About a year ago I wrote a blog post here talking about the benefits of playing the Pokemon Trading Card Game that I have seen with our students. You can find that post here. I still stand by the positive benefits of the game. We have met so many fantastic people because of this game. Our students that play the game have developed great friendships with each other and love the opportunity to travel and meet new people. Each time we travel for a tournament they practice letting go of control, being vulnerable with strangers, and fair play for the sake of having fun.
However, there is something that needs to be said about the Pokemon Trading Card game. It can be highly addictive and sometimes it can be a numbing device that people use to hide from the reality of their junk.
This is a hard topic for me to write about as I am as guilty of this as anyone. Heck, as I’m writing this my headphones are playing Pokemon strategy podcasts so I can stay up to date on the game.
Our learners are currently exploring the book “Daring Greatly” by Brené Brown. In this book she outlines several strategies that people use to avoid hard things. One of the things people use to avoid hard things is numbing. We often fill our lives with things or take our hobbies past the point of passion in order to cover the hard feelings we have.
First of all, let me start by saying that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a hobby, being passionate about it, and wanting to do your best at it. Having a hobby that you are passionate about is like having a wellspring that you can visit when you become weary. A place you can drink a cool refreshing drink of joy and happiness, refreshing and life-giving.
What begins to be toxic to your life and living it abundantly is to take that wellspring that gives you joy and sticking your head under the water and never coming up. Hiding under the surface of the water that once was cool and refreshing might seem like the perfect solution to your life’s problems. After all, it’s comfortable and even fun there and the world out here is tough. The problem is that cool refreshing water that once offered a recharge from life’s struggles is now a thick syrup and the bubbles that rise to the surface tell a story of someone lost beneath the surface.
One of the biggest signs you have crossed over from passion to obsession and numbing is that your hobby takes up most of your conversation and thought. This is a really thin and scarily translucent line that is easily crossed especially if the hobby, like the Pokemon Card Game, has some aspect of competition in which success can be strived for. Our learners, and sometimes adults have fallen into this invisible trap when a big event is looming in the distance. Our conversation slowly becomes inundated with references to the game and questions about what to do when playing. It can be really abrasive to those around us that do not enjoy the game as much as we do.
Another sign that the water of the wellspring now resembles the thick, crude sludge of numbing and addiction is that something that used to bring passion, energy, calm, and joy, now brings about stress, indecisiveness and a constant need to be doing that activity. I would like to give an example from our lives here.
At the end of January some of us were competing in the Dallas Regional Championships of the Pokemon Trading Card Game. As this was the first big event since last year’s Intercontinental Championships and, very likely, the last large event before this year’s Intercontinental Championships, we decided to take about 2 months to prepare. During the beginning of this time all of us spent time having fun, goofing around and generally enjoying playing Pokemon while keeping the competitive nature of the tournament in mind. As the day of the tournament approached one of our students was stressing so much about wanting to do well at the tournament that even 4 days before the event, he hasn’t decided what deck he was going to play at the tournament and wanted to play everyday as much as possible because he wanted to practice as much as possible.
At the beginning of the year we, as staff, also made sure to put limits on how much the students were playing and even talking about Pokemon in order to try and protect them from addiction and using Pokemon as a numbing tool. The particular student mentioned in the previous story constantly tries to bend this rule as much as possible. Not accepting limits placed on an activity is sure sign that you are quickly approaching addiction and leaving the realm of simple passion behind.
How do we combat hiding under the water and using addiction and numbing to from problems when we really like the particular activity that it isn’t harmful like drugs or alcohol. Well, setting hard limits can be a good remedy to this. One of the things we did here was limit Pokemon to three days a week and talking about Pokemon to the days and times when we are playing Pokemon. Keeping the boundaries for the kids has been hard but has been beneficial in keeping the issues of addiction far from our activity and allows us to head off particular issues and problems of addiction and numbing when the occur rather than have them fester and become large problems.
Pokemon has become a source of fun, enjoyment, and passion to our students and has taught them many social and emotional lessons. And as long as it does not become a source of numbing and addiction will continue to be an activity that the students and I can enjoy growing together through.
by Jason Feeney