When he first discovered it about a year and a half ago, I thought that it would be, like his other, earlier obsessions, a passing fancy, one that he would grow out of as he matured, or when the next big thing came around.
But despite the emergence of Skylanders Giants and Lego Alien Conquest, his love of Pokémon continues. There is a reason, I suppose, that Pokemon has endured since the mid-‘90s, and it’s not going away anytime soon.
Pre-Pokémon, when my son was obsessed with Power Rangers, I learned enough about the various toys to know which ones he had and which ones he didn’t, so that when his birthday rolled around and people asked what to get him, I could point them in the direction of a Red Ninja Storm action figure, or a Wild Force Blue Megazord. But my knowledge didn’t extend much beyond that.
When he would watch Power Rangers on TV, I invariably fell asleep, or “watched” with him while I did the crossword puzzle, because, honestly, the show was so painfully bad that I wasn’t willing to give undivided hours of my life over to it. But my son was little then, and he didn’t seem to notice my fake smile and nod, or my patronizing, “wow, that’s awesome,” whenever he would talk to me about it.
But with Pokémon, things are different. For one thing, it’s a video game, not just a toy or a TV show (although there are those, too). And there are thousands and thousands of different Pokemon with various powers and abilities and strengths. My son pores over Pokémon guidebooks like a rabbi studying the Torah, searching for answers and meaning. And he talks about it incessantly.
He and his friends chatter for hours about Tirtouga and Darkrai and Psychic types versus Grass Types and honestly, it’s like they’re speaking Japanese (which, I guess, they kind of are, since that’s where Pokémon was created). But whenever I try to listen to him – and I try, I really do try – my eyes glaze over and I find myself thinking about all of the foreign countries I’d like to visit when my kids are both grown and out of the house. But since he’s older now, my smile and nod doesn’t cut it anymore. “Are you even listening?” he’ll ask me. Sooooo busted.
Last week, however, we were alone together in the house for a few hours, each of us with nothing to do. I asked him if he wanted to play a game. “Checkers? Sorry? Rummy-Q?” “Nah,” he answered. “Okay, I said, so what do you want to play?” “Pokémonn,” he replied. I rolled my eyes. “But I don’t know how to play Pokemon,” I reminded him. He just shrugged. “That’s okay,” he answered. “I’ll just play by myself.”
I swear, I felt my heart actually cleave into two pieces. And that’s when I realized that if I didn’t want to completely lose my relationship with my son, I couldn’t half-ass it anymore. I would need to go all in. So then teach me, I told him. Because I want to be able to play with you.
I’ve spent all week learning. Reading the book, learning the names and the types of Pokémon, understanding how to battle and earn badges and the importance of finding relics. In the car, we talk shop, and he fills me in on what he achieved the last time he played (I do limit the video game time to half an hour a day; obsessed or not, that’s all he gets).
I’m no expert, and I don’t think I’ll ever quite understand it at the level that my son does, but now that I understand Pokémon, I can see the appeal, at least. It is kind of cool, to have this alternate world with these crazy creatures that possess every kind of power imaginable, and then some. But more importantly, I can see how much it matters to my son that I care. My fake nod and smile have been replaced with actual interest and questions, and to him, that makes all the difference.
Image credit: By DekuDescole/deviantART