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I’ve been reliving my childhood lately. My parents never let me get a Nintendo growing up. I had to my bike down to a friend’s house to play Super Mario Bros. 3 or Kirby’s Adventure. I’d stay up late during sleepovers to play Mega Man X. I would beg my mom to drop me off at Best Buy so I could play whatever game they had hooked up to the demo N64.
Then one Christmas, my grandparents came through huge. Finally, I had the latest marvel from Nintendo: Game Boy. No sleek casing or fancy buttons or high-res display; this was the original. It had a dull, grey shell with the bulk and weight of a brick. The screen was the size and quality of a flip phone (not yet invented). But it was magical. I couldn’t put it down, and I never had to. Mario, Zelda, Final Fantasy, everything I ever imagined, were always at my fingertips.
But the game I might have be played the most was Pokemon. Red and Blue, with matching colored cartridges, what innovation! Though I always felt bad for bulbasaur. He was my favorite. I spent so much time catching and training those little pocket monsters. I knew each of them by name and just where to find them. This was before the internet was big, so I had an actual guide book, with real pages made out of glossy paper, to keep track of when they evolved and learned new moves. I had that thing memorized.
I didn’t play much pokemon after those first generation games (I moved on to PC and playstation), but the franchise never stopped growing. Now my kids are just as into it as I was. We’ve got a switch, and they’ve been playing through Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu, a remake of the originals. The graphics look a little better on a 50-inch screen, but the map is still the same and all the pokemon are still in their places.
30 years later, its amazing how much I remember. And its incredible to see the same delight in my kids that I once felt. My 8-year-old daughter can beat it on her own. My 4-year-old son just likes running around catching everything, shouting for joy every time he sees something he doesn’t have, jumping up and down, offering high fives, every time the pokeball clicks shut. I’m trying to teach him how to build a strong team, but he doesn’t care. All the new ones go straight into his party. Now he runs around the house with a couple of pokemon cards we found in an old drawer, pretending to catch pokemon in real life.
Maybe you think video games and screen time are bad for kids. I disagree. Anything can be overdone, of course, but I spent untold hours playing games as a kid. It’s what I loved (and still love) to do. I went to school and played sports and wrote books, too, but much of my free time was spent in front of the TV with a controller in my hand, journeying through some fantastical world, battling monsters and saving the world. Far from passive couch-sitting, it put imagination and creativity and purpose in my life. Games require us to set a goal, overcome challenges, and progress through to the end, something that’s all too often missing from our daily routines, kids or otherwise. It’s not one of the important things in life, but it can practice for the important things.
Playing Pokemon with my son feels like playing catch with my dad. What it lacks in physical activity, it makes up for in interactivity. It’s all the same. We try to pass down the things we love, whether sports fandom or favorite books or classic music or best lunch spots. Growing up, my dad would take me to play tennis every Saturday, and then we would go to lunch at a local greek place for sweet tea and pita burgers. It was routine to me then, one I didn’t always appreciate, but now I know something of the satisfaction and joy he must have felt and why he kept taking me back every single week.
I’m sitting at that restaurant as I write this. My kids love it, too. I’ll teach them to play tennis one day. For now, we’re busy catching monsters.