Twenty Years of Pokemon - You Changed My Life
On February 27, 1996, a milestone in my life happened that I wasn’t even aware of yet. Not Brandy reaching number 2 on the charts. Not the untimely death of George Ian Murray. It was a monumental day in gaming, as Pokemon Red and Green were released in Japan. Two years later Pokemon Red and Blue would reach the United States. In October of 1998 I bought Pokemon Red, probably from K-Mart. My gaming world was shattered.
Pokemon was infectious in its innocence and underlying strangeness. While most Japanese RPGs never got me interested, these did. It may be my love of animals (now my career as a wildlife biologist) that keeps me interested in catching all 721 and counting pocket monsters. It may have been the inherent fun of battling with friends in high school when I got the game. Crap, am I that old? Maybe it was the simple but memorable character designs of the original 151. Many modern
Pokemon have become overly complex, but the original were inherently easy to copy and highly memorable thanks to their 8-bit world. It also helped to draw me in that the human characters were also simple and realistic. One of the reasons I can’t get into many Japanese RPGs is that the protagonists and antagonists are ridiculous looking. I mean, swords that are also handguns and giant, multi-colored hairdos on effeminate guys? No thanks, Final Fantasy.
It’s probably Pikachu. You can’t hate that cutesy electric rat. When I was in Reno for work last year, I won a Pikachu out of a claw machine at a casino. For Christmas my friend took me to Build-A-Bear to make my own stuffed Pikachu. There is some effervescent joy and disdainful sadness in being a man well over 30 with a stuffed yellow rat, but societal norms be damned.
Memorizing which Pokemon type is strong against, or weak to, whichever other Pokemon type is a… totally… worthwhile… adult… skill? Knowing the Viridian Forest hike forwards and backwards makes me a better person, possibly. You can’t prove it doesn’t. I can now categorizing human beings into handy groups based on their starter choices. You either pick Charmander or you’re wrong. You can either build a team of dragon and psychic type Pokemon or you can fail at life epically. You can either have nightmares about the ghost girl from X, Y, Omega Ruby, and Alpha Sapphire, or you can get out of my face with your lies.
Obsessively collect. Compulsively level up. Expertly craft a team. Beat the snot out of your rival. Curse Miltank. Complain about new features in the newest generation of games. Tell kids these days how Totodile was the only starter you needed and you were happy for it, walking up hill both ways to school every day in the snow through Johto. Curse the world for never being able to find a woman as beautiful as Officer Jenny or as kind as Nurse Joy, despite the fact that they’re clearly terrible cloning experiments gone awry. Bore your friends with in depth explanations on why, after being turned to stone by Mewtwo and then being rebirthed as humanity’s savior by Pokemon tears, Ash is now an immortal highlander, doomed to forever wander the earth as an 10 year old (technically 10 years, 10 months, and 10 days according to the manga) plucky youngster on a mad and desperate quest to complete a Pokedex that can never truly end, his quiet insanity never satiated.
Or, you know, just enjoyed the games as is. Whichever. Unless it’s Hey You, Pikachu. That game was the worst, just the absolutely worst. Worse than Desert Bus or Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis.
The true miracle of Pokemon wasn’t causing a few seizures due to an episode featuring Porygon. It wasn’t even causing associated mass hysteria as a result of those few seizures (see Ben Radford’s publication in The Southern Medical Journal for more info on the Pokemon Panic). The miracle of Pokemon is getting cranky gamers who hate RPGs into RPGs, convincing people who hate anime to pay money to see movies about cute animals saving the world, and holding a fun franchise in the public eye for 20 years that has fumbled but never dropped the ball. Many have copied its style and aped its constructs (see the far inferior Digimon, then write me an angry response about how Digimon is totally unlike Pokemon and is actually a rip off of Tamogatchi). Pokemon evolves at just the right pace to be exciting. I can now battle with trainers all over the world, kicking ass with my level 100 Magikarp. I can trade Pokemon with people on other continents. Technology is rad.
Happy birthday, weird super powered dog fight simulator! I will always love you despite the constant questioning of my own gender identity. Dammit, Oak, I’m a boy. I’ll always be a boy.