The Healing Powers of Pokémon

I’m not expecting any SEO miracles from me posting something about Pokémon right now. Despite only celebrating its 15th day of life today, there has been no pop culture topic more talked about during these past two weeks than Pokémon Go, the free-to-play, augmented reality app that seems to have captured hearts and sculpted legs the world over. So, I’m not unique in bringing it up, and even the most astutely crafted blog post about this game runs the risk of falling into the Black Hole of Overused topics, but I’m here today because I just might provide a unique perspective for those doubting the game or stating that they “just don’t get” Pokémon.

First, a little background.

In 1998, I was eight years old and in the third grade. I was just starting to come to terms with two heavy realities in my life: my anxiety, which I live with to this day, and my parents’ looming divorce. While I had a lot of great friends, I couldn’t help but feel noticeably different from the flock, moreso due to the anxiety than anything. This fact would be told to my face the next year, but it was I who picked up on it first. I couldn’t go into rooms with high ceilings; I felt like I was going to get sucked into the atmosphere. I would cry instantaneously if someone said something mean, because I thought it meant they hated me. During reading comprehension exercises in school, my teachers would sharply question where I came up with things and would blatantly tell me I was “wrong” for interpreting stories the way I did. One teacher suggested to my parents that I may have had a learning disability. I just wanted to be like everybody else, but I never once felt like I truly fit in.

One thing that did help me feel connected to others growing up was video gaming. My two brothers and I had played video games since we had control over our own finger movements. Like many-a child at the time, we found ourselves at the feet of our parents to get copies of Pokémon Red and Blue for our Gameboy Colors when they first came out in the U.S.. What started out as a trend-prompted request became a virtual lifestyle shortly thereafter.

In the wee hours of the night – well, as “wee” as my brothers and I could manage without getting in trouble – we furiously trained our Charmanders into Charmeleons and, eventually, Charizards. My brother traded his Haunter to me so it could evolve into Gengar. I emitted increasingly loud groans when I ran into Chansey in the Safari Zone and could never catch her. This may sound like gobbledygook to someone unfamiliar with the games, but the overarching symbolism was what tied us to it.

To succeed at Pokémon, we had to invest hours of our time to train our monsters to be the best they could be. We battled in-game trainers, sometimes continuously, to reach increasingly difficult goals. My brothers and I had to work together to catch more Pokémon. In effect, the games were a fun, entertaining way for me to experience real-life responsibilities, even if they were in a fantasy world.

But I didn’t think of it that way at the time. Pokémon just made me so happy. I didn’t think about my anxiety when I played. I didn’t think about my parents’ arguments or those scary ceilings or my mean teachers. I didn’t really experience negative emotions while playing the game. Sure, I got casually frustrated, but the game was just too dang enjoyable for me to ever become truly disenfranchised with it.

While I never got into the trading card game and only infrequently watched the first incarnation of the anime, I continued to be a fan of the game series well into middle school. I let it go for a while in an attempt to be “cool”, as the fad had died down, but would secretly return to it from time to time, especially when a new game would come out. I continued playing in high school, but figured that in college I would “grow up” like everyone else and stop playing it.

Turns out, I needed Pokémon more than ever in college.

Between discovering my social identity, painstakingly learning about love through my rather intense, often damaging romantic relationships, and experiencing what was, at the time, one of the biggest decisions I had ever had to make (my college major), college was an animal far different from high school. After a hard day of studying, working with my student business organization, and hitting the gym, Pokémon was there to pick up the pieces and calm me down at the end of the day. Because I used it as a reward system after I had taken care of my responsibilities, I felt zero guilt sitting down to play it. It may have just been a game, but there was nothing else that calmed me down and brought me happy feelings so instantaneously.

As I transitioned into my whirlwind grad school year and began taking the CPA exam, Pokémon became an even more integral fixture. In order to get done what I needed to get done each day, I had resolved to breaking up my days’ commitments into hourly intervals. I don’t think I would have been as happy of a camper without my daily 30 minute-to-one-hour responsibility of playing Pokémon Black (the version I had at the time).

Which brings me today – and Pokémon Go.

I’m open on both this blog and my new one (cue mandatory plug of my new blog, Building Your Bold) about my struggles with anxiety and depression. As I get older, I not only gain more responsibilities, but become ever-more aware of the painful realities of this world, which unfortunately makes these illnesses harder to suppress and deal with. It doesn’t help that I’ve recently been having a tougher time than usual, likely because of my new relationship combined with creative struggles. (Keep in mind that I’m over-the moon happy in my relationship, but literally any relationship is so, so stressful for me at first, due to the amount of inherent risk involved and the amount of damage I am still undoing from previous ones.)

When Pokémon Go came out two weeks ago, I was nervous. On its outset, the game looked super different from its console predecessors. It was supposedly rife with bugs and appeared to be way overhyped. But I gave it a shot anyway, because it had been a while since I’d played Pokémon.

I couldn’t have picked a better time.

Pokémon Go has revitalized my desire to go on walks and explore the beautiful city I live in. It’s helped me feel more comfortable making conversation with random strangers, because I finally feel like I have something in common with people. It’s given me a reason to exercise more during the day, which is vital given the sedentary nature of my job. Best of all, it’s reminded me that Pokémon has always been there for me as a stress-reliever and all-around “happy-maker”. I know I’m not alone in this, as I’ve seen dozens of people around the internet say the same thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not dropping everything else in my life in favor of Pokémon Go, and even though it’s great exercise (the game requires you to actually walk around to land items/catch Pokémon), I try not to spend too much time on it unless I’ve completed my “real life” stuff for the day. I still go to work, I still sit down for healthy(ish) meals, I still spend time with friends and family, I still volunteer, and I still make plenty of time for writing, pole, and all of my other hobbies. And to be honest, I think this is how 99% of all other Pokémon Go players are. Yes – even the ones who sneak in a gym battle or two during work hours :).

Moreover, I’m aware, albeit painfully, that Pokémon Go may not be here forever. The craze may pass and the creators of the app may cease developing new iterations. Worse yet, I may eventually find that the app doesn’t hold up for long-term play, especially since it’s so different from the console games I grew up with. I know that I may one day have to drag myself outside without the motivation of an egg hatching or a rare creature sighting to excite me. That’s okay. I can accept that and will enjoy it while it’s here. Plus, if anything, I always have the main series games to fall back on should I be specifically craving a Poké-fix.

In conclusion, I’ll say this: let people enjoy Pokémon Go and any other video game they might love – Pokémon-related or otherwise. You never know what kind of impact the game might have had on their life and you never know how productive they might be in their life outside of the game(s). And even if they aren’t productive? Who cares. I find life is most enjoyable when we focus on improving ourselves and not criticizing others. But that’s just me.

Now, excuse me while I try and track down the Hitmonlee I saw earlier.

-H