If you’ve been paying attention to the news lately, you might have heard about the recent release of a little game called Pokémon Go. This app has taken over our national consciousness and has easily become more controversial than either the Kardashians or Donald Trump’s hair. Regardless of your feelings about the game, there is little denying the wide breadth of its appeal as everyone from children to adults have quickly become obsessed with capturing nonexistent cartoon characters.
Shortly after the app first came out I also downloaded it. When the game came out, I was on a two-week-long volunteer trip in South Africa, but even there it seemed like everyone (from volunteers to the students we were teaching) was talking about it and the level of excitement surrounding the app was infectious. I have to admit that I have spent several days walking around in the rain and heat to nearby Pokéstops and gyms, but even my level of obsession cannot match the dedication of those around me. However, I still feel a little weird playing it. You see, one of the reasons for the games appeal with adults is the nostalgia they feel for when they used to play Pokémon as children. But I never played Pokémon because I grew up in Africa.
In 1992, 9 months after I was born, my parents became missionaries in Ethiopia and decided to homeschool my siblings. Off and on for the next 8 years, we would live overseas with my mom teaching us our reading, writing, and arithmetic. So when Pokémon first became a thing in 1995, I was half the world away and completely missed the boat. Even once we permanently returned to the U.S., my parents continued to homeschool us, keeping us in a community were many of the people legitimately thought Pokémon was created by the devil (a thought that persists even now).
Twenty-one years later and I feel like an imposter playing the game, unsure if I have a right to get as excited about it as everyone else and unfamiliar with much of the original source material (although I have played a little of the previous game incarnations on my DS). This may just be a strange hang-up about a popular game, but it is indicative of a wider problem I have faced since I graduated from high school. Even though my birth certificate says I was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in the United States of America, I feel like a foreigner in my own country. I was homeschooled from first grade until I graduated high school and all of my friends came from within the community.
The movies I watched, the books I read, and the games I played were defined by a different set of cultural norms than most children my age. For example, while everyone else was watching Recess and Power Puff Girls I was listening to Adventures in Odyssey and reading G. A. Henty books. I wasn’t even able to read Harry Potter until high school because for the longest time my mom thought they encourages real life witchcraft.
These types of cultural differences can be a wonderful thing and diversity helps to make our world more interesting. However, when you are the only one who has never seen the movies that are discussed, or read the books that are popular, it is tough to make connections with people outside of your traditional circle. You would be surprised how many people seem to bond over the terrible teachers they had in high school. That’s kind of hard to do when your only teacher was your mom.