When the question, “What is your opinion on Pokemon Go?” popped up on one of the various “mom” pages I follow on Facebook, I gave my honest opinion and almost immediately experienced mom-shaming for playing the game with my children and recommending it. During the first day of play I was simply intrigued because I missed the Pokemon craze in the 90s; however, as time went by, I quickly realized that I was playing the game as a mom, not just a gamer.
My children enjoy video games and I have no qualms with that, but today I’m focusing mostly on my eldest son, Matthew. When it comes to Pokemon, Matthew, a teen living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) absolutely loves the franchise (Mewtwo is his favorite) because of Nintendo’s hit game, Super Smash Bros. Now, some of you may think that I’m a terrible parent for even letting my children play video games, but I am going to go ahead and ask you to consider the idea that video games have the potential to help children, maybe even improve different areas of their lives. Having a child with ASD, and having watched him play and explain various video game experiences (from Mario Bros. to Minecraft), I’ve sought out research and seen evidence of the positive impact that video games/gaming can have on people. I will talk about this more after explaining Pokemon and Pokemon Go.
What is Pokemon and Pokemon Go?
Pokemon was originally a video game created by Nintendo where “trainers” (players) explored the game world and found Pokemon characters. After capturing these characters, the player would then train the Pokemon characters (such as Jigglypuff, Pikachu, and Charmander) until they evolved. Once evolved, they could battle with other characters. This franchise blew up in the 90s, with the inclusion of collector/trading cards, TV shows, movies, toys, books, and the inclusion of characters in the aforementioned game, Super Smash Bros. (You can read more about the history, here: http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/History_of_Pokémon)
Pokemon Go, then, is a mobile game that allows the fans of the franchise to step inside the Pokemon world as trainers, and collect characters, too. The “go” in the name is intentional – they have to actually leave the house and, in most instances, walk. For example, if you catch an egg and want it to hatch, you have to walk a set number of kilometers. Driving won’t work, you have to walk.
Before you completely dismiss Pokemon Go, I want to ask you to at least try it. After seeing various comments on social media, I am confident that the parents who have remarked with “rubbish,” “annoying,” and “a terrible waste of time” haven’t actually experienced the game at all. I believe that even more so because some women replied by saying “I refuse to download it.” I ask you to please consider giving it a try – with your children.
As a parent, I’m absolutely astonished by the impact that downloading the game on my phone has had on my children and myself. Over the last few days, my children and I have collaborated, laughed, and planned together as we spent time outdoors, walking to the park and taking the longer route home “just in case” we might come upon a new Pokemon (and we did, thank you very much!).
But more significant is the impact it has had on my relationship with Matthew. Pokemon Go has brought my ASD son and I closer together because we have something to discuss that he can (and will) talk about for hours. Furthermore, he is interacting with me, his siblings, extended family he rarely speaks to, and people out in public he doesn’t know. If you know anything about ASD, it’s probably the fact that communication is the biggest area of concern – Pokemon Go has encouraged Matthew to practice social skills and that makes this mom happy.
Jane McGonigal, author, game researcher, and designer, discusses the importance of gaming in her Ted Talk, “Gaming Can Make a Better World.” As she strives to convince the audience just how valuable gaming is, she asserts that gamers are “motivated to do something that matters — inspired to collaborate and to cooperate. And when we’re in game worlds…many of us become the best version of ourselves.” This weekend, I witnessed my ASD teen, often discouraged in school and not willing to participate, become motivated to succeed with each small task that Pokemon Go gave us. I also witnessed him collaborating and cooperating both with me and other people, showing us the best version of himself. That’s a serious breakthrough for Matthew.
I ask you to give Pokemon Go a chance, especially if your child has asked you to. Yes, there will be people who abuse the game, and the media will likely favor those stories, but overall I’ve only seen positivity. For instance, today as I sat on the sidelines of a soccer game with my children, I observed people who, before coming to the park, didn’t know each other and yet they were talking and working together to capture Pokemon. My confidence in the fact that the benefits outweigh the risks was strengthened as we drove by a mother with her young son, holding hands as they walked along the sidewalk, phone in hand, seeking an imaginary character.
Haters are going to hate, right? Well, I’m here to say I’m not concerned about people mom-shaming me because I choose to embrace gaming with my children. What I am concerned about is spending time with my children and teaching them the value of collaboration while also encouraging physical fitness – especially with Matthew, my ASD teen. All of these Pokemon Go-inspired differences are, as Jane McGonigal says, “epic” wins.
Are you a mom who plays Pokemon Go with your children? Tell me about it! For further reading on video games, I encourage you to read and watch the following links:
(Please keep an eye out for part two which focuses on being a mom in college playing Pokemon Go and part three which focuses on gamification in life and the classroom.)