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Pokémon's pop culture revival helped me connect with my mother
Like many children born in the early to mid-’90s, I was hugely invested in the Pokémon franchise as a very young child. I was just old enough to have started developing my own interests when the cartoon series first aired in the UK, and the games arrived just as I was starting to get invested in video games as a form of media. Pokémon basically defined my childhood growing up as a 90’s kid.
I have lived all my life with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum condition that impacts my sensory processing ability, my social skills, and has caused obsessive behaviors to become quite an ongoing fixture in my life. Every few years I will develop specialized areas of interest on specific topics, drinking up as much information as possible and intensively focusing on one subject over anything else. When I was very small, my attention fell to trains, then later in life it was the trading card game Yu-Gi-Oh, but my most consistent obsession for most of my life has been an anime, trading card game, and video game series all about collecting adorable battle creatures.
The game, show, and card game all focused on one central concept, "Gotta Catch ‘Em All," a short and snappy phrase emphasizing the importance of completionism. Sure, our hero Ash wanted to make friends with his Pokémon, and there were optional side mechanics in the games, but as a kid with a brain for facts and figures and completing collections, Pokémon was perfect, exactly what I wanted to focus my attention on.
I completed every game, with every possible creature maxed out stats, leveled up completely, wringing every bit of value possible out of the games. I played every single game multiple times, bought multiple consoles and copies to trade with myself, and made Pokémon something I thought about day and night.
As a kid with an obsessive interest, I was desperate for an outlet, somewhere to spout all my Pokémon facts and opinions. This was a world pre-social media, and as such my mother ended up having to feign interest in a topic she knew nothing about. She had never seen an episode of the Pokémon anime, nor had she played a game, but she had to constantly listen to me explain that I was deliberately holding off on evolving Charmeleon because it would learn Flamethrower faster if I didn’t let it evolve right away. She would patiently nod while I impressed to her the importance of having a team of different monster types rather than just one element and pointing out that certain moves in the game didn’t work the way the text said they did. She was very patient and supportive, even if she had no clue what I was on about.
Growing up, I didn’t really know how to connect with my mother, as the one thing I really knew how to talk about was clearly not her area of expertise. However, in recent years, Pokémon has slowly become more of a fixture in my mother’s life, opening up the doors for us to connect better than we had in years. I have to credit part of my current positive relationship with my mother today to the fact she started playing Pokémon Go.
Back in the days before Pokémon Go released, my mother was actually more into real-world ARG games made by Niantic than I was. She was a huge fan of a game called Ingress, the first game made by Pokémon Go’s developer, and very much tried to encourage me to get involved in playing. While I never really got into it, my mother did try out Pokémon Go when it was released due to her existing interest in the developer’s games. As a result, my mother is finally playing a Pokémon game of her own volition.
The pop culture revival of Pokémon, which undoubtedly started with Pokémon Go’s release, not only led to my mother beginning to take an interest in Pokémon but also coming to me to ask questions about creatures she had found. She wanted to know which ones could evolve, which ones were good for fighting, which ones were rare to find, and how to make them as strong as possible. Finally, my knowledge of Pokémon was opening up conversations between the two of us.
Now, when I spent 500 hours playing Pokémon Let's Go catching every shiny Pokémon, and I message her about it, she understands how rare a shiny Pokémon is and how much of a challenge that was to undertake. When I go out for Pokémon Go walks, she understands the social aspect involved, and we have even gone on Pokémon walks together a few times. When I get invited out to go play Pokémon Go abroad for work, she knows that there are rare Pokémon out there that I can bring back for her.
My mother isn’t the biggest Pokémon Go player in the world, but her occasional texts about cute Pokémon she has stumbled upon were one of the first things that opened a door towards better communication between us. My childhood obsession has come back around and is now a big enough deal that my mum probably wishes she had paid more attention to my childhood blabberings. I'm just glad my childhood obsession got a second chance at being the biggest thing in the world long enough to connect with one of my parents.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.