What I Learned from Playing Pokemon GO

I play pokemon GO when I walk to and from bus stops, to lunch, around campus, and on the busses. I’ll play while eating lunch. On the weekends, we might spend a few hours walking around the zoo or the arboretum. And can you guess what happened?  Without making any special effort whatsoever, I can now name the majority of 400 some-odd pokemon, know if they evolve, what they evolve into, and where the local pokestops and gyms are located.

I’ve been thinking about writing this for some time, and apparently tonight, after managing to complete a fairly major piece of writing, is the night.

If you don’t already know, Pokemon (poke-ee-mahn) GO is a virtual game that you play on your cell phone. It’s modeled after a game I never played and a cartoon I only rarely saw bits of, so the whole Pokemon universe is still fairly new to me. Essentially, Pokemon GO uses your phone’s GPS and video capabilities to give you a “window” into a virtual landscape where cute (well, usually cute) little critters “spawn” around you and you try to catch them with “pokeballs” that you collect by spinning “pokestops” that are anchored in real-world locations – often public art, landmarks, and buildings. I’ve learned more about my geography in the past few years than I knew I was missing.

If you catch enough of a certain type of pokemon, you earn enough “candies” to power them up or evolve them into an often more angry-looking new version of the poke-critter (that’s my own slang, right there). You can install your pokemon in a “gym” along with other players in one of the three teams you chose to align yourself with, and you can have battles to knock other player’s pokemon out. Walking a certain number of kilometers (it’s an international game, after all) earns rewards as well.

When Pokemon GO was first released in the United States, it was a huge hit. People were out on the streets in droves, comparing what they’d caught, sharing information on where certain pokemon were spawning, and just in general having a good time with strangers in public. Now, a couple of years later, more people smirk and say “oh, I used to play that . . .” but that’s ok. Smirk away. This is the way that I let my brain have a rest – but I’ll be darned if my brain didn’t sneak into the fun anyway and teach me a thing or two using those silly little poke-creatures.

As an academic, and for a very long time as a student, I was always told that I needed to work on research or writing projects a little at a time. Instead of waiting for large blocks of time, or for “inspiration,” studying and writing should be done in smaller, regular sessions. Progress comes from consistency and repetition, and not very often from the muse.

I’ve always been much more of the absent-minded-professor-muse-type, personally, but it’s pretty clear that I need to change my act if I’m going to publish regularly. My brain-break, it turns out, just hammered home what happens when I repeat an activity in small chunks, consistently, over time.

I play pokemon GO when I walk to and from bus stops, to lunch, around campus, and on the busses. I’ll play while eating lunch. On the weekends, we might spend a few hours walking around the zoo or the arboretum. And can you guess what happened? Without making any special effort whatsoever, I can now name the majority of 400 some-odd pokemon, know if they evolve, what they evolve into, and where the local pokestops and gyms are located.

If Pokemon GO was just a foreign language, I’d be haltingly fluent by now.

On top of that, I keep leveling up. In another 4 1/2 levels, I’ll have topped out. I only wish my bank account grew that fast.

So to recap, playing Pokemon GO in small, regular increments, over time, I have learned a fairly large amount of information without even intending to and have made clear progress toward repeated small goals.

Now, every time I accomplish something in the game, those cute little critters remind me that I can be just as successful in the real world. Playing Pokemon GO has finally hammered home a lesson that an awful lot of well-meaning people tried to help me learn for years. To my now and former students out there that might actually read this far: don’t let that lesson be as difficult for you to learn as it was for me.

Nothing we do, my friends, has to be a waste of time – we can learn from just about anything. Or, to borrow from the Grateful Dead:

Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right.