Opinion – Why I’m Not Ashamed To Still Be Playing Pokémon Go

When Pokémon hit in the late ’90s, I was all in. I still
remember my friend telling me about it in homeroom in middle school. By the
time lunch rolled around, he had convinced me to watch the anime when I got
home. It was pretty goofy, so I played it off like I didn’t like it at first,
saying, “It was okay. I’ll give it another shot tomorrow,” but I liked it from
the first minutes. The seeds of obsession were planted. I didn’t have a Game
Boy to play the games, so I began devising ways I could engage with these
characters in the meantime, typically spending my evenings at home logging onto
America Online to research about these creatures and read about the games I
didn’t have. Since I didn’t have much money at that age, I resorted to making
Pokémon cards out of the index cards my parents sent me to school with until I
could buy real ones. Months later, I convinced my parents to get me a Game Boy
Color with Pokémon Blue for Christmas. The hooks were deep.

One thing eclipsed my love of Pokémon in middle school: my hopeless,
yet undying desire to be popular. Because of this, my love for Pokémon was
often kept quiet since it was considered a “dorky” thing to like. By the time
Gold and Silver came out, my tempered enthusiasm for the franchise combined
with my hesitance of learning 100 new Pokémon drove me to skip it. I dropped
off the Pokémon series, and didn’t return until Pokémon X and Y nearly a decade
and a half later.

Fast forward to summer 2016 and I’m a 29-year-old looking
forward to Pokémon Sun and Moon. A few months before that hit, Pokémon Go launched
to a swell of enthusiasm. Unsure of the concept, I downloaded it and took a
stroll around my neighborhood, catching everything in sight. What started for
me as a fun diversion during walks has evolved into something much more for
nearly two years.

When you look at people playing Pokémon Go, it’s easy to
mock them – groups of people huddled around each other, hunched over their
phones, feeding Pikachu a berry. However, the game is much more than the sum of
its parts. Look beyond the core concept and the buggy infrastructure, and you
have a game that Game Informer
executive editor Andrew Reiner rightly pointed out as life-changing.

As my obsession with filling my Pokédex grew, I began coming
up with excuses to engage with the game. Using tools like The Silph Road’s map, I found nests of Pokémon I was hunting and started planning
exercises in that area. I felt more motivated to go for runs in highly
populated Pokémon areas because it not only let me make progress in the game,
but it also occupied my mind during the run. This encouraged me to run scenic
routes during all seasons, allowing me to take in gorgeous sunsets over warm lakes,
or gaze over awe-inspiring icy expanses during frigid Minnesota winters.

Even when I’m not using it as an excuse to exercise or a
distraction from how tired I am, Pokémon Go has compelled me to explore the
area surrounding my home. I’m still a fairly new resident of Minneapolis, and
many of my favorite locales have been discoveries I owe to Pokémon Go. I’ve stumbled
upon cool waterfront parks that I’ve returned to for picnics, or lesser known
areas full of awesome bars. I even found a quaint lake tucked away in a
neighborhood less than a mile from my house.

Sure, these are things I could have discovered without the
aid of Niantic’s Pokémon-themed AR app, but the incentive to go out and explore
has helped me break the mold and stray from my mainstay spots. Along with that,
I’ve met many fellow players who I recognize when I participate in raids by my
house. It’s always nice to have a small reunion with a familiar group for a
legendary raid.

In addition to getting to know my area around me, Pokémon Go
has enabled me to reacquaint myself with a franchise that I hold near and dear
to my heart. The way Pokémon Go has slowly rolled out the generations of
creatures, I’ve grown intimately familiar with the second and third generations
of monsters. I now know Gen 2 nearly as well as Gen 1, and I’ve already gone
back to rectify never playing Gold and Silver as a kid. I’m currently in the
process of playing through Omega Ruby, and it’s giving me a similar joy and a sense
of wonder to that of my first playthrough of Pokémon Blue. I’ve even returned
to the anime, watching the first five seasons. Pokémon Go is far from the best
Pokémon game, but it’s given me an appreciation of the franchise in ways I
haven’t felt since I was a middle schooler discovering the sensation for the
first time.

Paramount to all these life enhancements are the memories
I’ve formed playing with those close to me. Whether it’s the day-long
excursions with coworkers to a neat downtown park known for rare monster spawns
or that time I sprinted across a crowded field with my girlfriend and hundreds
of other trainers to catch a Snorlax, I love looking back at the unique
excitement the game has provided me. I’ve certainly had much better gaming
experiences over the last two years, but few have provided me with as vivid and
fond memories as Pokémon Go.

If I’ve learned anything from experiences such as this over
the 31 years I’ve been alive, it’s to love what you love and not be ashamed of
it. I abandoned one of my favorite things as a child thanks to peer pressure,
and I missed out on 15 years of great games because of it. Now that I’m playing
catch-up, I understand how foolish I was to leave something I genuinely enjoy
behind to try and gain the acceptance of others. Sure, I sometimes feel a
little silly battling a raid boss in below-freezing temperatures with a group of
shivering players, but I’m loving every minute and I don’t give a damn what any
bystander may think.


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