Saturday, August 5, 2017

In Defense of Pokemon Go, For Moms

“I’m Lucky Egg-ing it.”

I send the text to my husband as I continue walking around our neighborhood. My kids are in bed, and I am doing something that, three months ago, would have barely registered in my mind: walk around my neighborhood at night. Alone. Playing an augmented reality game on my phone.

Some of my friends will read this and think I am crazy. But I am a denier no longer: I enjoy Pokémon Go. It’s fun.

The phenomena caught me last summer, and once I figured out the game (with the assistance of a very helpful sister and brother-in-law--thanks, Becky and Peter!) my interest only increased.

Okay, I think it may not be entirely fair to call it interest. I know where all the Pokéstops are located in my neighborhood, the best gyms to leave my Pokémon at for longevity, and it may have played a small role in getting me up to go running for three mornings in a row last week (I hatched 3 eggs in one of those runs!). If none of that means anything to you, just know this: I enjoy it.

I’ve never been a “gamer” type. There was no video game system in my childhood home until my younger brother got one when I was already in college. I’d also venture to guess that Pokémon Go falls a wee bit outside of the true blue games played among folks who might wear that badge with pride. It’s not very complicated, and it doesn’t require a lot of character knowledge or strategy if you stick to the basics.

I also know that Pokémon Go falls a bit outside what I think of as stereotypical “stay-at-home mom” activities. It doesn’t help me keep my house clean. It doesn’t help me get laundry done. It doesn’t produce diapers to change. In fact, I feel a bit wary of telling people that I enjoy playing it, because I don’t want to give anyone an opportunity to reinforce the very worst stay-at-home mom stereotype: that we do nothing all day. I can see how people would categorize a phone-based game as “nothing”. Also, there are far more important things that I want to tell people about that deserve far more attention.

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It’s 6am as I lock my car door and walk toward my friends who are stretching in their running shorts and t-shirts. It’s the easiest hour of the day to get our run in without kids. As they open their run tracking apps, I open my Pokémon Go app. It’s also the easiest hour of the day to get mileage (or, kilometerage, in this case) in without kids. Gotta hatch those Poké eggs somehow.

“So, confession,” I pipe up as I pull open the app. “I’ve kind of gotten into this Pokémon Go thing, and, uh...I’m going to keep the app open while we run so I can gain mileage, but don’t worry, I won’t try to catch any Pokémon.”

Nerdalicious, I think to myself. I could have gotten away with probably not mentioning it at all and they would have been none the wiser. Oh well, at least I’ll get this kilometerage in.

“Oh, yeah, my kids were telling me about that, and asking me to take the phone with me when I run for some reason” replies one. “I don’t know - I don’t get it.”

“Yeah, I decided not to let my kids play it right now,” says the other. She doesn’t say it in a smug way - just matter of fact.

Phew. At least they’ve heard of it.

We complete a three mile run, and I successfully ignore every time my phone buzzed indicating a Pokémon was there for the catching nearby. Maybe I could go running by myself next time.

My husband rolls his eyes a little when I tell him with glee about the new Pokémon I caught that day while I was playing at the indoor play place that I sometimes take our kids to, wondering if all the other moms there could tell I was taking down a Poké Gym on my phone instead of watching my kids go down the slide for the hundredth time. Woops. Forgot about that motherhood commandment that goes “Thou shalt not be on thy phone in the presence of thine children. Ever.”

By the end of the week, on our date night, my husband will be suggesting that we spend a portion of our date playing Pokémon Go, to which I heartily agree. “Pokédating”, we call it. So we spend half an hour before our movie starts just sitting out in the plaza, right in the sweet spot between two Poké stops, catching Pokémon and comparing notes on strategy. It’s fun enjoying something as silly as an augmented reality treasure hunt game together. It makes me think of how we originally met through a group of ultimate frisbee players - why wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that Pokémon Go, a game best played in groups, could have romantic effects?

Most of the time, silly comes easy when I’m with my kids: dance parties, jokes, funny faces, the latest creative way to get them to put just one more bite of food into their mouths. But when I’m by myself, silly and playful comes a little less naturally, as if I’ve given all my silly bits to my kids to protect them from the serious adulting I have to do. But motherhood never commanded that “Thou shalt never do things purely for fun. You’re a mom now. Stop it.” And so what if my preferred form of fun comes in the form of an augmented reality game that I can play anytime, anywhere (ok, not in the car), and not in, say, spending hours at the shopping mall? Or creating Instagram-worthy calligraphy of the latest Brené Brown quote that has struck a chord? Or buying into that Cross Fit craze that I don’t totally get?

“Ok, you can try to catch it three times,” I tell my daughter. I don’t let her do this often, since imagination, physical activity and non-screen play need to trump her creative world right now, but I know she sees me playing it sometimes and wants to see what the big deal is. She “throws” the first Pokéball and misses. The second one is successful, but the Pokémon escapes. Third time’s the charm, and as the stars burst forth from the successful Poké catch, she raises a triumphant fist, giggles and shouts “Yes! I got it!” And then, another idea popping into her mind, she hands the phone back to me and runs off to pursue it.

Sometimes I take myself too seriously, and wonder about how I might explain this choice to spend a fair amount of time playing a phone game with no obvious benefits other than getting me to do more physical movement throughout the day. I struggle with the guilty voices that would have me believe that every moment not spent with my eyes trained directly on my children is a wasted one; that “fun for moms” only looks a particular way. But I’m also realizing that, inasmuch as making some decisions should be given serious thought, this decision to play Pokémon Go simply because it’s fun for me doesn’t really need any more justification than that.

So, more power to you if you head to your local Cross Fit gym tonight and get all those burpees and deadlifts in. I’ll be down the street at my local Poké gym, battling it out against a Snorlax, a couple Arcanines and a Dragonite. *Fist bump*.

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