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Pokémon GO!!!   Wait, Poké---what??? GO---where???

The expert playing Pokémon GO at home...

Yesterday I joined in what seems to be the latest worldwide craze called Pokémon GO. It started out innocently enough. We met up with the “kids” for lunch. They admitted they were playing Pokémon GO and our interest was immediately piqued. This was our first personal encounter with the new phenomenon! Within minutes we both had Pokémon GO loaded on our phones and we were off collecting Poké Balls and hunting and capturing virtual Poké creatures. Apparently, we are now part of the 40 million people worldwide who have joined this virtual reality adventure!

So, why do I feel the need to write a blog about Pokémon? Well, until now, I was adamantly against gaming and even judged gamers. What benefit could possibly come out of gaming? In my extremely narrow mind, gamers sit around looking at a screen for hours on end without engaging with other live beings in the same room. Not only are they failing to interact with people in person; they are sitting around increasing the obesity epidemic in the United States. WRONG!!!!!

Once I caught my first Wild Pidgey, however, I realized the potential for virtual games like this one. We spent an entire afternoon and evening with the kids hunting strange creatures and visiting Pokéstops to collect “items” that will help us “evolve” our creatures and fight battles in “gyms.” My favorite feature of the game is the ability to “incubate” an egg by walking 5 kilometers. That is 3.1 miles! Remember what I thought about gaming and the obesity epidemic? WRONG AGAIN! Besides walking to incubate eggs, we walked all over finding Poké hot spots to increase our collection of creatures and items.

Now for the piece on mental health and relationships. As I said we spent the entire afternoon and evening chasing creatures with the kids. We had no end point in mind, we just worked together to hunt and capture all over the town center. Of course, every time we came upon a new creature we laughed together and congratulated each other for “leveling up.” I also realized while we were eating dinner in Old Town how much the kids were teaching us, the wise sages. The kids are already experts on gaming and all things Poké. This gave them the opportunity to share their knowledge with us. We were students of the kids and we couldn’t gather enough strategies from them in our short time together. Even better, I have a feeling we will be dialing their numbers a lot more frequently as we need help battling to increase our CPs and evolve our creatures! I also realized when our niece joined us for dinner that this game embraces all generations and no one is left out. We had been playing all afternoon without her, and as soon as she joined us she immediately became a part of the Poké fun too! Everyone was included and we were all speaking the same Poké language!

I think my true epiphany about the game came after dinner while we were hunting creatures and battling in gyms in Old Town. At first, I kept putting my phone down because I didn’t want anyone to see what I was doing. But by the time I captured my second Zubat I realized everyone around me was also chasing Poké creatures. And I mean everyone! We were all communicating and helping each other out. People passed us in cars and screamed out “Pokémon!” to let us know they were on the GO also.

I would like to say that the game is valuable because of the connection it creates amongst friends, family and even strangers. But even stronger, I think, is the feeling that we are a part of something much bigger than ourselves. I am usually fairly introverted, so this was a fun way for me to engage with people in public, something that usually terrifies me! The more I thought about being a part of something bigger, I started to think about how even without Pokémon GO we are still a part of something bigger than ourselves. So why can’t we connect and work together to stay safe and happy without playing a virtual game? Maybe some day, we will learn how to transfer the skills we learn and use in all kinds of gaming to interact and create community without having to look at our phones all the time.

I have a few final thoughts about Pokémon. Like all other habits and undertakings moderation is necessary. We could all benefit from practicing “self-care” in order to maintain our mental and physical health. Pokémon GO is one way to give us a break from the daily stress of our lives. Any time we find ourselves smiling and laughing with loved ones is great self-care, so play on! Finally, perhaps the best part of the day was when our phone batteries all died and the kids suggested we put the phones away and play some good old-fashioned cards so we could actually interact face to face. When is the last time your kids requested that?

P.S. While I was sitting here writing this blog, I collected an Arbok, a Geodude, a Likitung and two Wild Meowths. Oh yeah, and 27 Poké Balls, 3 eggs, 2 potions and 1 incubator. I’m off to hunt some more!

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