My first experiences playing Pokémon Go occurred in the late 1950s when we ran free on our Midwest farm. The only screen we accessed was the swinging door that banged shut behind us on a summer day as we charged out to search for creatures—some virtual, some frighteningly real.
Our own form of “drowzees” and “zubats” hid in the high grass along the creek, but they slithered and jumped—as snakes and frogs do. The “krabbies” in the backwater had actual pinching claws, and we called these small crab-like creatures “crawdaddies.” They made good fishing bait. Ground squirrels, muskrats, bullhead fish—the creatures we searched for were not as cute or animated as the Pokémon menagerie, but we had plenty of enthusiasm during these childhood quests.
At times I would go it alone and build a virtual world, but I was not copying Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum. I was the Lone Ranger or Davy Crockett—and yes, we did own masked-man badges and coonskin caps back then. At least these accessories did not need to be recharged at regular intervals.
Usually my siblings and I joined cousins who lived on the neighboring farm, and the outdoor environment provided its own “lure beacons”—haymows containing nesting pigeons and occasional litters of newborn kittens; shady groves filled with fleeting squirrels and low-hanging limbs to climb; and pastures lined with worn cow paths and meandering streams.
Today’s Pokémon Go might have security issues, but dangers awaited us also. Bees, wasps, and thistles had a real bite to them. Red-winged blackbirds (the original “angry birds”) protected their nests by dive bombing us, and we always gave skunks a wide berth. You could “swipe” all day after getting sprayed by them, and you’d never dodge the stink.
Our ultimate “Poke Stop” came on days when we hiked farther downstream—past Crow Hill, through neighboring fields, and to the beaver dam area. Occasionally we’d hear tails slap on water or see the creatures leave a wake across the still surface behind the dam. Usually we just examined their construction techniques and wondered at the type of front teeth needed to gnaw down small trees.
As we grew older, we “leveled up” and changed more to team play. We didn’t battle “gym leaders” but instead chose sides for baseball, football, or steal-the-flag. And we didn’t gain “badges.” We were content to outscore or outrun a cousin or brother. The competition might be called on account of fights, chores, or darkness—but we never had to pay for upgrades, and our batteries always seemed charged.
Most of our farm-kid Pokémon Go activities ended as we became adults, but old photos and nostalgic flashbacks can take me back to those free-range days. I’ve conveniently forgotten about poison ivy, severe sunburn, or being shoved into the creek by a feisty cousin. Anyway, I guess that’s better than walking into a creek while staring in a stupor at a “smart” phone screen.
by dan gogerty (images from celestelaurent.com and rxflyfishing.com)