The night my family returned from our off-the-grid vacation, my teen downloaded Pokémon Go and raced out of the house. For those of you less inclined to experience new fads, this is an “augmented reality” game based on the card game and video games. The goal is to collect and strengthen Pokémon, cute cartoon creatures that will battle in gyms. My daughter soon returned, excited, and ventured out multiple times over the next day.
I sat at home, reading alarmist articles about the privacy risks of the game. I did the Mom thing, imagining my daughter’s movements being tracked by a sociopath who enticed her into his lair with a Charizard.
I read her headlines about people falling off cliffs, a crowd stampeding through Central Park in search of a Vaporeon, and a homeowner who mistook players for burglars and shot at them.
It all changed with the egg
For me, it all changed with the egg. One morning, my teen acquired an egg that would hatch after she walked 10 kilometers. I offered to carry her phone on my walks.
“That’s cheating,” she said. So I invited her to walk with me. She said yes. I eagerly set off with my teen, deciding I would protect her from walking into the path of a bicyclist, crossing a street without looking both ways, or catapulting off the river bluff.
“Look, a hawk!” I said. “I don’t see a Spearow,” she replied, thinking I referred to the game.
Along our walk, I became curious. She showed me how to aim the camera and swipe a ball at the cartoon animal. I would have caught two Pidgeys, but the game repeatedly crashed on her hand-me-down phone. We strolled and chatted each time she needed to reload the app.
After a few miles of her walking, the teen with eyes fixed on the phone, and I pointing out the trees, birds, and flowers, I wanted a turn. My teen informed me that she already installed the app on my phone and all I had to do was sign in. I did. The user names Momma, Mom, and Mother were not options, but SneerVictim was available.
Watching our surroundings
I appreciated the game’s reminder to be aware of my surroundings and quickly grabbed a Weedle and a Charmander. We walked side by side with our phones up.
It turned out I was lousy at flicking my pokéballs at targets, often veering too far to the left, though I always succeeded after a dozen attempts.
If I left the app open in my pocket, the game still credited me with the walking distance needed to hatch my eggs. My teen alerted me when a Pokémon, Pokéstop, or gym appeared. I taught her that she could put her phone on vibrate and both see nature and know when something interesting happened in the virtual world. We enjoyed the views and discussed politics, with occasional interruptions.
I realized this game was just the beginning of life in dual worlds – the virtual and the real. It was time to pay attention.
That afternoon, I needed a few things from the store and my teen eagerly walked with me. We went out of our way, as she had just advanced to level five and wanted to join the yellow gym located in the parking lot of the library. She explained that people choose to ally with either the red, yellow, or blue gyms and then leave powerful Pokémon there to defend the gym. Unfortunately, her phone crashed.
Advanced to Level 5
Since my iPhone 6 never crashed or froze while we played, I advanced to Level 5 while entering the library’s lobby. In the air conditioning, I learned how to transfer Pidgey into some kind of candy that would allow me to evolve one into a Pidgeot, a Pokémon worthy of defending a gym.
We browsed the books, did our shopping, and started home. On the way, I captured a Pidgeot. This was a big deal. My daughter’s game crashed and she lost it. After dinner that night, she set off on her own and endured the phone crashing three more times. My not-very-materialistic teen sneered and complained that her phone was too old. My husband wondered about updating her iOS system and I worried about potential demands for a new phone.
She made her move.
“Wait,” she said. “Can I borrow your phone, Mom?” Soon she logged into her game account on my phone and took off. She returned 20 minutes later, happily reporting that she caught five Pokémon, joined a yellow gym, and having walked 10 kilometers today, she had hatched a Jynx.
In one day, my couch potato teen walked 10 kilometers, spent hours talking to me, and only sent one sneer my way.
Kathy Kerr is a former educator and a freelance writer who lives in St. Paul.
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