My four-year-old son, Oscar, is a Level 33 Pokémon Go trainer named “OChabPika” and about once a week, I log into his account, load him into his car seat, and we go on “Pokémon rides” he calls them, through the rural communities of Readfield and Winthrop, Maine. Our rides last about an hour. We hit two local PokéStops and two mostly ignored local gyms, then we make the 15-minute drive from Sturtevant Hill Road to the outskirts of Winthrop where it’s a bit busier from a Pokémon perspective. To pass the time, Oscar battles the notoriously easy in-game trainers, and from the front seat, I soak in the iconic music, the pings, swooshes. Of course, I play, too.
“Don’t forget to tap the button, little buddy,” I say. “Keep doing that!”
“Okay!” he squeals. “Ha! He didn’t even use a shield…”
We’ve been doing this since the COVID-19 pandemic began when roads were clear, parks were closed, and we didn’t have anything to do. In our Jeep, Oscar in his car seat, we felt protected from the pandemic, an opportunity for maskless fun, a chance to embrace my childhood nostalgia and share it with my son who adorably mispronounces names of Pokémon and celebrates every victorious raid battle.
“He’s going to be that kid, you know,” Alyssa once told me. “The one who’s constantly correcting other kids about Pokémon.”
“What’s wrong with that?”
Alyssa maintained her own account shortly after Pokémon Go was released in 2016, so one of us often carried Oscar in a Tula carrier or pushed him in a stroller as we walked to nearby PokéStops and gyms as our son dozed or watched cars speed by us on Route 17. For us, the game was a respite from the banality of parenting a small baby. Pokémon Go kept us sane, kept us from falling too deeply into dregs of the rigid schedules babies often require. We could play any time. I remember once running his stroller across a field when a Snorlax spawned nearby.
“Are we bad parents?” Alyssa asked as she flung Poké Balls at the elusive Snorlax.
“He’s still asleep. He’s fine.”
At first, Oscar simply adored Pokémon and the basic idea of catching them. When he was two, I remember squirming as he swiped a greasy thumb across my phone’s screen and cruised through 35 Poké Balls in seconds, each throw missing a Caterpie by an ungodly distance. Mostly, he wanted to watch evolutions, as one Pokémon morphed into a newer, more powerful form. Occasionally, I’d hoard enough Pidgeys so he could evolve them en masse. He’d lean into me and shout with excitement at each transformation.
“Pidgey-whoa-tow,” he’d say each time. “Pidgey evolves into Pidgey-whoa-tow.”
Eventually, Oscar began to decipher the nuances, the elements of the game especially as the game became more complex.
“Water types do better against fire types,” he recently told me. “Magikarp is not strong but Gearados is super-strong!”
Sometimes, we’d simply play “Pokémon Battle.” We’d slide our living room couches to the nearest walls, stand a few feet apart, and battle each other emulating the Pokémon we called out. Oscar launched from one Pokémon identity to another with a scream of their names: running in circles as Scorbunny, jumping and kicking like Hitmonlee, roaring like Charizard. I always chose Snorlax; I didn’t have to move. I would galumph around him rasping “SNORLAX,” pick Oscar up onto my shoulders, and WWE-style powerbomb him onto the couch, which he loved.
To confuse him, I once said: “I pick Ditto. He can transform into any Pokémon.”
He considered this for a moment while sitting cross-legged on the carpeted floor.
“Well, I’m Ditto but I’m also MEGA MEWTWO!” he cried, standing and then sprinting at me with an outstretched fist.
“There’s no such thing, Dad!”
“How do you know?”
“MEWTWO!”I wonder what will happen to this activity, this hobby, this I-don’t-know-what-to-call-it. Does it have a future? Will I one day drive my pre-adolescent son to Raid Battles at the Readfield Methodist Church? Who is this really for? When Oscar was born, I imagined opening his world to ice hockey, soccer, and baseball, hiking Tumbledown Mountain, taking him to Moose Brook State Park and camping under the stars, fishing in the pond stocked with brook trout. He can still have those things—we’ll make the time—but I think I’d like to hold onto our Pokémon Go rides as positive, fleeting moments with my only son. I wonder what he’ll remember of this. If anything, he’ll know about Team Rocket, Battle League, and that Nosepass only evolves into Probopass with 50 candies and a Magnetic Lure Module placed on a PokéStop.
Adam Chabot is a teacher and writer whose work has been recently featured in rough diamond poetry, Agapanthus Collective, and Words & Whispers, among others. He is a Level 45 Pokemon Go trainer and can be found on Twitter @adam_chabot.