Years ago, a small child looked at the back of a Lunchables box during a kindergarten lunch period. He saw a black-haired youth surrounded by unrecognizable, brightly colored creatures. A friend glances over and yells “I’ve heard of that!”
“It’s called Pokemon”
This begins a lifelong addiction to one of history’s most successful instances of marketing and merchandising.
Trying to describe a love of something so big to the unappreciative is a difficult task. Having lived through my particular childhood, it’s difficult to imagine anyone who didn’t grow up and love Pokemon with a fiery passion. Back then, it was just what we did. Cards, games, tv-show, movies, plushies, pillowcases, bedspreads, toys, shirts, pajamas, and all manner of stationary were but of a few of the items that choke-holded me over (though my parents’ wallets were likely a more accurate victim) during those formulative years, as they did for many a child born around 1990 through to maybe 1996, if we’re being generous. Pokemon consumed and it did so ruthlessly.
Before she died, my grandmother took me to see the first three Pokemon films in theaters. Long after I found out she hated them. These are some of my only remaining memories of her.
Pokemon conquered. Pokemon dominated. Pokemon set off decades of similar attempts by a number of less successful ventures (remember Bakugan Battle Brawlers? I sure don’t). Pokemon… means more to me personally than a good many things. And that’s what I’m here to talk about today. Because for all of its fame and all of its success, there is a great rift of misunderstanding between those who like Pokemon and those who don’t.
Of course, there are many reasons people like Pokemon. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll just say that Pokemon Gold was a dear friend to me when my parents moved my family to Europe for an extended stay. It was the only game I played and when it died after I foolishly set my turquoise Game Boy Color on a wet, soapy table, it caused me the amount of grief and suffering I would likely have felt had I lost a close friend.
For quite a few players, Pokemon is about collecting. Nintendo has, perhaps brilliantly, made it next to impossible to catch all Pokemon, with a fair amount only available through specific venues at specific points in time. Missed out on the Toys-R-Us Arceus give away? Nothing to do but pray to the Pokemon gods that Nintendo will release another someday, as they did recently with Deoxys. Only the hardest of the hard pull through and manage to get them all, only to have a whole new range of creatures emerge in the next generation. And I’m not even going to get into the shinies….
For others, Pokemon is about the meta game, the numbers. And while I don’t personally understand these people (for all my years of Pokemon I’ve only connecting my game to someone else’s to specifically battle a handful of times), Pokemon offers a staggering wealth of competitive elements that take serious patience and time to hone and comprehend.
For me, however, and perhaps for many, Pokemon is about the company you bring on an adventure. It’s about exploring a world filled with challenges and watching your friends grow through your shared experiences. As an awkward, often socially inept child, making Pokemon real was perhaps the one single thing I wished for most in the world, if only to have some kickass elemental pals follow me wherever I went. Sadly this dream never came to fruition, but the games allowed for a happy medium, granting my wish in small doses. I still never form my team based on their tactical prowess or anything, I just find Pokemon I like and run with them, attempting to form even a fraction of the emotional bond I once had with my beloved Maganium back in my younger days.
So yes, I’m a nostalgia hunter. Sue me. I still manage to keep my head on straight about this series. It has its flaws and if I’m honest, I’ve slowly been losing interest generation by generation. Does the series need major overhauls? Perhaps, but I’m not sure what could convince the non-believers that this is a properly enjoyable series. If I didn’t have the drive to connect with an increasingly distant childhood, it would probably bore me to tears. For you see, Pokemon is very slow, dreadfully slow, if you classify it along with other RPGs. They’ve never relied on gripping stories or characters, battles are slow and repetitive, and after almost two decades of Pokemon games, very little substantial has changed. We’ve of course seen elements streamlined and a few changes and additions made here and there, but the core conceit of Pokemon is as it was.
Though to be fair, Nintendo probably sees change and Pokemon as a dangerous balancing act. Too much change and they risk losing fans like me, who might see major overhauls as a break from the familiar they’ve come to love. The competitive players would also fret, as the rules they’ve come to understand could be threatened. But change too little and the series becomes increasingly bland and predictable, and as sales charts show, Pokemon sales have been on a nearly steady decline generation by generation.
If I’ve been clear, it should be easy to understand why someone likes Pokemon. It should also be clear why someone just doesn’t get it. Will it last forever? That’s difficult to say. It hard to think the same train will be chugging along in another 20 years, with the Pokedex reaching thousands of Pokemon strong. In any case, it is where it is now and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon. What about all of you? Do you like Pokemon? Hate it? Share your experiences/opinions/ramblings in the comments below.