Gotta Catch ‘Em All?

Seriously. Charmander will hand Squritle's ass to said squirtle.

Confession time. I am afraid of Pokemon.

Let me start by telling you my Pokemon history.

The Gameboy was bestowed on The Big Guy when he was not so big. Like he was seven. I will never ever ever never ever ever forget that day.

The batteries were in the handheld, the cartridge was in the slot, it was powered up. And then–cue the sad trambone–nothing.

Well, not actually nothing. We were introduced to Professor Willow. And we (the playa) was supposed to do something. But I watched and “guided” the Big Guy around the house, along the left-right, up-down grid in the room.

We couldn’t get out of the house. The Big Guy would position himself on the mat, at the doorway out of the room and proceed to walk into the door. To absolutely no effect. Keep pressing that key forward and keep seeing that that poor Ash would never get out of his effing parent’s house.

My response? Looking at the tools available, I said, “Throw a potion at it.”

That was all I had. Throw a potion at the door. Maybe it would open. But it never did. And my seven-year-old learned on that very day that I had no friggin idea. This didn’t have had to be brought to his attention at such a tender age. I’m just saying.

Somehow, he managed to get out of the house, despite my lousy admonitions, and go forth and capture and train many a Pokeman. He might not have caught them all, but between red, blue, yellow, silver and gold, ruby and sapphire, diamond and pearl, many pocket monsters were captured and tamed. There was more than one device employed over the years, too.

There was that day when I was driving the minivan from school to soccer or from soccer to school or maybe from school to soccer to grocery store to home. Where is less important than what. There was a constant, perhaps incessant, chatter from the back seat about Pokeman. Like all about it. I was listening intently, to understand and to respond, but in all honesty it had been going on constantly. For hours. I could do no more.

“Sweetie,” I said with more pleading in my voice than I intended, “Doc can’t listen about Pokemon any more right now. So you can still talk, but I can’t listen.”

He said, “Okay, Doc. Can I talk about it later?” I said yes.

To his great credit, two-hours later he asked, “Hey, Doc, can we talk about Pokemon now?” I once again said “yes,” from my freshened self. And I learned about the different types and the different levels and the evolutions. I asked the Big Guy to build me a matrix of the monsters. He learned what a matrix was and saw how he could display attributes–or data. I liked this. Alot.

Pokemon went to the wayside after the acquisition of the game systems attached to the TV. The crudeness of the gameplay made it much less interesting than Spyro the Dragon, and, eventually, and years later and very interestingly, John Marston.

Fast forward to today.

There is a just-released version of Pokeman for smart phones. It’s called Pokeman Go. It’s brilliant in that it takes the game outside of the console (in this case phone) and incorporates the location knowledge of the phone with the game. The game is the same silly, but it incorporates the silly outside the fourth wall. You can walk through your urban landscape via your phone and “see” wild Pokemon to catch  with Poké Balls tossed with a flick of your finger on your phone.

That’s what scares me.

I am afraid to download the game because I will be one of the freaks “seeing” Pokeman  behind the mailbox, next to street lamp and on the subway platform where I frantically swipe up and right and down to catch the monster as I watch the train pull away. Because I will become totally obsessed with catching them all.

NO! I will not join in. I will not be a cultist member of the game, because if I were to play, I would constantly be pulling my phone from pocket or purse, trying to catch them all. And, to be real, it is the least important thing I can do. There are dishes to wash and dogs to walk. In. Real. Life.

So, my phone becomes the portal between the real and the pretend world? And I can interact with a fantasy word while I am awake and while I am sober? Put the phone down on the table. Walk away. Walk slowly, but away.

Okay. I downloaded it. But I’m not going to play it. Okay. I chose Charmader. I know he’s the hardest to play. Must. Not. Play.



An xBox controller with an array of confusing buttons. WTH?

Some of my best friends are gamers. I guess that’s how I’ll backhandedly describe the fact that I am, most definitely, not.

There used to be a game that the boys played with a friendly cartoon tiger running along a crumbling Great Wall. I played that. I could do three or four runs before it was beyond my skills. That was the last game they ever caught me playing.

I was pretty good at Pajama Sam and Putt Putt Saves the Zoo on the PC. That said, their pre-school selves were better players than me. I set the low bar.

I wasn’t anxious to buy a gaming system. Others in the house were much more anxious. We made a deal. If they could save up half the cost of the PlayStation, I’d make up the difference. Baby Bear got $1 each week and The Big Guy $3. They were required to request their allowance each week. The cash was lost to the nethers if the transaction wasn’t made by the end of the weekend. No back pay. Saved me having to remember and from doling out extra bank.

The Big Guy was quite lackadaisical about money. Not Baby Bear. He was on a mission. You could mark your calendar by his Friday night request. He made sure to get The Big Guy’s dough, too. His rigor soon fulfilled their side of the bargain, an annoying three weeks before Christmas. So they bought themselves the gift.

They are still bitter about the games I would not let them play. No killing games. That Star Wars game with the light sabers that My Sib bought them? Nope. Not even if they killed Jar Jar Binks. No killing games. I gave it away.

There were plenty of running and jumping and driving games. There was Mario & Luigi, Crash Bandicoot and that cute purple dragon. I even flew the dragon on occasion when they handed me the controller, just to be friendly.

The Toy Story game was a big puzzle that let them explore outside of a defined path. Well, until they got to the side of Andy’s room where there wasn’t any drawing left. Rendering. Rendering. Rendering.

My parental standard graduated to cartoon level mayhem, as long as the weapon wasn’t a gun. And no games rated “M.” The boys were disgusted with me. They were definitely out of sync with their peers. I was okay with that. They had Madden, and FIFA and some crazy basketball game.

My rules were harder for The Big Guy. I held him back a bit because Bear would play it, too. I know. Not fair. It’s always harder on the oldest.

I found a killing game cartridge when I was putting away underwear. Leaving aside why someone hides contraband behind their boxers–the most obvious place to hide stuff–I knew it was time to adjust. My response was to keep an eye on the gameplay. I would sit with them as they would play. I would ask them questions. And they would hand me the controller.

I would inevitably shoot my own feet, maim my teammates, and not be able to move. Seriously, the boys would shout, BOX, BOX, A, X or whatever. It didn’t matter. I have absolutely no controller-brain coordination. I would try. I would fail. We would laugh.

Over time, I watched the games change. First it was watching them play football in the rain–maybe the year Brett Farve was on the cover of Madden. The shadows of the players, the jerseys worn by the crowds, the options for play became more sophisticated.

Then there were the killing games. They became more realistic, too. It was stunning, and awful. But another thing happened. Some of the killing games had characters who had to make challenging decisions. The first-person missions became more morally complex.

I grew to like some of the characters. Some of them a lot. I cared about their success. In some games, there were real storylines. Characters had different personalities. You could do more than upgrade your weapon or change your armor. You could even reveal a different story if you played as a different cast member. I would check in to see not just how the game progressed, but what happened, what decisions were made and what were the consequences.

I went from the parent who railed against the violence and stupidity of GTA, to a binge-watching regular, like watching The Sopranos through a kaleidoscope where I get to spin the colored glass and view a new, crooked, yet beautiful, version. A good game is art–there is plot, conflict and denouement. A world is created. There are heroes, villains and anti-heroes. The gamer makes decisions that impact not only the gameplay, but the outcome of the tale.

As the boys play, I watch the games like a movie. They sometimes ask me which weapon to use or if they should buy more health or more cunning. I share my uninformed opinion, sometimes after asking questions about the options. I sometimes share my opinion about their decisions–like to not be mean. They usually acquiesce or explain why they need to be mean at that moment. They know that I’ll refuse to take the unfathomable controller into my clumsy hands, so they don’t pass that on. I sit with them to be with them, to watch the show and just to be friendly.


Bullied About

I am very sorry to have to admit this. I am chastened and embarrassed to say it. I am confused and somewhat annoyed with myself, too.

I just don’t get it.

I came home to see the 15-year-old beating the brains out of someone with a baseball bat. All in the name of good, clean fun.

That is good, teen (T) fun–at least according to Boys’ Life and reviewers from Amazon and Wired. He was playing Bully.

So somehow, I just missed the idea that a game is not over the top, and is somehow redeemed because the violence is bloodless. Brains are not smeared on the sidewalk, so it’s okay. See, I just don’t get it.

I am watching the kids (my kids) pulverizing someone. And they are laughing. They are excited. They are egging each other on. Telling the 15-year old to have his character–named Jimmy–take another swing at the boy lying on the sidewalk with his hands in front of his face trying to protect himself. I, alone, am cringing. See, I’m not getting it, still.

It’s supposed to be good because “Jimmy” helps kids being bullied. By using extreme violence. And the game is good because it doesn’t reward Jimmy for bullying. See, if he beats up his bad-guy classmates he earns new ways to beat up the bad-guy classmates. This is, not considered extreme violence because his main weapons are his fists and an occasional trash can lid. No guns, knives or blood. See, I can’t tell the difference between extreme and not so extreme. Still not getting it.

I interrupted the beating. “Hey, I thought that this game wasn’t supposed to reward violence.” The kids turned around and sheepishly smiled, then returned to the melee. I had to walk away. Not getting it.

“Doc!” you say. “Why were you surprised that a game with a name of Bully brought to you by the same folks who made car-jacking and killing cops into gameplay would be a bit violent? What were you thinking??”

One good thing happened, though. The kids misplaced the game. Get it?