As the COVID-19 pandemic sent the nation into quarantine, people dived into hobbies and activities to help them cope with lockdown isolation.
Richard Lindsay, technical director of university productions and lecturer in drama at the School of Music, Theater & Dance, found his outlet in Pokémon Go.
As often as possible, he would meet up with friends in his “quarantine bubble” and wander around in nature while trying to catch virtual Pokémon. They often ended their excursions with a picnic.
“It was good for the psyche,” he says. “Taking a walk and playing Pokemon Go falls into mindfulness, focusing on one thing and forgetting everything else and being in the moment.”
While isolation has been lifted and life has returned to normal for the most part, Lindsay continues to meet up with friends to play the game. But quarantine was far from the first time he crossed paths with the Pokémon franchise.
In the late 1990s, Lindsay’s young son became friends with a boy with family in Japan who played a card game called Pokémon, and his son became a fan.
Lindsay drove around the Midwest taking his son to tournaments where he competed against kids from across the country. While his son was having fun and making friends, Lindsay enjoyed the competitions while bonding with other parents.
“There’s a huge gaming community… and we’ve been addicted to being a part of some of it,” he said. “I found I was sitting with a group of parents who thought their children’s interests were the most important thing in their lives, so we had something very much in common.”
As Pokémon contests became a weekly fixture in his family’s life, Lindsay realized there were areas he could help.
“Sometimes things weren’t as organized as one would hope, so I decided to learn something so I could help with all the kids and folks in our Michigan county who went to these events, our events to do better.” he said.
Lindsay worked with regional Pokémon Company groups to coordinate tournament logistics. The events included hundreds of kids competing in card contests scattered across venues, separate rooms with Pokémon cartoons playing for younger kids, and busy film crews broadcasting card game highlights.
Eventually, the Pokémon Company hired Lindsay as its lead tournament organizer, and he was sent to conference staff in cities across the country, including Orlando, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston.
While his eldest son loved participating in the card tournaments – he even took part in a handful of world championships – Lindsay’s second son was happy to accompany them to the events because of the fun atmosphere. As a teenager he spent time with gamers with special needs and developed a passion for teaching and helping others. Today he is a music teacher at a primary school.
Lindsay said the welcoming and accepting community helped make the Pokémon Tournaments so special.
“There was diversity in a lot of socioeconomic and racial makeup and things, but they all came together and the parents were friends and we had this incredible unity of support and traveling together,” he said. “There’s a lot of new trans activity, activism – 20 years ago we had that and people were totally embraced by all the different players and people involved in this Pokémon card game and the tournaments.
“Overall it was a very large group and everyone came together and I think they liked what they had in common. Everyone saw that first before seeing any differences.”
A competitive moment that makes Lindsay stand out occurred when he was sent to San Francisco to assist at an international tournament. One evening, in the lobby of the venue hotel, he noticed groups of children from Asia and Europe huddled together and using the hotel’s Wi-Fi to play Pokémon Go.
Without American SIM cards, they couldn’t go outside to play the game. Lindsay and some of his friends decided to create virtual data hotspots and they picked up the kids and took them around town at midnight.
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“I just enjoy it and embrace it, and I just think it’s really nice to have a big group of people who really enjoy doing something together and appreciate it,” he said. “So that’s what has made me so popular for a long time.”
Although he is now unable to compete in most competitions during the school year, he finds that his students continue to be impressed by his history with Pokémon.
Over the years, Lindsay has amassed tens of thousands of Pokémon cards along with an assortment of loot. He especially loves memorabilia from the first Pokémon Company World Championships in Orlando in 2004.
Now that his two kids are grown and out of the house, Lindsay said he would encourage all parents to get involved in something their kids enjoy.
“If you’re interested in doing things and making events better for your kids and their friends and your inner circle of your small community, then you want to get involved,” he said. “You’re not doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your children and the community.”