Before the Pokemon’s series rapidly expanding ascendance had become an exhaustive manipulation of popularity and subsequent commercialised degradation, it was solely reliant on content of it games. It still surprises me just how many people aren’t aware that it was the games rather muffled arrival on the Gameboy that it inspired the relentless abuse of its name, rather than the excessive trading card aberrations or the seizure inducing animations. But at that age we were all heavily involved with it. Playgrounds had become communities that yielded to the deep analytical discussions concerning the rarity of certain Pokemon cards. You and your friends were hooked, whether you liked it or not. Everyday you’d bring a selection of your most prestigious acquisitions, bound by double looped elastic band to formally boast about your shiny Charizard, much to the jealous scrutiny of your classmates. There was always that suspicious looking kid too who you never saw in class, who took up residents in that one part of the playground that seemed just a little too seedy, offering shiny cards like some delinquent drug dealer. “Got any shiny Dragonite’s mate? Come on man, just one more hit….. Point!”. I still have all of my accumulated cards, packets and those peculiar pebbles that I have no clue as to their use stored in my loft, awaiting the day that they can be sold for millions to the most discerning of collector’s. But like all fads it slowly edged its way out of public consciousness through months of global saturation that no amount of savage marketing or celebrity endorsement could ever revitalise. Yet the games continued to flourish despite the economic brevity of its other branded products. Why? Because it was much more than just a fading trend. The trading cards were fun but limited whereas the games offered enhanced game-play, exploration in handheld form and the exultation of battling the Pokemon you had caught.
Despite the Gameboy’s advanced age – having been 6 or 7 years old by the time Pokemon Red and Blue was released, this lethargic device felt revolutionary because of Pokemon. I’d never played a game that exhibited the kind of mutually beneficial convenience that the Gameboy partnered with Pokemon had. It felt so right. To integrate a fully exploitative world into a device I’d almost forgotten I had, with black and white presentation that could be taken with was incredible. These games demonstrated the integrity that was never replicated by Pokemon’s other endeavours, nor the enduring appeal that has seen the series maintain a consistent stranglehold over the mobile gaming system for over 20 years. My best friend and I had dedicated months to the accumulation of the original 151 Pokemon in Red, Blue and Yellow. Unfortunately I never quite reached that prestigious number, falling short by a mere 8 Pokemon. Though my best friend did and expressed great relish in my failing. I was however the more accomplished combatant having bested him in 6 of our 9 encounters. We bonded over our delusions of being the single greatest Pokemon trainers in the world, simply because we had bested all the automated trainers in the game. We considered ourselves tactical geniuses because we utilised the rudimentary system of type advantage, which was and always has been the basic principle of the games. Having completed Red, Blue and the slightly superior Yellow between us our appetite for more banquet filled Pokemon titles could not be sated. And it was Silver and Gold that promised to be the main course in this tortured metaphor.
For months we’d been researching every conceivable detail we could from magazines. We’d dissect previews, analyse every image (which had now advanced to a colour screen!) and speculate to the novelty of the proposed night and day cycle that was to be the games intrinsic new feature. I had saved every penny I could, bolstered by birthday money I’d hoarded in preparation for Gold and Silvers release a month later. Between us we had decided which version to buy; he chose Gold while I was more than happy with Silver. It was a brisk Saturday morning when I headed into town. We had met at a designated spot and endeavoured to buy our copies together to commemorate this momentous occasion with mutual solidarity. This was a game we knew would change our lives, because we were 13 and at that tender age a new flavoured bubble gum would’ve been life altering. We went to the till tentatively clutching our respective games, paid and left swiftly back to my mates house. I remember just sitting in his room just staring at the shimmering box art, glimmering like some kind of ornate jewel. Eventually we both moved to open them, remove the shiny cartridges from their corrugated sleeves and play them. One of the things I remember most is my mate showing me that “Karl” was one of the default names you could choose for your character! I remember thinking that it was in recognition of me and my greatness. It was fate. Karl was even spelt correctly which is extraordinary considering there were family members who couldn’t do that! And the game itself was nothing short of perfection. Pokemon Silver is still one of the few games that exceeded my high expectations. On that day alone I had already amassed 30 or so Pokemon in my Pokedex and defeated the first 3 gym leaders.
To me the game defied belief. How could such an expansive world, with such embellished themes and dramatic battling system not only be conceived but facilitated by such a compact device? The essence of the game was really in its simplicity. You’re a kid from a small town that catches stray creatures in tiny prison balls and forces them to fight against other incarcerated beasts. It sounds cruel and I’m sure animal welfare organisations have their work cut out for them in Kanto and Johto, but it was fun. Besides Pokemon don’t die, they just faint. Basically your goal was to become the very best, like no one ever was. You just travel from town to town battling your way through the gyms, receiving the respective badges until it was time to face the Elite Four – which oddly required you to defeat five resilient trainers but whose counting, while also engaging with other compelling tangents along the way. Whether it was defeating a resurgent Team Rocket, displacing anthropomorphic trees that obstruct your route, staying in on Friday nights with the express purpose of catching an illusive Lapras, quelling the aberrant behaviour of a shiny Gyrados, taking rides on the S.S Aqua on a sedate Sunday Afternoon, winning bug contests, visiting the day specific children for unique rewards, spend cash gambling at the casino (which is particularly age appropriate), visit the daycare centre to breed yet another Eevee with Ditto or defeating the grossly overpowered character you portrayed in Red, Blue and Yellow.
Gold and Silver were bigger bolder and more expressive with the kind of identity it was trying to create. It made my friend and I feel like we were on an adventure for ourselves, in a self-contained world that didn’t force us to compete against online players or fight some omnipotent being that threatens to destroy the earth. We weren’t heroes ordained with some great purpose to preserve the world from total annihilation, but kids who had dreams of winning a contest and eventually achieving those dreams. I’ve played various iterations in the series since; Ruby & Sapphire. Diamond & Pearl. Black & White. X & Y. Ant & Dec (I may have made the last one up?!). Yet most felt like diminishing returns that merely expanded on the number of Pokemon rather than core of the game. For me nothing before or since has ever captured my imagination to the extent that this did, generating almost euphoric anticipation as well as delivering on the promises it made. By today’s standards it may seem sub par, but on that day in 2001 (when it was finally released in the UK) I was part of that world. And that’s why Pokemon Silver is and continues to be the most influential game I’ve ever experienced.
What games have had the most profound effect on you? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.
This is a cautionary tale concerning the dangers of Pokemon, ignorance and general human stupidity.
“You’re mine now!” Having tracked it to my local park I knew it could be anywhere. It was a clear and humid day so the hustle and bustle of congested human activity was erratic, with many strolling along the river nonchalantly seeking refuge from the midday sun, to bask in rejuvenating convalescence. The river, glistening with nurturing hydration appeared to be the source of its sudden, though fluctuating residency. I had pursued it this far, it’s monochromatic silhouette confirmed that I was close. Considering my latent Jesus abilities I decided to continue fortifying my position on land rather than crossing into the centre of the river. Maintaining a cautious pace, knowing how long it had been confounding me I was dubious of its familiarity and readily aware that it could allude me yet again. Then suddenly, like an erection in spandex it appeared; Dratini! My perseverance had paid off. I had made sure to formulate a contingency for any formalities. I was fully stocked with Pokeballs, Razz Berries and enough determination to rally a small team of disgruntled shop assistants against their malevolent oppressors. Appearing behind me (clever girl!) I engaged, fully prepared for any eventuality. In my mind it was an epic, kinetic battle between two fierce competitors. In reality it was a nearly 30 year old man leaning against a tree, with a vacant nonplussed expression flicking his finger at a touchscreen. Periodically I asserted my dominance over this elusive beast as it finally succumbed to the onslaught of my balls….What I meant is that I beat it with my balls…..you know what, never mind. I caught it! Throughout the campaign I was maintaining the perception that I was just casually venturing through the park, using my phone for writing poetry or haiku’s. But people knew. Probably because they were similarly engaged in their own personal battles. Words needn’t be spoken between trainers. There is just a knowing, gestural glance such as a nod that is required to declare you’re intentions. A recognition reached with mere eye contact.
After the nuanced pleasantries had been exchanged with a random passerby and a subtle fist pump delivered to indicate that I had finally snared the exotic beast Dratini, I decided that further localised reconnaissance was required to ascertain the existence of any other clandestine inhabitants in the area. Pokemon I mean, not Polish immigrants. (Thanks Brexit for making me have to clarify that!) During my brisk walk past two additional pokestops, having been broached by a number of ancillary pokemon like Pidegey and Rattata that deserve to die a peasants death, I figured that the area had been exhausted of its rarer species and I endeavoured to branch off in search of more supplies. But just as I had accepted the depletion of the habitat an Onix appeared “near by”. I had to have it! It may not be the most coveted creature, but it would make a fine contribution to my team. I searched furiously. Every time I thought I had it in my sights the “near by” function prompted me that I had gone too far. I just couldn’t isolate it’s location. It was so frustrating! And then when all hope was lost, it happened. Without warning……I walked straight into a tree! Not with any subtlety either. It was so direct, so shocking that I actually let out a discernible “oof?!” as I walked into it. Foiled by foliage. And with that the Onix that I had been chasing with fervent ambition for approximately 30 mins was gone, as was any sliver of remaining dignity I retained since downloading Pokemon Go in the first place. Life, even virtual ones it seems are full of obstacles, reminders and distractions designed to clarify just how tragic and typically stupid humanity is capable of being. Especially when it involves mobile phones.
Have you had any accidents while playing Pokemon Go? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.
Many heretics, religious acolytes, media outlets and indeed that guy at work that is always a little too insistent on touching my arm inappropriately have prophesied that this is the end of days. The end of civilisation as we know it. A momentous time in human industry where the time for repent is it hand, and they maybe right. Pokemon Go may very well have doomed the world to eternal damnation and accidental river wading as rumours persist that the potential Skynet of interactive gaming may contain Pokemon with localised exclusivity. Despite the splendorous potential of capturing a menagerie of erratically displaced critters in you’re local area, some may have been locked into specific continents, reputedly to assuage the number of obtainable Pokemon at such an early stage. Now I’m sure that this is all just a ruse to contort the fact that many Pokemon are rarer than Wayne Rooney not trying to make friends with a cabbage. But the idea of discrete continental viability is a concerning formality. I mean let’s face it, Nintendo were always going to restrict access to all 151 Pokemon species just for the benefit of increased monetisation. They want you to keep playing regardless of whether it’s inherently possible to catch them all yet, and as long as they can maintain the illusion that Rattatas will eventually be dispersed and replaced by less rabid creatures, your always going to need to be supplied with ample pokeballs, incense and other amenities to fund you’re excursions. Connectivity is crucial to its success, so encouraging you to buy more items with you’re own money is to be expected. But I do take objection to the imposed limitations relating to the location sensitivity Pokemon that has been touted. Apparently according to some sites (again conjecture) it’s purported that Taurus can only be caught in North America. The registered sex offender Mr Mime is exclusively located in Europe (not sure if this excludes the UK yet?) Kangaskhan is only available in Australia. And the one Pokemon I’ve specifically requested that I want to catch, the unequivocal god among lesser pocket monsters, the only Pokemon I’ve stated I wanted over all others is only available in Japan. The myth, the legend. The walking duck cuisine Farfetched can only be caught in Japan?! (refer to the image below for the range of Pokemon’s “apparent” availability).
Now through my investigatory sleuthing and extensive research, that equates to brief glimpses at articles in the first section of Google search engine has informed me that there is an element of truth to it. Though not specifically exclusive to their respective regions, they are however much more difficult to come by. Hatching 10km eggs appears to be the most effective way of obtaining these rarities, irrespective of what country you are from. So even though they can be secured in a fashion, it’s not the same as capturing one yourself. Being able to track down Farfetched…..s? was always my most compelling reason for downloading Pokemon Go. I wanted the excitement of seeing that vague silhouette nearby and hunting it down like a hungry lion. Trying to isolate it’s location, even if I have to track it into a neighbours back garden. Region locked Pokemon isn’t the first instance of fan speculation. We’ve already been inundated with highly dubious claims that MewTwo may in fact be excluded from areas outside of area 51. Now I don’t believe that you’ll have to scale Everest to snare Articuno or fly into outer space to acquire Mew (and let’s face it, you’d probably still be knee deep in Pidgeys before you even got a glimpse!) but the idea of area specific Pokemon, though fundamentally problematic does lend itself well to the notion of having to travel to register rare species into you’re pokedex. There are many potential innovations that could yet be applied to Pokemon Go and the introduction of legendary Pokemon like MewTwo, Zapdos and of course Farfetched may yet be the start of something truly defining. Perhaps even an innovation such as functioning servers. Could you imagine. What a time to be alive!
Have you played Pokemon Go? How much do you miss you’re life now that you’ve become a full fledged Pokemon Trainer? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.