Last night, I was relaxing in bed and watching TV after a long day of doctors’ appointments. My mom texted me a short sentence, “Do you want to go look for some Pokémon for a while?”
I am a 29-year-old woman who relies on a wheelchair for my mobility. I’m living with my parents and adjusting to life as a disabled person. My comfort zone is laying in bed in my air conditioned bedroom, but I’ve been challenged lately to get up and out more because of a game called Pokémon GO. I know this game has had much media criticism lately about why it’s unproductive, or even why it’s unsafe; but I approach the game through my unique life’s perspective, one of a person whose life has been turned upside down lately.
While I understand that not every disabled person has someone to take them around town or the ability to take advantage of in-game purchases, this is a story about how I as a disabled person found a hobby through a simple mobile game. Pokémon GO is helping me cope with my new life in a wheelchair.
Four years ago, I was diagnosed with progressive Multiple Sclerosis, but only within the past eight months have I been permanently confined to my wheelchair. “I’m not even 30 and my life is over” is what I understandably thought. I cannot walk. I cannot drive. I’m 100% dependent on my parents once again.
Now that I’m a full-time wheelchair user, coping with the surrounding world has been very tough. Simply going to the store is an exhausting ordeal, and many times I choose to stay in bed rather than risking falling while going downstairs. Even small tasks like showering and doing my hair just drain the energy from my body, so I haven’t had much impetus to get me up and out of the house these days. It has resulted in some negative thoughts, self pity, and loneliness.
Playing the game has really helped me reconnect with the world outside my house. I have a reason to get up and go drive around. I have been interacting with my parents more as they’ve encouraged me to play the game for the extra exercise. Pokémon GO has allowed me to reconnect with my friends and family, and I’ve noticed that I’m more eager for the next day to arrive.
The point of the game is to capture small animal-like creatures by throwing Pokéballs at them to capture them. You’re given a number of balls but when you run out, you can get more by driving to places that are called Pokéstops. They’re usually different establishments around town – like a Walmart, a yogurt shop, a local church, and so on. By visiting them (even just sitting in their parking lot), you can collect more Pokéballs or other items to help you in the game.
Some Pokémon are based near water (like Seal) and some in the desert (like Sandshrew), so no matter where you are in the world, different types of Pokémon will show up based on what type they are.
So how does that help me as a disabled person? How is this supposed to involve me when I’m bedridden for many days?
The first time I downloaded the game I was bedridden for three days with a flare of my disease, yet I caught about 30 Pokémon. Is this typical? No, but I’m able to take advantage of in-app purchases. I’m not spending a lot, but I can spend a little on this, my hobby, just as some people spend money on knitting, sewing, painting, and so on. There is an item in the app’s store called “incense” which is a frangrance bomb that draws Pokémon to me rather than me going out to find them, on those days I cannot leave the house.
There’s also a way to play from just my car without getting out and rolling. When my mom and I go looking for them, we look on the app beforehand and can see different Pokéstops near us so we plot our course for those. As we drive farther from home, we can see new stops and the app alerts us of Pokémon around us.
I can no longer drive, so most times, my mom and I will find a Pokéstop we like (like at the frozen yogurt shop down the street), she’ll get some yogurt for us, and we’ll sit in the car for no longer than 15-20 minutes eating our yogurt. I can collect new Pokéballs or whatever other helps the stop is digitally giving every 5-10 minutes. There is also a store item called a Lure Module, like the Incense, that I can plug in virtually while at a Pokéstop to lure more Pokémon to me, but I haven’t had the need to use one yet. Pokémon are usually around without the Lure Module (and sometimes other people have used a Lure at the stop which I can take advantage of). You can sit there peacefully in real life, while catching new Pokémon and collecting free store items. So sitting there for just a half hour will net you a decent number of helps and some Pokémon.
One of the biggest concerns my doctor has had about my life post-diagnosis, has been my staying plugged-in to life. To not spend all day inside or in bed, in my comfort zone; but to get up, get exercise, and try to find a hobby or something I love to keep me engaged with the world around me. My struggle as a disabled person is finding something to do or somewhere to go, and connecting with other disabled people. The energy required seems monumental, but doing so really helps me realize that I am not alone in my fight, and having a hobby helps me enjoy life rather than staying focused on my own limitations.
For someone who struggles with that like I do, I’d challenge you to try playing Pokémon GO if you have the help or ability to do so. Let it help you to get out more often. And if you’re not privvy to help and playing this game is not possible, I’d encourage you to find another game or hobby with which to engage. No one hobby is right for us all, but having one will help us all mentally. We live in the greatest age of access and connectivity, and we as disabled people should be taking advantage of that to help ourselves cope and stay connected to other people.
Lauren Goddard is a 29-year-old writer/editor. Despite being diagnosed with aggressive multiple sclerosis four years ago and enduring two years of chemotherapy, she still enjoys traveling and living life to the fullest. Check out her blog at www.mymsdiaries.com.
Have you played Pokémon GO or another mobile game?
What methods do you use to stay connected with people and friends?