Searching for Pokemon

Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

When I was a kid, everyone had a Troll Doll. Whether you collected the creepy, big-eyed characters or not, their temporary ubiquity guaranteed that all children of a certain age received one at a birthday party or from a well-meaning relative. The spiky-haired creatures seemed to be in the air we breathed.

In that sense, Pokemon are the new Troll Dolls. So when schoolmates began trading Pokemon cards at the beginning of this school year, my kids scrounged some torn-corner cards from the recesses of their bedrooms and entered the fray.

Initially, I worried they would get ripped off in a bad trade. They didn't know which cards were valuable or even how to play the (obscenely complicated) game.

Fortunately, it came to light that our next-door neighbor is Clintonville's foremost Pokemon expert, with a collection that made my kids' eyes go wide as a Troll's. Pretty soon they were spending birthday cash to fill binders with new Pokemon cards, then dashing next door to get an appraisal.

As a kid, my brother and I collected baseball cards. I remember the excitement of ripping open waxy packs of drugstore cards, hoping for a Rickey Henderson (my favorite player) or a valuable rookie card (like that 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.).

I'd check the batting averages and ERA stats on the back of the cards and look up their values in the most recent issue of Beckett Baseball Card Monthly. Then I'd watch the games on TV. Sometimes a certain player would start doing well, and I'd fish him out of the discard box where we kept "common cards," i.e. the ones valued at a dime or less.

Pokemon cards have value, too, but my kids don't play the game, and neither do any of their friends. They pine for valuable cards that do tons of "damage" in a game they've never played. None of that made sense to me-until I downloaded the Pokemon Go app.

Initially, I put the obscenely popular augmented-reality game on my phone so my kids could play. It took me a while to figure out the basics, but eventually I started looking for Pokemon when the kids weren't around, catching the critters while walking back and forth from my parking garage to the Columbus Alive offices Downtown.

The goal of Pokemon Go, as you probably know, is to catch Pokemon and take them to a virtual gym for battle. And yet, the other night, as my son and I lay on his bed transferring Pokemon to the Professor for candy so we could evolve some battle-ready Pokemon, I realized that I never battle at gyms. That aspect seems complicated and a little stressful. I just like to collect them, which doesn't make sense.

In the comics section of my newspaper growing up, there was a painfully unfunny, nature-based comic strip called Mark Trail. For a (very) brief time, I thought it would be fun to collect Mark Trail's expressions. So I'd cut Mark Trail heads out of the newspaper with scissors and put them in a shoebox.

My parents likely thought I either had a warped sense of humor (true!) or some latent serial-killer tendencies (no bodies thus far!). I was probably just being goofy, but I think my younger self also was proving a point: Collections are arbitrary. It's not really about the objects. It's about the hunt. Troll Dolls, baseball cards, Pokemon cards … Mark Trail heads-the obsession doesn't have to make sense. The search is justification enough.

Joel Oliphint is associate editor of Columbus Alive; he never got rid of his baseball cards.