On December 31, 2017, I decided to quit playing a game called Pokémon Go .
A little about Pokémon: It has been around since February 1996, six months after Sam was born. It has been a part of my life around seventeen years, due to Sam’s interest as a young child. When he used the word “evolve” appropriately in a sentence at six years old, I was impressed at his use of such a sophisticated word. Then I found out the Pokémon characters evolve; he had learned the word from the cartoon! I bought him the cute Pokémon paraphernalia, attempted to watch the Pokémon cartoons with him, but kept a disinterested distance from it. His older sister Becca watched with him, and can still to this day sing the Jigglypuff Song.
Not that I recommend this, but as a parent of children in the technology/gaming age, I groused about this phenomenon, tried to keep it at bay, and hoped their dad would become the gaming/technology expert. When my sweet, gentle daughter of eight years old played a game on a friend’s Atari system she quickly became the aggressor, yelling “Kill, kill!” I was mortified. That was all I needed to know, I thought. That stuff breeds aggression and has no place in our home. I did learn in the Pokémon world the characters battle, but no one is killed. That helped me a little bit, and Sam played the Pokémon games on handheld devices. As the gaming world continued to evolve Sam showed a lot of interest and his older sister kept abreast of the world with her friends. She has astute eye-hand coordination and could beat the more-practiced friends of hers fairly quickly.
Seven years ago, I married Ken, who is a gamer. I saw his video game playing to not be all-consuming for him, and a hobby I could tolerate. Ken wanted to find a video game we could play together. I found I enjoyed Mario Kart, about twice a year, and sometimes played a game with him called Terraria. It was okay, but not compelling.
Sam was fourteen when Ken entered our lives and was interested in moving beyond his GameCube and into the X Box or PlayStation realm. I was still fairly uninformed, and wary. I let Ken guide our purchases for Sam, relieved to be with someone who could reasonably navigate this.
In July 2016 a different kind of Pokémon game came along called Pokémon Go. It is an Augmented Reality (AR) game played on smartphones. I describe AR as an animated GPS system, overlaying the whole game on the GPS map of where you are currently holding your phone. You can also switch to your phone’s camera, with the Pokémon in the picture.
The player can catch the Pokémon that appear, and collect the items needed to catch them with, from PokéStops . If you are not familiar with the game, or the concept, here’s a quick read on it: Pokemon Go explanation on Wikipedia
I had the same disinterested approach to Pokémon Go, for the first three weeks it was out. Everyone around me was playing it: my husband, children, son-in-law and local extended family. So much so when Becca offered to host a birthday party for Sam and his uncle, she used Pokémon Go as the theme. Because she is a skilled planner and delegator, she had all of us help make the decorations and party favors, which was a delightful extended family effort. Guests ranged in ages from two to sixty-four years old and she entertained them all. Becca created two scavenger hunts: one for the youngsters at the house, and another for the adults to walk or drive to places to collect Pokemon. Surrounded by a myriad of enthusiasts, at an absolutely enjoyable party, it finally peaked my interest. I installed Pokemon Go on my smartphone that evening.
Ken and I started exploring Lawrence through our Pokémon Go games. The game added incentives to play daily and I was on it! We had a lot of fun exploring the components of the game, but mainly the part of collecting the many Pokemon. It became a part of my daily life, always ensuring I had some way to play. The only time I didn’t play was three days in July of 2017 when we were at a family gathering in Colorado. Not because we were at a family gathering, but because we had no phone reception at the retreat center in the mountains. No phone data, no Pokémon to catch.
Sam quit playing after a few months as it is more fun to play with someone, and his friends quit playing. Becca and her husband continued to play until a few months ago. As a gamer, Ken found the game to be lacking in interesting, engaging play, or metagame, but would usually play when I asked. We didn’t play every aspect of the game, but I enjoyed the collecting aspect, spinning the PokéStops and doing gym battles. To do these activities took going to the places they were placed. Driving downtown Lawrence was rich with PokéStops, as they are attached to placards, murals, and statues.
Ken would drive the 20 mph speed limit, and I would spin PokéStops for both of us when he wanted. He wasn’t always interested. I was always interested.
When I was 25 years old, a couple of professionals told me they believed I was an alcoholic. I was very shocked, but took them seriously and have been in recovery since then. I immersed myself in what this meant and came to understand I may have an addictive reaction to things other folks don’t. I understood abstinence and finding alternative approaches to day-to-day living to be key in my continued recovery. I wanted to live a life free of addictions, so paid attention to my other addictive behaviors. I gave up cigarette smoking a year later as I had an exquisitely addictive response to cigarettes. At one time I drank a pot of coffee in the morning, then Diet Coke in the afternoon. This consumption created physical problems. I have had times of abstaining from all caffeine, but am now able to drink one cup of coffee a day, and a couple of cups of tea. I eventually gave up drinking diet soda, and have a soda as a treat about once or twice a year. Refined sugar is like mainlining. Okay, I have never mainlined, but I have an I MUST HAVE MORE! reaction to refined sugar. I love my sweets, so I have done a lot of experimenting with natural sugars to keep them in my life. I may be playing with fire; not willing to admit that yet.
I knew I had the capacity to be at least compulsive about playing games like solitaire and have allowed myself that indulgence. I have chosen to not gamble as I have heard from other folks who are addicts that gambling is very addictive. I just don’t want to find out for myself. I have found I enjoy my life without addictions being active. I like being aware, fully participating in my life, even in the challenging times.
Last December, I was able to observe a few things about my Pokémon Go playing I would describe as red flags for addiction:
-Playing daily was a priority; I felt an urgency to play.
-I hate to admit this, but I played while I was driving. Rarely when I was actually driving, but at every stop light. This is called distracted driving.
-We based our walks around my desire to play Pokémon Go. Ken was mostly cool about it, but sometimes it wasn’t an interest of his. One day, I was fussed at him as I perceived him to be a barrier to me playing Pokémon Go that day. To be clear, that’s not what I told him but I realized later that was the at heart of my fussedness.
-I would play Pokémon Go all of the time we were driving somewhere. Really. All of the time. Highway and Interstate driving doesn’t work by design, but rest stops have a lot Pokémon Go gaming to play.
This all may sound trivial, and over-analyzed. I don’t believe I need therapy, or a Pokémon Go Anonymous group. But my commitment to myself is to live my life free of addictive behaviors and being intentional and present in my life. Playing Pokémon Go was going down that slippery slope towards addictive behavior. It was certainly compulsive. It was clear it was affecting my primary relationship and impairing my driving. I am relieved I did not cause a car accident due to my distracted driving. So I decided to abstain for the month of January.
Here’s what I learned:
-I was actually seeing my surroundings through the Pokémon Go’s Augmented Reality screen, an alternate reality! When I first drove sans Pokémon Go, I realized I saw the sights of Lawrence as PokéStops . Whoa! In about a week’s time, my brain started seeing the regular sights of Lawrence.
-When Ken was driving, I would still pull out my phone and look at any amount of apps on my smartphone. Ken commented he appreciated having me back as a companion in the car, and I decided my phone stays in my purse while I am in the car, as a driver or a passenger.
-Ken also observed I would take a long time to get out of the car when we arrived at our destination as I was still playing Pokémon Go. “Gotta catch ‘em all!” I would say. I am now more attentive to what we are doing. Together. Like what I want to be. Being with the person I’m with.
-I started playing Pokémon Go on the cusp of my last year of working, prior to retiring. It was an innocuous distraction at the time. It served the function of distracting me from the huge change of being retired. But it became a disproportionate part of my life. I have far more interests than this game to pursue.
-This is a great outdoor game if you live in year-round mild climates where walking is reasonable. Playing this game in the winter in Kansas puts it into a driving game, not a walking game. Playing it daily was challenging, and sometimes foolish. Last year I drove in icy conditions to play the game. Not a reasonable decision.
-I now look at Ken’s game playing as more typical, and a model for me. I have been able to put Pokémon Go back in its proper perspective and decided I could play it in February. But I didn’t for several days. I am encouraged, as yesterday I went to a coffee shop to write on this blog. While driving there I remembered the shop has a mural, which means it is a PokéStop, and told myself I could play Pokémon Go there. I became so engrossed in writing this, I forgot to play! When I realized that, I was delighted as this is what I want. The game is an optional, light activity, not a priority.
-I think my experience of finding this game a compulsive activity, and Ken not being compulsive, is probably the case for other folks as well. It is an individual experience. In the past, I wanted to vilify gaming, but that is too sweeping. Kids and adults have varying reactions to games. What I know is I found this particular game was compulsive for me. Mario Kart isn’t. I don’t know why, and may not find out. Since I am an aware adult, I can take responsibility to regulate myself. Kids probably benefit with guidance from adults, and need different help, depending on the kid. Just speculating; I haven’t researched this angle.
Ken and I talked about playing Pokémon Go in the future at the Lawrence Arboretum, as it has great sidewalks and lots of PokéStops . (Our neighborhood sidewalks take a fair amount of attentiveness when traversing. Okay, our neighborhood sidewalks are crap.) The Arboretum is attached to a long walking trail so we can play Pokemon Go, then put our phones away and get our heart rates up. I have found endorphin’s are something healthy I crave, and will definitely continue to pursue those!