by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
“PokemonGo! Ach, what a stupid fad,” so said my recent meeting with an intelligent 50+ year-old man. Not so fast folks. There’s more here than you give credit, sir.
My thirteen-year-old son and his friends wanted to go up to the church a week ago Monday. In the car, “Why do you guys want to go to Lakeland?” “To find Pokemon,” came the answer. (I’m thinking ‘wow, Pokemon – what an old-school throwback’). The new PokemonGo app is huge right now. Problem is, Hudson didn’t have a smartphone, he had an old iPad and really needed the church’s wifi. I handed him my iPhone and told him to download the PokemonGo app and he could run around the church with my iPhone and his smartphone friends. He downloaded the app but didn’t want my phone – he wanted the old iPad. So I played along with all of them.
Before my son could read he could Nintendo GameBoy Pokemon. Together we watched dozens of television episodes of Ash catch ’em, James, Jessie, Meowth, Giovanni, Professor Oak, Misty, Nurse Joy, and Pikachu. So I kind of know the game idea where a kid named Ash Ketchum travels vast distances, living in the wild, and goes around catching pocket monsters and battling older Pokemon trainers and gym leaders.
As a parent I am always aware of these tv shows like Pokemon, and most Disney kid shows where the parents are absent or self-absorbed, or buffoons, nothing more than wooden joke-props. I get it: kids want to be smarter than their parents. Shows indulge them. Ash never had a parent accompany him in his travels. Just a few friends and a bunch of Pokemon. Even a small dose of reality thrown on the old Pokemon tv show would have all parents thinking “stranger danger!” Ash meets some shady characters out there in the wild. And I am quite sure he never brushed his teeth.
Long story short, my son, his friends, and I have been traveling around our own Pallet Town catching Pokemon and battling gyms with them. They need me: I can drive. We do this mostly at night when it’s cooler outside. The game is an “augmented reality game” where Nintendo and Google (Niantic) use Google maps and your phone’s camera to make it look like the Pokemon appear in your own kitchen or yard. Except our house is not very Pokemon-friendly. We don’t have a PokeStop or Gym in our neighborhood, so we must travel.
Here’s the parenting part. If you ever wanted to spend time with your grade-schooler or younger teen this is the short-term answer. Travel together, catch ’em all. Your kid will be smarter than you usually, so that fulfills the Disney “parent-buffoon” kid-ego-builder thing. Your kid can “train” you. You will have fun. It’s an easy game. But mostly you will have tons to talk about and do together. It’s like a 24-7 family scavenger hunt. Stop watching Netflix and go run around with your kid.
Time together is better than quality vacations. I am not positive, but even now I bet my son will some day remember these days of hunting Pokemon together. We won’t have much to say to each other when his life zooms ahead of me, and I am old and messed up. He will be driving me to a doctor’s appointment and ask, “Dad, you remember when we used to go Pokemon hunting together?”