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Being 42 years old, I have become the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything. And yet, because of my age, until recently, I knew next to nothing about Pokemon.

It was the timing of it all. Pokemon first appeared in North America on the Nintendo Game Boy system in 1998. The franchise quickly exploded to become the second largest in the world (second to Nintendo’s own Mario Brothers) but for me – too old to be part of the target market when it was released – Pokemon was what my friends who were parents would mutter when I asked them what their kids were up to.

Now that I have kids myself, Pokemon has moved a lot closer to the centre of my attention. Both my seven-year-old son and five-year-old daughter have told me that kids in their classes bring Pokemon stuff to school and to the daycamp they go to over the summer months. So it was this summer that it became clear: my kids had become bored of their games. Should I enable them to become Pokemon trainers?

Pokemon is a game from Japan that involves two players called trainers who face each other and use a roster of Pokemon — or, imaginary pocket monsters — to battle each other until a certain number of monsters are knocked out. The game involves both strategy and luck as some actions are dependent on flipping coins.

Pokemon can be crazy confusing: since the original game hit the market there have been five subsequent ‘generations’ of games released and a sixth version (Pokemon X and Y) is due this October. The Pokemon franchise has become much more than just Game Boy games. There are Wii Games, an animated series, a book series, movies, toys, and a whole trading card game based on Pokemon. There’s also an online version of the game based on the Pokemon trading cards! Since 1998, over 600 Pokemon have been released into the collective imagination of a generation. Your average 20 year old probably knows more about Pokemon than actual wildlife.

In my pursuit of figuring it all out, I checked out the official Parents Guide to Pokemon but found it lacking. I also found other guides that shared my main concern with giving the game to my kids: I was worried they’d fall into the inherent consumerism that the game supports. After all, the motto for Pokemon is ‘gotta catch them all’.

Despite my fears, I decided to take the risk that my kids would become Pokemon addicts, and I did so by setting some guidelines. The first guideline was to restrict their play to just the paper card version of Pokemon. I know that most families try to restrict their kids’ relationships with video games in different ways. In our house, we’ve opted to discourage solitary video game play, but we’re not anti-video games. We have a Wii and an XBox that the kids can play on for an hour every Saturday, Sunday and holiday. And we occasionally hand the kids a cell phone so they can play Angry Birds while we wait for the food to arrive at restaurants.

By committing to the card game system my kids can play the games whenever they want and because card games are portable, they can also play them wherever they want. I like the card game option because the games feel more social: you look at each other’s faces instead of staring at a screen.

Decision made, I went to an independent gaming store and asked them what I should buy for my kids. They provided me with some excellent advice that I will pass onto to you. Pokemon cards can be bought individually, in larger tinned sets, or in small random packs of 5 or 10 that are not unlike how baseball cards are sold: a random assortment of mostly common cards with the occasional rare one.

If you are just starting out, the best thing to do is buy two Theme Decks as they contain everything you will need to play the game, including a simple rule sheet. They cost about $15 each and (for the price of a movie) will provide hours and hours of play.

Don’t forget – you need one deck per player so you should leave the store with at least two.

Pokemon is a simple game with simple rules. It can seem complicated because there are six sets of rules that overlap one another and certain cards that can change these rules. I’ve found that the online tutorial provided by Pokemon really helps to explain the game. YouTube is also a great source for Pokemon help.

For our family, the decision to take the plunge, buy the decks, and figure out the rules has all been worth it. My kids love the game immensely and when I’m not engaged in Pokemon battles with them, they are playing it against each other. My son even enjoys drawing his own versions of the cards!

Pokemon has become successful not just because it has an alluring narrative within which kids can picture themselves but also because the game itself rewards mastery. My son regularly beats me in Pokemon because he has a better understanding of what the cards can do. Every time he wins his heart  fills with joy (and mine with a 50/50 blend of shame/pride). I’ve been delighted to learn there are Pokemon Leagues in our neighbourhood where he can apply his skills — if and when he gets bored of kicking my butt.

The feeling of mastery is very satisfying. I am feeling it myself now that I have finally figured out the world of Pokemon.

Mita Williams is a User Experience Librarian in Windsor and she is also involved with the local makerspace called Hackforge. This is the second in her new series about tech, family and gaming: Activity Book. Follow Mita on Twitter.

 

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