Updated: Jul 8, 2021
Introducing a 4-year-old to video games, much like the rest of parenting, is an exercise in improvisation.
My daughter's primary exposure to games is "What is dad playing?" As a result, she has had stints of obsession with a couple of my favorite franchises, namely Mario, Zelda, Animal Crossing, and of course, Pokemon. The Pokemon and Animal Crossing phase has overlapped into one, and we're in it for the forseeable future. (I know this blog is about Pokemon, but I'd just like to say, kiddo is very good at Animal Crossing. She's recently learned how to design patterns and dresses, and she's honestly blowing me away with how she can manipulate that interface.)
I actually played through Pokemon Sword for my daughter over a year ago, shortly after my own playthrough. I sat her next to me and played the game, but had her make the big decisions. "Do you want to keep X on the team, or should we add Y?" "Should we catch this Pokemon or knock it out?" Occasionally I'd introduce basic type matchup questions. "His Pokemon is a fire type. Which Pokemon do you think we should send out, a water type or a grass type?" It was a fun co-operative experience. We beat the Pokemon League and had a good time. Then the save file lay fallow for a while.
When her Pokemon obsession rekindled earlier this year by way of the trading cards, I asked if she wanted to start a new game. Her favorite cards were Milotic and Sableye, so I started up a new file of Alpha Sapphire for her. To my surprise, though it really shouldn't have been a surprise, her mechanical ability had skyrocketed in the course of a year. With a little (a lot of) help with the reading, she was able to navigate her way through movement, battles, and even some of the simpler menus. With shockingly little guidance, she made her way through the whole game and beat the Elite Four. My gamer dad pride was through the roof.
After this, she mostly wanted to play Pokemon Amie and feed her Sableye Pokepuffs until the end of time. She wanted to start a new game, but didn't want to delete her Alpha Sapphire progress, so I suggested she go back and play more Sword. Turns out...she had absolutely no recollection of ever playing it with me. That makes sense, since she was only maybe 3 years old when we played it, but I had forgotten how much time elapsed between plays. This time, she wanted her own game with her own Pokemon, so I set up a third account on the Switch and she got to work.
As she played through Alpha Sapphire, my biggest issue to navigate was my knowledge. How do I introduce these concepts and mechanics in a friendly and accessible way? Now, as she was playing through the most recent game, my new challenge was my resources. Should I give her my shiny Milotic? Should I give her some Pokemon with Hidden Abilities to make her playthrough easier? Should I give her low-level, first stages of powerful Pokemon from previous generations that I hatched from eggs five years ago? I tried to temper how much I gave her from my bounteous Pokemon history, but I think I may have gone a little overboard. She's now going through the game with all 3 starters, Alolan Vulpix, Yamper, and Galarian Ponyta. On her Hall of Fame save file, she now has my shiny Milotic, all 8 Eeveelutions, and 4 different varieties of Alcremie. I'm happy to give her cool Pokemon to stoke her interest, but I do fear that I'm raising her expectations a little too high. When I get Brilliant Diamond later this year, will understand that she can only get one starter? Will she want more shinies? I guess time will tell.
Overall, it has been a blast to share this interest with her. The games are my primary touchstone to the world of Pokemon, and seeing her enjoy them so much has brought me so much joy. As she learns to read, our relationship to the games will change a bit, but I'm looking forward to that. I do like helping her, but a little more independence on her end will go a long way. Her older Sword file is in Spanish, though, so she'll need help with that one still if she wants to go back to it.
I will say, she enjoyed Pokemon Snap a lot less than I thought she would. She likes seeing the Pokemon, but the photography thing just totally does not do it for her. That was unexpected, but what can you do. I know what Cory would like to do: catch more route 1 Pokemon with a Master Ball.