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“I am very lucky to have you as a dad.”
That unexpected compliment from my 14-year-old daughter took me by surprise. While I love my three girls with all my heart and the compliment got me beaming from ear-to-ear, our family is a conservative one that shies away from displays of love and affection.
When I finally regained my composure, I asked her why.
Turns out some of her friends don’t get to play Pokémon Go because their parents won’t let them. Some are afraid their kids will be addicted while others think it’s a waste of time. In one rare instance, one parent had very strong religious views against it. Those who did allow their kids to play mostly left them to play on their own.
As for us, well, we play Pokémon Go as a family.
My eldest girl and 11-year-old second daughter have been Pokémon fans for a few years – thanks to watching the entire series on Netflix and anime sites – while my 5-year-old is a recent convert. The eldest uses her own phone and has her own account. My second kid’s Xiaomi phone unfortunately doesn’t run on Android 4.4 and later, so I lend her my spare phone on weekends. My youngest gets to use my phone. As for my wife, she has absolutely no interest in Pokémon Go.
That is, until we went to a nearby shopping mall for coffee and she realised that everyone was playing and talking about it, including the café owner who engaged me in a deep conversation about the importance of refuelling Poké gear at Pokéstops. She had to download the game so she could understand what the craze was about.
I have to admit – getting my wife to see the wonders of the game was a strategic tactic to ensure she would not be angry at being left out when we made our occasional sojourns to McDonald’s at West Coast Park for supper – and to catch some Pokémon.
We are fortunate because our living room is within the radius of a nearby Pokéstop, which means we can stock up on Pokéballs, potions and berries without leaving our home. While most condominiums might have one or two Pokéstops (typically the fountain), there are four within our condo grounds that we can access. That’s because our condo is right next to a history museum and many of the exhibits there are designated Pokéstops.
A few nights ago, my eldest girl and I sneaked downstairs to fill up on our Pokéballs and to take advantage of the Lures that some kind neighbours had placed to attract Pokémon. We split up to find the virtual monsters and called out to each other when we found one. We are now planning more family visits to the parks and the zoo not only because we need the exercise, but also because we suspect there are many grass Pokémon there.
My two older girls are my mentors when it comes to Pokémon. They are the experts, telling me which Pokémon to use in battle against specific Pokémon guarding the virtual gyms.
I think it’s great for building their confidence, because for once, my kids are teaching me stuff instead of the other way round. It also makes them feel proud of their knowledge and is a testament to the hundreds of hours they have spent studying Pokémon lore.
They also tell me not to look down on the lowly fish Pokémon Magikarp because after accumulating 400 of them, I can evolve it into a powerful dragon called Gyarados.
In fact, it was my two older girls who introduced me to Pokémon Go. Before it took the world by storm, they were already chatting non-stop about it. When my eldest heard rumours that players of Ingress – another augmented reality game by Niantic, the developers of Pokémon Go – would be given priority to be Pokémon Go beta testers, she created five different Google accounts to increase her chances. And when the application for the beta test was launched in Japan, she figured out how to change her computer’s IP address to trick the Japanese servers into thinking she was located in Japan. She also put her Japanese lessons to good use but alas, she was not selected.
There are many parents who are concerned about their kids becoming addicted to Pokémon Go. Reports of players getting into accidents or trespassing onto private property while hunting Pokémon are definitely a concern for any parent. But there are benefits too, as I have come to learn.
It has helped in family bonding. It’s not easy for different generations to share a common interest in an activity. Even picking a movie to watch together is tough when you have kids aged five to 14. Pokémon Go appeals to all ages. My 5-year-old is as excited as my 14-year-old and I am just as interested as they are. Maybe it’s because I have always been young at heart.
Pokémon Go has brought us together with a single united purpose. When we have levelled up enough powerful Pokémon, we are going to take out the gym right outside our home. Go Team Instinct!
Oo Gin Lee is the founder of Gloo PR. He is a father of three girls aged 14, 11 and five.