I woke up with a wild Mankey on my crotch.
It was 5:30 in the morning and I had just stirred awake when, like most Americans, I grabbed my phone to check whatever it was I missed overnight. After clearing some Emails and messages, I opened up the Pokémon Go app that I had just downloaded the night before, a game that uses GPS to position you as a character on a map. You can catch Pokémon by throwing little red and white balls, called Pokeballs, but you physically have to walk places in order to catch the little beasts. I can hunt Pokémon in my city parks, down side streets, on lake fronts, and in cemeteries. When the Pokémon show up on your phone, the app places them in your camera feed and you catch them on your screen. So I might fight a Pikachu on my front porch, a Pidgey in a tree outside, or a Meowth in my shopping cart at the grocery store.
But this morning, there was a Mankey on my crotch. I caught it, then had a good laugh, the irony of that particular placement for that particular Pokémon dawning on me quickly.
I am by no means a video game enthusiast, and I have no particular love for Pokémon. I’m a huge comic book nerd and I love a lot of nerdy things. But recently, my children have gotten into the Pokémon XY craze on television and we play with their little toys constantly, having battles between them all over the house. So when I heard about the new app, I thought I might download it for them.
I first played Pokémon back on a special color Gameboy back in 1998, when I was a Mormon missionary in Delaware. I saved up my extra allowances for a few months and made the purchase at a small electronics store there. The graphics were rudimentary, walking and collecting small creatures and then pitching them into battles in order to level them up and evolve them. It was a fun little mental escape during a rough patch on the mission, a time with no television, movies, magazines, or radio. When I left the mission, I gave the Gameboy and game to another missionary and went home.
And I had nothing to do with Pokémon again until the early months of this year, when my sons became obsessed.
After catching the Mankey, I slipped on my shoes and went for a walk outside, phone in hand. Stationed around the map are little Poke-stations, where you can get free items to help you in your quests, you just have to walk to them first. The closest one was a block away, a local Korean restaurant. I stood outside of it and got a few Balls and an Incense, which would apparently help lure wild Pokémon in. After stopping to catch a Spearow, I walked another block to an outdoor painting of a giraffe, another Poke-station that yielded more merchandise. Another block away was a Mormon church, which had apparently been established as a Pokémon gym, a place you could gather to battle your Pokémon against others, levelling them up and making them stronger.
I walked over to the church and saw three teenagers sitting on the front lawn, all on their phones, pitting their Pokémon against each other. With no shame, at age 37 with greying hair, I took a seat on the steps at the church and tried my hand at a battle. The teenagers didn’t even look up. I quickly realized I had no idea what I was doing and headed for home.
I logged in to Pokémon Go throughout the day and found I was actually really enjoying myself. I went to lunch and a movie with a friend and kept secretly checking my phone. I found a Poke-station at a bike rack outside, and I caught an Aerodactyl in the restaurant’s bathroom.
After the movie, I returned home to the familiar sight of my next-door neighbor sitting on his front porch, chain-smoking. I casually nodded, went inside and logged on to Pokémon again, and found there in my living room a Pokémon named Koffing, a grey blobby creature emitting smoke and with a skull-and-crossbones on its chest. And I found myself laughing again.
Later that night, I called my son’s, on their weekend with their mother, and their adorable little faces popped up on the screen as they told me about their day’s adventures. I excitedly told them about Pokémon and how we could go hunt for some at the park soon.
“Isn’t that amazing, guys?”
“Sure, dad, but we’re tired, see you tomorrow.”
The screen closed and I clicked back on the Pokémon game, soon catching an Onix in my living room.
And as I walked up the stairs, I realized maybe the game was a little more for me than it was for the kids.