Beta: The Return of the Borderlands

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Do you like the Borderlands series? Do you like Destiny? Do you like the gameplay mechanics presented by industry-dominating MOBA titles and wish they would in some way pervade into your beloved Borderlandss and Destinys? Gearbox Software delivers to you a limited scope of Battleborn, free of charge, in the currently running opening beta; I think you will find it caters for your oddly specific needs.

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Deep Into that Darkness Peering: a review of Dark Souls III

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Did you know that the Dark Souls games are hard? Well they are. They hate you and kill you and make you want to cry. They love it, but so do you. You love getting owned by the skeletons with the swords, or getting knocked off a cliff by an undead dog. Because when you learn and grow to overcome the pain and persevere until victory you will feel amazing. You earnt this victory. It was tough but fair.

Dark Souls games are hard – and Dark Souls III is the latest Dark Souls game. It continues the trend of being hard. You will die a lot and you will love it.

This tends to be how the larger gaming community talks about the Dark Souls games. They are tough but fair – only ever punishing you because it was you who made the mistake. I love the Dark Souls games but I will be the first to admit that this isn’t entirely true. The Souls games are mostly thoughtfully designed, but they have always had rough or sloppy moments that are hard to think of as being anything other than ‘bad design’. Having to exhaust all dialogue options with some inconspicuous non-player character so that she’ll randomly turn up later on in the game to open a door for you in Dark Souls II – well that’s just bullshit.

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