Pokémon is My Current Autistic Special Interest

Pichu, Grooky, and Scorbunny photo from New Pokémon Snap, taken by the author.

April is known as Autism Acceptance Month for many autistic people around the world, myself included. It’s about reclaiming the month to speak up for ourselves so we can be accepted for who we are, rather than how the month started as an Awareness month by an organisation that thought we needed to be “cured” and wanted to get funding to do research into ways they could “fix” us. Talking over autistic people, without genuine input from us about what our needs actually are. I don’t necessarily always do something to mark the occasion, but I’ve been wanting to put together a blog post about Pokémon for the last couple of months anyway, so I thought, what better time to talk about it? As an autistic person, I tend to cycle through different interests across my lifetime. I’ll become fixated on a topic and dive all in, then once I’ve consumed as much as I’m able to and collected a few related items, you’ll find me moving onto another interest until some time has passed and I’m ready to dive back into it again. Pokémon is one such interest. If you’re not already familiar with Pokémon yourself, dear reader, hopefully there’ll still be something you can take something away from my experience with my special interest. At the very least, I hope you enjoy the cute pictures!

Pokémon Special Interest Reemergence

Back in May last year, after my daughter and I had finished working our way through Cowboy Bebop (anime version, which we actually finished in early April), it was time to think of something new to watch together. We wound up choosing Pokémon – a show we could also watch with my son – starting from the very first season, Indigo League. Now, I had previously watched all of Indigo League and I think most of the second season, Adventures in the Orange Islands back in 1999-2000 when I was still in high school. But as things go, when your life changes, sometimes it can be hard to keep up with things. I have no idea if or when the third season aired in Western Australia back in the day, and I’d moved onto university, so I didn’t keep up with Pokémon (nor did I get any of the games after generation 1 – I only played Pokémon Blue and Pokémon Yellow on my SNES with an adapter, and my Pokémon-themed Game Boy Color, plus Pokémon Snap on the N64 back then). My kids have played many of the Pokémon games over the years (including from as far back as a Game Boy Advanced game, but mostly the DS and 3DS games) and will play them multiple times over. They knew far more about Pokémon than I ever did, but they hadn’t ever seen too much of the anime series themselves. We figured watching the show would be a fun thing to do together, but I don’t think back then I realised how much it would reignite my interest in Pokémon.

Pokémon, the anime series, isn’t especially easy to access in order to watch all the way through. Its 25 seasons (so far) are spread across different streaming platforms, and some may be easier or cheaper to find on DVD. We’re currently making our way through season 6 – the first season in generation 3, the Hoenn region (equivalent of the Ruby and Sapphire games). We watched Indigo League on Netflix, Orange Islands on DVD from the library and then streamed from the Pokémon TV website/app (which unfortunately doesn’t have every season but at least it’s free), and then most of the Johto League (seasons 3-5) we watched on Amazon Prime, until I decided I didn’t want to keep paying for a subscription because I was able to borrow season 5 from a Californian library through the inter-library transfer network. I actually only had to pay for a month on Amazon Prime because I got the first month free right when we were ready to watch season 3. So, yes, we watched about 2.5 seasons of Pokémon in 2 months due to my desire to get the most out of that Prime subscription. For the Hoenn region, it turned out to be cheaper to buy all 4 seasons on DVD than it was to pay for streaming access on YouTube (the only place I could find it to stream). Given that streaming availability has fluctuated, I’ll figure out how we’ll access season 10 once we get closer to the end of the Hoenn seasons. We don’t need to speed through them as fast when we own them on DVD. Although, I must say, at 287 episodes (and 5 movies) watched over the past 10.5 months, we’re not doing too badly.

The author with plush Squirtle, Vulpix, and Grooky

Being able to connect with my kids through watching Pokémon together (and we often comment on things while we’re watching it, because of silly translations, funny things the characters do, the overall story and references, and so on) led to me taking the interest further, as I often do when something becomes a “special interest” for me. I didn’t go overboard, but I did pick up a few plush toys and figurines of some of my favourite Pokémon. Then, when I heard about the release of Pokémon Scarlet and Violet due out on the Switch late last year, I knew Christmas was going to involve buying both games and a new Switch (the kids already had a Switch Lite) so that we’d be able to all play and trade Pokémon between the games. When the Scarlet and Violet themed OLED Switch was announced, I put off making a purchase so I could buy that edition, and was lucky to order it on the day it was released because it sold out pretty quickly. Then when it and the games arrived in November, I had to patiently wait until Christmas for us to all enjoy it.

The Christmas period also coincided with when we started the Johto seasons of the anime, which meant I was being introduced to all new-to-me Pokémon across both the anime and the video game at the same time. This, in a way, at least helped me distinguish which new Pokémon I was meeting in the game(s) came from generation 2, but mostly I asked my kids “What generation is this Pokémon from?” when we played. We’re just over 3 months post-Christmas now, and I’ve completed not only Pokémon Violet, but also New Pokémon Snap (which we owned previously and the kids had played on the Switch Lite), and Pokémon Shield (which I bought pre-owned and at a discount after I finished Snap because it had the exclusive Galarian Ponyta that I’d dubbed “cotton candy Ponyta” and really wanted, and hoped I’d then be able to trade Pokémon with my kids again, since we already had Pokémon Sword, which both of my kids had previously completed on the Switch Lite). There has never been a time in my life that I’ve finished this many games in such a short period of time, let alone while also working a day job so I can pay for fun things like video games. I thought I’d introduce this experience first, then go into more detail below about each of the games. I’ll write about them in the order I played them, which is the reverse order of when they were released.

Pokémon Violet (and Scarlet)

Screenshot from Pokémon Violet, the author’s avatar with gym leader Iono saying “Screencap this quick! This’ll be a shot you’ll wanna save in your brainspaces forever!”

Though my daughter has played both generation 9 Pokémon games – on both the Switch Lite and Pokémon OLED Switch (so she has 4 instances of Violet/Scarlet games) – I stuck with Pokémon Violet, which I chose purely because purple is my favourite colour. I had no idea about what the version exclusives were and it didn’t matter to me since I had every intention of trading with my kids so I could get all the Pokémon anyway. My son, meanwhile, played Scarlet on both Switches – his second run through the game was so he could link up with his sister following “soul link” rules (I had to have my kids explain things like soul link and nuzzlock because I had no idea players had made up different challenges for themselves as they played the game).

Since this was my first time playing a new Pokémon game since generation 1, I had no experience with the changes and upgrades that had been made to the games in the preceding years, and this may have helped my enjoyment of the overall game since I didn’t have another recent game to compare it to. To me, the open world format was really fun (and felt reminiscent of something I enjoyed in some of the Final Fantasy games I’ve played). I also really, really loved being able to link up with my kids while we were playing at the same time, so we could see each other’s avatars in the game. Sometimes we’d wander around together in the game, which is how we discovered we could encounter the opposite game’s exclusive Pokémon while we played, and sometimes we’d explore on our own and just join each other’s raid battles. We could also have picnics together, helping us find eggs from Pokémon the other person had that we didn’t, which really made completing the Pokédex a lot of fun since it was a joint effort.

The author’s avatar posing with her daughter’s avatar using the in-game camera feature.

I had no idea Pokémon could be this much fun. I just really appreciated having people (yes, my kids) to share the journey with, since I don’t have too many friends who play Pokémon or seem interested in it themselves. I don’t know how many parents play video games with their children – the ones who do are probably like me, those who grew up playing video games themselves. But even if you’re not a gamer yourself, if you’re a parent who has children who like Pokémon, I would highly recommend playing this with them because it felt like such fun family time for us. A great bonding experience. My children have loved sharing their interest and knowledge with me (they often helped me with strategies when I wasn’t familiar with a Pokémon). Plus you get to collect lots of cute little critters!

It felt like the Pokémon series of games have come a long way since 1999, especially in graphics, game play, and story. And, yes, I know there have been complaints about Scarlet and Violet for various reasons, but whilst I noticed some funny glitches, I mostly laughed at them and they didn’t interrupt my enjoyment of the game. It was fun having 3 different story journeys to follow in any order I liked before they converged toward the end.

I made new Pokémon friends, and found some new favourites. I had no idea how popular Tinkaton was when she joined my party as a Tinkatuff, then evolved and became quite possibly my new favourite Pokémon. I didn’t even keep my old favourites Psyduck and Jigglypuff on my team for too long once I found other new Pokémon I wanted to travel with.

Enjoy the slideshow below for some additional screenshot highlights from the game. You can see some of my evolution with enjoying changing clothes in the game, and also how much I enjoyed watching the sky change during sunset.

New Pokémon Snap

By the time I started regularly playing New Pokémon Snap, we were already at least a season into Johto in the anime, so it was fun getting to encounter some Pokémon I hadn’t seen in a game before but was familiar with because of the anime.

Generation 2 Pokémon Quagsire photo taken in New Pokémon Snap by the author

One of the in game highlights was seeing Todd from the original N64 Pokémon game show up, all grown up (which is kinda funny given that the characters in the anime never seem to age). There are A LOT more places to explore and Pokémon to photograph than there were in the original Pokémon Snap, but that makes sense given how much more you can fit on a game cartridge these days, as well as how many more Pokémon have been created since then. As with in Pokémon Violet, I found myself discovering more new favourite Pokémon, like Bewear, which just looks so sweet and adorable. I didn’t even realise it was a fighting type Pokémon until I encountered it again in Pokémon Shield. Looks can be deceiving!

Bewear photo taken in New Pokémon Snap by the author

Initially, I found myself liking the game so much that I stuck to the very first level even after the second one opened up because I kept wanting to achieve better and better pictures, encountering more new Pokémon doing cuter and cuter things, depending on how you interacted with them. But then eventually I gave in and worked my way through the different islands and photo locations so I could complete the story. There were a few times when I’d ask my kids if they did a thing that I had, and they were like, “I didn’t know you could do that!” so I guess you could say I wound up investing more in the game than they did when they played it in the past.

Taking photos to complete the Photodex and trying to score big points is fun enough, but I certainly took advantage of the re-snap feature after my photos were graded, so I could save even better pictures to the Switch. I currently have about 400 saved photos from the game, which is far too many to share in a single blog post, so I’m kind of debating how I’d like to share them. For now, enjoy a few in the slideshow below.

Pokémon Shield

Once I finished the actual story in New Pokémon Snap, I was close to being ready to move onto something else. I hadn’t necessarily intended to start another Pokémon game. However, as I’m currently a GameStop Pro member and rarely take advantage of the $5 off a month that I’m allowed, and there was a good deal on pre-owned copies of Pokémon Shield, and my local store had a copy in stock so I didn’t have to add anything else to my cart for free shipping (I hate paying for shipping), I decided to just go ahead and get it at a discount. As I mentioned earlier, I was pretty keen on the Galarian Ponyta, which is a Shield exclusive, so I couldn’t just play the Sword game we already owned (I bought that for my son when it came out in 2020 – I think that might’ve been something I got with my kids’ free pandemic money from the government).

Most of my main team while camping – Bewear, Sudowoodo, Togetic, Galarian Rapidash, and Vulpix. Rillaboom must be hiding off camera.

I didn’t bother to take as many screenshots as I played this game. Mostly I enjoyed working my way through the story and trying to catch as many Pokémon as I could until I encountered too many that were too strong for me until I defeated another gym or two. Early on in the game, I found myself liking too many dark type Pokémon, which meant I didn’t have an especially balanced team as I started out, but once those Pokémon evolved, I wound up not keeping any dark Pokémon on my team anyway. When I caught Stufful and kept it on my team simply because it was cute, I didn’t realise it was going to evolve into Bewear, which I liked from New Pokémon Snap. Well, Bewear wound up replacing my starter Grooky as my party’s lead just because it was pretty powerful. I got a Togepi from a trade with an NPC, and since I’d never seen it evolve in the anime series, I added it to my team. The middle-stage evolution, Togetic seemed to be the cutest stage to me, so I never evolved the one I kept on my team. Instead, I waited until the post game to be able to catch another one when I got fog weather in the right area and evolved that just so I could have it in my Pokédex. Let’s just say I don’t pay much attention to the strength of a Pokémon when deciding what to have on my team. Is it cute? Do I like it? Then let’s have that one. My son asked me why I wouldn’t evolve my Vulpix into a Ninetails, which is much more powerful, and I simply said it was because I thought Vulpix was cuter and one of my favourites. I mean, I do have a plush one after all! I kinda wish I didn’t evolve my Ponyta too since it looks better than Rapidash, but I will concede that my Rapidash was probably a lot more useful in the battles I had than Ponyta might’ve been. Sudowoodo joined my team as a Bonsly that I caught in a raid, and after having seen Sudowoodo in Pokémon Violet, New Pokémon Snap, and the anime series, it was nice to be able to finally have him on a team.

It was weird to go from Pokémon Violet to Pokémon Shield, since the story is much more linear and closer to the original generation 1 games. You have your routes to follow and most of the time you can’t change the camera angle. But there were also aspects to the game that I think were new for Sword and Shield and then adapted into Scarlet and Violet – like camping became having a picnic, and gigantamax raids became tera raids. The camping/picnicking and making food feature kinda makes you feel like you’re in the anime and travelling like Ash, Brock, et al. I didn’t talk much about picnicking in Pokémon Violet – which had a much more straightforward method of making sandwiches because you can collect recipes in the game that tell you what ingredients to use and what benefits you should be able to get from the recipes. In Galar, you make curry while camping instead, and there are no recipes. You just throw a single ingredient and a bunch of berries into the pot and then – SURPRISE! – you get to see if you healed half HP, all HP and status conditions, or that and also recharge your PP (number of available moves your Pokémon can do). Some of the surprise dishes are fun though. Take the next picture for an example. The spicy decorative curry is a very cute Eevee and Pikachu curry.

Spicy Decorative Curry in Pokémon Shield

I also essentially braved this game on my own, since my kids had already finished Pokémon Sword and therefore unable to play alongside me unless they deleted their old save files and start over – something I don’t blame them for not wanting to do, and I didn’t ask. I did ask if they’d at least catch and trade some Pokémon with me to help me fill up my Pokédex, but so far only my son has done that once, purely so he could get a Lotad from me – one of his favourite Pokémon, and a Shield exclusive. What I did find when we linked up this one time was that it was still possible to see each other’s avatars in the game, which my kids had told me was not possible. It happened quite by accident when my son was just coincidentally riding his bike in the same part of the Wild Area that I was in. That kinda made me wish we’d have been able to have played the games together at the same time.

Something I really liked about this game that I hadn’t encountered before is the Pokémon Jobs feature. Essentially, you can send your Pokémon that you don’t keep on you main team out onto jobs and they come back with more EXP, thereby levelling up without having to spend the time to train them in battles. I mean, you can essentially just send a bunch of Pokémon to jobs, go to sleep, and then a day later your Pokémon have levelled up without you lifting a finger. This is such a time saver. Especially if you have some that need to evolve by levelling up a lot but you don’t want to train them. Get them to the right level through jobs, then add them to your team just until they level up one more time.

I’m at the point now where I’ve finished the story to the credits, I’ve finished the post-credits story, and I’ve caught all but 4 Pokémon I should be able to get in the game without trading Pokémon with another person – that’s 358 out of 400 Pokémon, folks! I don’t currently have a subscription to Nintendo Online as I’m not a fan of paying for a subscription just to be able to use a game online (I remember back in the day that using online features on PS3 games was free, come on!) so this means either waiting until one of my kids is interested in catching Pokémon to trade with me, or finding a friend who’s able to trade with me in person (I have a friend in Malaysia willing to do this, but… well, who knows when I’ll be able to visit Malaysia again! Plus it’d be cheaper to pay for an online subscription for a month to trade). I’d like to be able to complete the Pokédex in this game too, but given that I also didn’t complete the New Pokémon Snap Photodex yet, I’m fine with waiting and focusing on something else for a while.

Screenshot of the title screen of my avatar and team (Rillaboom, Galarian Rapidash, Vulpix, Bewear, Sudowoodo, and Togetic) after I became the Galar Champion.

Blasting Off at the Speed of Light

As I mentioned earlier, I was pretty into Pokémon when I was in high school. I was at least vaguely familiar with all 151 generation 1 Pokémon thanks to seeking out stuff online – I mean, the first website I ever created was even about Pokémon. I wouldn’t be able to tell you how many I’m familiar with now, between the three games I’ve played in the last three months, and the anime series – all of which have Pokémon that I’ve only seen in each of them, but many of which overlap between at least two. In a way, it feels kind of strange to be this knowledgeable about Pokémon again, but it’s nice to be able to know what my kids are talking about when they bring up Pokémon that weren’t from generation 1.

Watching the anime series together has also helped with the shared language and even some family in-jokes. I think we all favour Team Rocket, with James in particular being a favourite for all of us. I’m not sure how that happened because we usually pick different favourites in other areas of shared interest. One of our main in-jokes has been when the English dubbed version translates what are very clearly Japanese rice balls in the picture and calls them “donuts” or “sandwiches.” My daughter has a Kirby t-shirt that includes an image of just such a rice ball, and we like to joke that it’s a donut.

I recognise that divorce is rarely a happy experience for anyone involved, but I acknowledge that, for me, I don’t think I would’ve felt like I could make time for these types of shared connections with my kids if it hadn’t been for this separation from my ex-husband. It’s much easier for me to make time for this kind of thing with my kids when I’m not worrying about having to make time for him or other people in my life, too. And having these shared experiences with my kids has helped me feel like a better parent. How do regular people make so much time for all their relationships in their lives?

Where to Next?

I had been thinking that this might be a good time for me to switch off of Pokémon to something new. After all, I did just start a psychology course on edX, thanks to my manager helping me out with a subscription, and I want to make time for that (though admittedly after I completed two out of seven modules in two days, that shouldn’t be too difficult for me to do – it is a topic I find incredibly fascinating after all). However, as I’ve been writing this, my daughter reminded me that we also have Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which I’d gotten for her for Christmas separately, and I think she wants me to try that too. I’ll probably still take a break before I start, but it makes sense for me to at least give it a try. I also had a friend solder new batteries into Pokémon Gold and Silver cartridges so we’ll be able to play those original Game Boy Color games and actually save the files. Choices, choices… In the meantime, we still have a lot more to watch in the anime, and I always try to prioritise the time I’m able to spend with my kids doing things we all want to do. I also picked up the new Kirby Return to Dreamland game since the kids and I tried the demo together, and that was another fun one for us to do together. Seriously folks, if you have kids who like video games, it really is great to be able to find some that you can play together as a family!

I know some people see video games as expensive – especially when they tend to stay at like $60 a game and are rarely discounted – but after I recently took my kids to miniature golf recently, it clicked just how much value for money I was actually getting. To take my kids to miniature golf for less than two hours (that’s how long it took us to do 18 holes, and only because it was busy and we had to wait for people), it cost more than half of the cost of a regular priced video game. That, when played by multiple people, can add up to potentially hundreds of hours of play time. But even the ones that don’t will likely get at least four hours of play time, still making it better value. That wound up helping me feel better about how little I go out and spend money on doing things out of the house these days. At least I’m still having fun rather than wallowing in self-pity at home because of how the pandemic impacted the way I live my life!

While I could probably keep geeking out about Pokémon at you for the rest of the week, I think I’ll leave things here for now. I hope you enjoyed this read and my summary of the games. If you’re a fan of the anime or any of the games, and/or you have a favourite Pokémon, please leave a comment and share with me what some of your favourite Pokémon and aspects of the game(s) or show are! There are so many cool things to choose from, so I’m interested to learn what my readers enjoy, too. And if you’re a parent who has also played or watched any Pokémon with your kids, let me know I’m not alone!

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