Almost four years ago I spun a PokéStop as frequently as I could, ducking outside maybe once every couple of hours to vape and catch as many Pokémon as I could while outside the hospital for brief breaks throughout the day. Sarah was in bed, often resting, as our newborn son lived the first days of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Pokémon GO had been out for just under a week and I was already hooked. My childhood dream of wandering around in the real world while collecting Pocket Monsters had finally come true. For the past six days I wandered the city, spinning PokêStops, training in gyms, and meeting tons of new people that were also living our their childhood dreams (or even playing their first smartphone game ever!) doing the same things. It was fairly magical to look outside, see people staring at their phones, and then run out excitedly to ask them about the game (they were all playing – everyone staring at their phones outside that summer was playing) and what rare Pokémon they had found. The thrill of discovery, of “the catch”, was real and everyone was obsessed with it.
Since the game came out I’ve caught Pokémon all over this city, other cities in the U.S., and even from other cities around the world as I played on and off (mostly on) for these four years. I’ve met with hundreds of fellow Pokémon Trainers from the D.C. region (sometimes all at the same time, like when the Legendary Bird raids and later the Tyranitar raids were new and exciting), split away from my family on a trip to Spain to spend Mareep Community Day in El Retiro Park (with many hundreds of other Trainers in Madrid), and braved the super long flight and rain to finally catch a Kangaskhan in its homeland of Australia.
It’s been a wild trip, and I’ve made many great memories playing alone, with neighborhood regulars, and with others visiting the city and looking to take advantage of our huge variety of PokéStops and gyms while on vacation. Along the way I’ve brought Reed with me for much of my local play. One of our favorite pastimes had been to take the metro down the The Mall on a nice warm day. I’d push him around in his stroller and later let him toddle around on the grass and dirt while we search for new Pokémon to catch for the first time. We’d then visit a museum, look at what there was to see, and then enjoy a lunch together before I briefly hunted for a few more Pokémon, fought one more gym battle and maybe squeezed in a raid and then took the quiet metro ride back home as he napped peacefully the whole way. Even though he was too young to play then, Reed has been an integral part of my Pokémon GO journey this whole time.
Shooting ahead nearly four years brings us to today. Our son is healthy and almost four years old and now has a little brother that turns four months old this month. (Maybe I should ask a numerologist what all of these fours mean. Know one?). The whole family is stuck inside almost all day every day. We’re juggling work, childcare, a newborn, and our sanity in ways and in an environment that was never made for this. The home should be a quiet place during the middle of a weekday. Kids should be at daycare or school and parents should be at work or working peacefully in the home office. None of these things are possible anymore in the era of coronavirus and COVID-19. One thing is still here and helping me get through a tough time, though: Pokémon GO.
Rumors are swirling online that Niantic, the developers of the game, are due to release some updates to make it easier to play the game while staying at home. Pokémon should be popping up for catching more frequently, we might be able to do some raids, spin PokéStops, and trade or battle all without having to leave home and be physically close to others. Although I love the thrill of exploring my home city or new cities around the world while I catch new Pokémon and meet new people, I have to admit the thought of having this game available for home play has me very excited. I’ve bonded with Pokémon GO for a number of reasons and the release date in 2016 being just a week before the birth of my son is a big part of it. I escaped to a different world set in this very world during a time when I was anxious, scared, and excited all at once. My first baby spent most of his time away from us in the NICU at the hospital and I worried about him almost every second of every day until he was released. Being close to family removed many of these worried seconds, and Pokémon GO removed at least a few more.
I haven’t yet introduced Reed to Pokémon GO. Part of the reason for this is because he’s in school and I’m back at work (wait… was. Was in school. There is no school anymore, at least for now) and I’m not sure that he’s old enough to play video games yet. Not ideologically, but literally. He can navigate YouTube Kids like a champ, but throwing PokéBalls? Not so sure. I’m not sure there’ll ever be a better time to give it a try, though. We’re running out of ideas about things to do – and I could always use another trainer to help with raids!
No matter what Niantic does to make Pokémon GO playable at home, it won’t be able to recreate the same fresh joy that helped me get through a tough time four years ago. I hope that it will help me get through this tough time, though. And maybe, just maybe, Reed is old enough to give it a try himself this time.