Food for Thought: On Nostalgia for Pokemon

It’s been a week since Pokemon X/Y hit stores worldwide–to what appears to be generally favorable reviews. Our very own Inverseman and resident Pokemon master posted his first impressions, and although it’s only a short snippet of a game that can literally take days to complete, there was something about his review that struck me: Pokemon’s nostalgia factor.

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It’s also been about 20 years since Pokemon became a household name–20 rather magical years of worldbuilding, spin-offs, movies, merchandise and more. 20 long years and we–arguably the 19 to 20-something year old crowd–still return to this particular universe. So, has Gamefreak hit the jackpot with a stellar profitable idea? Or is it just some innate 90s kid nostalgia that influences us to stand on line from 11 PM to midnight for a mere “child’s” game? Read on for some poetic rambling and a bit of musing on perhaps what makes us–again, that 19 to 20-something year old demographic–return to the world of Pokemon every few years or so.

 Nostalgia is the sentimentality for the past–typically a period of time that has very personal, “happier” associations. I mean ‘no duh’, right, but there is something quite compelling, quite powerful about it. Like your very own patronus, nostalgia is known to counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety; thinking about the warmth of days past can literally make people feel warmer at times (Or well, according to the NY Times it does).

In terms of story-telling–the fondest of memories can make some of the best stories that are just so hard for us to put down, especially as we grow into (gasp) “adulthood”. Those little moments in life come creeping back to us, perhaps not in some grandiose, profound moment of spiritual enlightenment, but in the “epic of the everyday” kind of recounting. Or maybe, that’s my own sentimentality.

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I mean, Pokemon was a pretty Big Deal for me as a kid. I have always loved video games, although my true passion was in art and animation. So when the Pokemon TV show came onto the good old Kids WB, I was hooked; I had to have the game that went along with like, my new favorite show.

And, as the youngest child, there was always that issue of hand-me-downs, of the N64 not being my N64 but our N64, and the only Gameboy in the house was shared between not only my brother and I, but my parents who were real Tetris fiends back in the day. That changed with Pokemon–as well as the gifting of my first Gameboy.  No sharing here required; I had my own Gameboy, my own copy of Pokemon Blue to compliment my brother’s Red — and then we were off to Pokemon land.

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There is something incredibly romantic about the world of Pokemon, of young children sharing a worldwide and accepted “rite of passage” that involves setting out on your own with a backpack and a Pokemon companion. When you’re 10 the world is different; I cannot say I can exactly recall how I must have felt at 10, but I do faintly recall the thrill of the idea of having your very own Pokemon adventure. Imagine: No homework, no bedtimes, no restrictions — just you on your very own quest in a relatively safe environment.

And don’t forget the Pokemon themselves! They range from cute and cuddly to fierce and loyal, to downright frightening, but there’s beauty in having that six-monster team customized to your specifications. After all, for those of us that kind of take the “roleplaying” aspect of Pokemon to heart, these creatures become symbols; all the ways people index and identify with their Pokemon to in turn create their own Pokemon personas. “Themed” teams aren’t just for gym leaders, and while it’s perhaps not what everyone thinks of when they’re picking up the game, personal preference can become a pretty powerful, pretty thrilling aspect.

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My first team from way-back-when–and isn’t that funny, that I can remember this–included a Charizard, a Vaporeon, a Rapidash, a Ninetails, a Raichu, and a Pidgeot. Charizard for its power, Vaporeon because it was the prettiest Eevee-lution at the time, Rapidash because I had that “I want a pony” dream, a Ninetails because it was cute, and a Pikachu and Pidgeot as a nod to the animated series. Definitely not the most strategically sound team, but it was a team that, in essence, symbolized me.

This innocuous little collect-em-all game can–in the mind of a ten-year old with a pretty robust imagination–then become something grander, something a little brighter. Something that is fondly remembered as something good 12 years later.

Again, not everyone was into Pokemon for that roleplaying aspect–although I will continue to argue that there is definitely something thrilling to the human imagination about the quest, about going on your own quest, but that’s a story for another day.  There are also those of us who grew up with Pokemon as competitive sport, maybe, or as the latest game that they just got to play. But whatever the reason that initially got a person into playing Pokemon, Gamefreak has strategically planted something that can be remembered, and recalled, even years later.

I mean, I guess you can say it’s the marvel of modern marketing. I’ve heard several stories of people memorizing the original 150 Pokemon, either because of that good old Pokemon rap, or just because.

As you can see from this (somewhat skewed) survey taken around my good old alma mater,  Pokemon names have that kind of sing-songy, punny quality that just makes it easy to remember.

But it takes something special for a series that has remained virtually unchanged to stick around for so long, and to have a fan following that not only scoops up the yearly batch of 10 year olds, but retains people who were around for the first gen.

And for me, it didn’t really click, until I dragged myself to the release party of Pokemon X/Y at my local Gamestop. Because while I knew my friends and I still remained Pokemon fans and bought and played the games every so often, I was in many ways surprised by the turn-out on October 11th at around 11 PM.

The store was packed. And it ranged from kids to teens to those early 90s kids, crowded around in the shelves, 3DS whipped out and cell phone cameras taking selfies while proudly wearing promotional gear.

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A full set of Team Rocket cosplayers busted onto the scene, and were promptly challenged. Kids came around asking for trainer tips, and I patiently helped one out with deciding which Pokemon should learn Cut. I mean, I personally don’t go to these midnight releases; and yes, my findings are in a way skewed because only the nerdiest of nerds would wait around for an hour for the next Pokemon game, right?

Actually, it was an eclectic mix of people, bemused parents, enthusiastic fans, the lost face in the crowd quietly screaming or asking whether it was worth it to come to the midnight release; it took all sorts to make up the crowd at Gamestop during the final stretch at around 11:30. And when it was announced that we should start forming an orderly queue at the half-hour mark, someone decided to strike up the Pokemon theme.

It was quite beautiful how in-tune the crowd was–like wow, I didn’t even get that lucky for the last HP movie when someone wanted to sing that one Potter Puppet Pals song. People in tune, young and old alike, with arm-flailing and dramatic “duh, duh, DUHs” to accompany our impromptu acapella.

That, my friends, was a bout of nostalgia the likes I haven’t seen in a long while–and it was beautiful in its earnest energy about Pokemon, of all things.

Because whether you’re drawn to it by the roleplay opportunity to make it your own story, or perhaps out of some fondness for a childhood video game that keeps growing and changing with you, or perhaps, for one (or two) of the myriad of reasons that draw people back to Pokemon–there’s nostalgia at play here. And even if you don’t have those fond memories of a childhood built on Pokemon and its many incarnations, those memories are building now and are perhaps here to stay.

You've been challenged by Cool Trainer, Jack!

You’ve been challenged by Cool Trainer, Jack!

Annnnd that’s all there is to this rather rambly round of Food for Thought–tune in next time when we handle less-deep issues in pop culture! Also keep an eye out for a special round table discussion on Pokemon X/Y and our official review! (yay!)

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Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

Latest posts by Fenrir (see all)

Fenrir

A would-be anthropologist, writer, food historian, and professional glutton hoping to combine fandom with her love of food. Ever wondered what a nug tasted like? Is butterbeer alcoholic? If you've asked such questions and are already drooling at the thought of a big old plate of lembas bread, then you're in the right place

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