It was the kind of Texas afternoon where you nearly burst into flames just getting the mail. My two boys, Toby, 11, and Charlie, 9, lolled around on the living room carpet, fighting, tattling, and not playing Monopoly though paper money blew around the room every time the AC kicked on.
“Why don’t you guys just go outside?” I said.
“No we can’t its tooooo hotttttt we will die no way,” they said.
The usual me would have argued this point but it was too late in the summer to litigate. Instead I flipped through my Twitter stream and hoped to find something engaging to read.
And there was something engaging…Twitter was positively over the moon about the new game “Pokemon Go.” My feed read like a Dr. Suess book: Snorlax sightings on the Square! Pikachus peeking through petunias! Traffic jams, poke stops, pidgies, pidgies everywhere! It was as if the world had morphed into anime and suddenly everyone was, beautifully, adventurously, ten again.
I simply cannot resist a techno fad. I downloaded the app and my boys and I were in business.
We started out catching Rattatas in our living room, using the AR feature to take screen shots of the purple rodents against the backdrop of our couch. It was very hilarious and entertaining until we realized that catching Rattatas was like swatting flies. We wanted to hunt, Ash Ketchum style.
Out of nowhere Charlie said, “Maybe we should walk around the neighborhood?”
Did my child just ASK TO GO OUTSIDE ON A HOT SUMMER AFTERNOON?
We cautiously approached the front door, touching the knob first to ensure that the porch wasn’t actively burning.
And then we crossed the threshold into the Kanto region, circa 1997.
I’m not gonna lie. It was hot. We trudged down the street, the Pokemon Go “Nearby” feature indicating what Pokemon were in the area with a little box full of monster avatars. Strangely, we were not the only humans out in the open. I kid you not, there were OTHER KIDS OUTSIDE walking the hood with their iPhones humming the catchy Pokemon Go background music. Kids that a week before were probably sitting in their rooms playing SkyRim or watching back episodes of DanTDM on YouTube. Kids that, though I have lived in my neighborhood for ten years, I have never even seen before.
It turned out that our neighborhood was sandwiched by two Poke Stops. This meant nothing to me until we ran out of Poke Balls. Poke Balls are little black, white, and red balls used to catch the Pokemon. Serious hunters, like ourselves, ran out quickly. The other kids showed us how to walk up to a Poke Stop, spin the disc that appeared on our phone’s screen, and retrieve bubbles full of virtual prizes: balls, potions, and eggs.
We spent the afternoon walking back and forth from Poke Stop to Poke Stop stocking up on various necessities and filling our Pokedex with base-level Pokemon. By evening, more people were milling around the Poke Stops—tweens, twenty-somethings and beyond—walking, talking, catching, laughing. Charlie and I met a twenty-three year old Poke-guru named Nick that showed us how to transfer our accumulating Pokemon into “candy” which is used to evolve weak Pokemon into more powerful and rare versions.
For the next week Charlie (the most sedentary, video-game obsessed of my kids) and I created a nightly ritual of Poke-hunting. We went outside as it got dark and walked until bedtime. We hobnobbed with our neighbors and got more tips from Nick, who looked markedly thinner and rosier every time we saw him. I began crushing my FitBit step goals—15,000; 19,000; 23,000 steps—all happening on pleasant walks with my child. We stopped at parks, went out to eat in Poke-busy downtown Roanoke, wandered the Denton Square. We talked about his upcoming birthday party, and his wiggly tooth, and how maybe someday he would invent shoes with rocket boosters. Never once did I have to cajole him to get moving. It happened organically because Pokemon Go is just that fun.
As parents and educators we often harbor resentment toward video games as if developers have a diabolical plan to steal our children’s souls. I have heard well-meaning adults bemoaning screen time as if any virtual experience were the antithesis of creativity and social development. Yet here we are in a world begging for screen-literate candidates to fill a techno-driven job market. Grown-ups must learn to capitalize on the niches where technology and creativity collide, where screen time and social development meet in wonderfully glorious ingenuity.
What would happen if we adults embraced the gems of the gaming world without shame? What if we educated ourselves enough to understand the difference between games like Call of Duty Black Ops (violent warfare) and MineCraft (economy and architecture.) What if Secondary Schools offered Pokemon Go as a PE elective? (I dare you DISD!) What if we caught up to our kids who wholeheartedly embrace creativity, social development, and technology without separating each into its own isolated category?
The gaming industry isn’t going anywhere. Not only is it full of future jobs for a generation of entertainment-hungry consumers, but it is also a key we can use to motivate our children to learn, think, and move.
As a mother and a physical educator I feel a deep gratitude to Niantic. When I see the kids in my neighborhood outside, carefully measuring each kilometer they walk to hatch their precious Pokemon eggs, when I chat with my own child while searching for virtual monsters, I am keenly aware of the gaming industry’s power and my responsibility to use it well.
If you haven’t yet ventured into Pokemon Go, seize the day. What better way to lure your family off the couch? Put on your tennis shoes, grab your kiddos, and go “catch ‘em all!”
Guest Blogger: Andi Hawkins
Andi Hawkins teaches PE at WS Ryan elementary where she loves coaching her dance team and connecting with students. She serves on the school's STEM committee, organizes teacher flash mobs, and is the 2016 Denton ISD Teacher of the Year. Connect with her on Twitter @andi_hawkins.