Virtual Road Trips in the Pokemon Universe

When reading Lin Zhu’s ‘The psychology behind video games during COVID-19 pandemic: A case study of Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ which touched upon video games and their ability to serve as a platform for social interaction along with a means of comfort and ease; I was instantly reminded of my experience playing Pokemon online with my best friend. While still attending the same art school, we would often hang out after class to relive our childhood and replay nostalgic Nintendo games. One of our favorites was Pokemon, as we were both very competitive and enjoyed a friendly battle to see who had the best team. We would simply sit next to each other on the couch and play on our own console, without much interaction. Nevertheless, doing the same activity simultaneously offered a sense of comfort and nostalgia and it was a core component of our friendship. 

After my friend moved from the Netherlands to the UK we tried calling and playing simultaneously, but without me being able to sneakily look onto his screen and see what he was up to it just wasn’t the same. Even though we didn’t do much when we hung out, having someone be physically present made gaming a lot more engaging. This is when we found the wonders of PokeMMO, a way to play Pokemon online, on your laptop. It enables you to replay your favorite games while sharing the virtual world with your friends (and if you choose to do so, random people online). Now we were not only playing the same game, we could also see each other roam around the world and it felt like we were physically in the same room once again. 

Another thing we enjoyed doing together was small city trips to places in the Netherlands my friend hadn’t seen yet. We would get something to eat, walk around and just explore the city intuitively. When we could no longer do this in person, we also chose to do this in our online Pokemon sessions, as silly as it may sound. Rather than following the main story we would travel to a random place on the map and try to find new areas, or rediscover old ones together. It encouraged us to not only explore a virtual world, but also to fully complete the game and find all the items. Another reason why I appreciate video games is for their ability to take you to a virtual world, while distracting you from your real life surroundings and all the worries that may come with it. Rather than being stressed about our assignment’s and deadlines we would explore a new world together. Zhu also touches upon this in her article, which was initially what made me relate to her words in this way. 

’Or rather, we can just consider the game world as the “La-la land,” a sort of escape that has captivated in our fantasies with the world in the grip of the epidemic; or, it plays an unexpected role to provide comfort and social connection in a time of isolation and struggle.’’

Lin Zhu in The psychology behind video games during COVID-19 pandemic

While Zhu is talking about Animal Crossing New Horizons, I could definitely relate to her viewpoint, with my personal experience playing Pokemon online. When you are in a lonely state, whether it is due to a pandemic or something else, a video game’s ability to transport you to not only another state of mind, but also another world is tempting – especially when you can share it with your friends. To go back to our virtual trips; my friend and I started capturing our memories by taking screenshots. Surprisingly, the act of taking a screenshot feels strangely familiar to that of pressing a camera’s shutter button when you’re this engaged in your online experience. We made a shared folder called ‘Photos from our Road Trips’ and would decorate the screenshots as if they were stuck in an actual photo album. Adding digital tape and stickers along the photos took our online experience to another level. Despite the silliness of this whole online attempt at hanging out, it worked for us. Gaming online enabled us to carry on our friendship, no matter the distance, in a similar way as we always did. We went from playing games on the couch next to each other, to engaging in the same virtual world and playing simultaneously. We went from taking day trips to new cities to exploring new areas of the map together. Snapping photos turned into screenshots and everything felt like normal.