By Jackie Hollenkamp Bentley
Pokemon Go. Yeah, I’m playing it. And so is my husband. And so is my dad. Yes, my 80-year-old dad. I’ll admit I don’t know the first thing about the Pokemon World despite the cursory exposure over the years with nephews and, now, my children. It didn’t even occur to me to download the game last week after my son asked me if he could. That was a Thursday morning.
Since then, this wildly popular, augmented reality game has, dare I say it, literally changed our culture and making Boo Koo Bucks for Nintendo, its maker.
I know the game has its many critics (which is inevitable once something reaches this cosmic popularity), but let me tell you what I saw this past weekend.
*Thursday night: the young man who lives across the street (we call him Fourth Child), pops over just as we were finishing dinner.
“C’mon, Shawn. Lets go look for Pokemon.” And off they went in Fourth Child’s car. And I was okay with that because it was “brother bonding time.”
I still had not downloaded the app, I’m not that kind of smartphone user. Well, maybe an occasionally game of Angry Birds Pop.
*Friday morning: my husband is sending me hilarious stories from legit news organizations about how these reporters are caught up in the excitement (sadly, alongside all the stupid violence we’re inflicting on each other). Nah, still not interested. That is, until my husband made a VERY good point.
“You know, I’m so thinking about downloading the app,” he said later that afternoon. “If only to play against the kids and take their Pokemons!”
Damn. When you put it that way! In five seconds, we both have the app, designed our avatars, or trainers as the game calls them, and we’re hollering at the kids in the other room for help.
“How does this work?”
“Why do you have to do THAT?”
“WHY IS THERE AN UGLY BIRD IN FRONT OF MY DISHWASHER?!”
Soon, our questions became more experienced in nature.
“So should I evolve this pidgey now or catch a few more?”
“When can I join a team and start battling at that ‘gym’ nearby?”
“Level 5? Man, that’s going to take forever!” (I reached it the next morning.)
After dinner, my three kids, some neighbor kids and Fourth Child just took off walking down the street, phones in hands. About an hour later, I called my oldest.
“Where are you?”
He told me.
“NO WAY! That’s over a mile away and you walked?”
YES! My kids are outside AND being active.
*Saturday morning: All five of us piled into the van to take our daughter to trumpet lessons. Boy, was she mad when she found out we were going “hunting” while she was there. We promised her we were still going to catch Pokemon after we picked her up.
Meanwhile, we drove to the nearby park where we could refill our Poke´ Balls and other items that are supposed to help your game.
“You mean we have to GET OUT of the car to reach the Pokestop?”
So we did. That’s when we saw another couple getting out of their car with phones in hand.
“You’re playing Pokemon, aren’t you,” this total stranger asked me.
“Yep,” I laughed. The we proceeded to walk the park together, asking each other questions on how to play and having a ball!
Later, we picked up Annie and headed to a larger park. And we walked some more. And we ran into other people we’ve never met and probably wouldn’t have even glanced their way if we hadn’t seen the telltale Pokemon pose (phone in hand, looking up, occasional finger swipe on the screen).
One group of kids on bikes even stopped to talk to my husband, son and daughter on one side of the park, while I was with my other son at the other side of the park, talking OTHER strangers, discussing the finer points of the value of Pokemon.
“My mom got an Magikarp!” Nick told one guy, laughing his tail off.
“Oh, mam, I’m so sorry,” he told me while trying not to laugh himself.
I guess the Magikarp is the bottom feeder of the Pokemon world.
By the time we left the park, we had encountered half a dozen folks and even exchanged kind words and laughs – all over this one game.
*Saturday afternoon: my sister invited us over for a cook out and to swim in her pool. Her grown son (a Pokemon fan since he was a child) has been chomping at the bit for us to get there because he knew we had already been playing and wanted my kids to get him started.
We set him up and that’s when my dad wanted to know what the game was all about. Yep. He then downloaded the game and it wasn’t long before he was wandering the backyard with us because we knew a Doduo was near.
Talk about family bonding!
*Sunday morning: We pull up to church and discover its a Pokestop. We collect our items, turn off our phones (of course) and go on in. My mom walks in alone a few minutes later.
“Where’s PawPaw?” my son asks.
“He’s out front with that pokey man thing.”
After church and breakfast, Dad follows us to park and we, once again, walk around collecting needed items and “battling” at nearby gyms.
*Sunday afternoon: my nephews pick up my kids and they head all over the county to hunt. My husband and I go on a date at Dairy Kastle for our anniversary. And how do we celebrate? Yep, we hunted. And had a ball. Part of the fun was people watching and picking out who was playing the game. We counted six there at Eastern Parkway and Bradley Avenue.
*Sunday night: all five of us are back together again and at yet another park along the Ohio River: Riverview Park, or as we in the South End like to call it: Greenwood Boat docks. Again, we met several people playing the game and had a great time.
So, with all that being said, I either witnessed or learned several things over the past two days: Yes, this world is sucking out loud right now with its politics and violence and intolerance and hatred.
I also saw total strangers being nice to each other and even smiling at one another.
I saw my kids getting outside and playing with friends.
I saw MYSELF get thousands of steps in this weekend.
I saw my husband, myself and three kids have a blast together —and two of them are teenagers!
I saw my kids teach my dad new things with his phone, and play games with him. I won’t even try to guess how much that means to him.
Sure, you got your idiots who won’t use their common sense while playing the game (i.e., driving while playing, not looking up to see where you’re walking, etc.), but from my experience, this game has done something that no other game has: got people outside, got people talking to each other and brought some light (without sounding too sappy) in this jacked-up world.