My name is John. I’m 51 years old. I don’t live in my mother’s basement — heck, I’m even married, and have three great stepchildren, two dogs and a cat.
And I love Pokemon Go.
Unless you’ve spent the last two weeks camping in T8, R16 (look it up … it’s officially the middle of nowhere), you’ve likely heard about the Pokemon Go phenomenon.
If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, welcome back from T8, R16! Hope you had a great time!
Those pedestrians you’ve seen walking around with their phones held out in front of them? Rest assured, they’re not zombies. Well, most of them aren’t. They’re just playing Pokemon Go. They’re capturing Pokemon. Or they’re stopping at Pokestops, where they can pick up some cool loot.
Pokemon Go is a bit of a scavenger hunt, based on real-world GPS technology.
And it might change the way you look at your interactions with family members. Honest. It happened to me.
For the record, I was hesitant to download the app and join the zombies — oops … not zombies … “players” — who were wandering around town at all hours of the day. My main reason: I thought I was too old for such foolishness.
Stepson Mackie, 15, was first to leap into the growing phenomenon, on the day of the app’s launch. That wasn’t surprising, as he’s been a Pokemon master for years. Eventually, his brother, 13-year-old Gordon, joined in. My wife, Karen, began playing a bit, too. Georgia, also 13, steps in and catches Pokemon when her mom is driving.
A few times, I served as Mackie’s personal Pokemon Uber driver, shuttling him between the Pokestop-rich environments of Bangor’s waterfront and the University of Maine. Getting to spend some time around him was great, and (sadly) not that common. He’s 15, after all, approximately the same age that the term “quality time with family” ceases to exist.
On Saturday, despite my initial misgivings, I decided to join the masses and play along.
This wasn’t a decision I took lightly. On different social media, and even in my workplace, I’ve heard many bash the game, which they dismiss as a time-wasting fad.
I was beginning to see things differently. My thought: If the kids are into it, and they want to play the game, there must be some benefit to me joining in.
There was, but in truth, I never saw it coming.
By the time Gordon, Mackie, Karen and I returned from a four-hour Pokemon-hunting excursion, I was a believer. The game is genius. Period.
We began our adventure by stopping at a Bangor cafe for watermelon lemonades, then began to meander around downtown. Later, we joined a huge mass of players on the waterfront, then drove to Orono to explore the UMaine campus.
We were on a shared quest, working together. Sometimes we’d split up and meander toward distant Pokestops. Other times, we’d chat with other players who had caught interesting Pokemon. It was the most fun we’ve had together in a long, long time.
While I think our family gets along just fine, there are occasional challenges. One kid or other always seems hungry. Or angry. Or feeling left out. Or on the verge of an argument with a sibling, or us. Or (my personal favorite) bored.
For four hours, the only real complaint I heard came when an elusive Pokemon wouldn’t cooperate.
The rest of the time, we got exercise, together. (That’s a rarity).
At each Pokestop, the app tells you a bit about the site, and why it’s significant. We learned all that, together. (Also uncommon).
That night, after we returned home, I thought about the experience, and wondered how a simple game that I hadn’t even wanted to play had turned out to be so enjoyable.
After some introspection, I came to a conclusion that was a bit painful to admit.
For the past nine years, since Karen and I began dating, I’ve spent a ton of time around her children.
During that time, I realized, I’ve spent a lot of time telling them why a particular thing was interesting, or important, or worth doing. Then I spent even more time telling them how things ought to be done, and why it mattered.
Consequently, I spent very little time asking them the same questions, or simply saying, “That’s cool. What is it?”
On that day, things were different. Thrown into a game environment that I didn’t understand, with creatures whose names I couldn’t pronounce, I spent a lot of time asking … and listening … and learning.
If Pokemon Go can accomplish that feat — teaching an old dog like me some new tricks, while also coercing the family into getting some exercise and spending time together — it’s OK in my book.
Or, as I said earlier, it’s genius.
Which leaves just one question, I guess.
When can we play again?
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke