A man dreamed that he was walking across the beach with the Lord. As he looked down at the footprints that they'd left behind, he mostly saw two sets of feet. But every few years, he saw one set. This bothered him, and he asked the Lord, "During some of my harshest and loneliest hours, I see only one set. Why?" The Lord turned to the man and said "My son. When there was only one set, that was when you devoted 63 hours in one week to Pokemon HeartGold, so I got bored and went to go do something else." "What was that again, Lord?" the man said, trying to catch a Psyduck.
Believe it or not, that man ... was me. Every year or so, I leave this pathetic excuse for a world for a few weeks and I play the new Pokemon game. It has been a tradition of mine since 1998, when Pokemon Red was released, and like ancient man looking across the sea and dreaming of a way to cross it, I decided that my destiny lay in catching them all. In that pursuit, Pokemon has become my greatest teacher. It has taught me the hardest lessons I've ever had to learn, and it has both enriched my life and ruined it totally. And now, as a Master, I feel comfortable imparting these lessons to you.
#5. You Always Want What You Can't Have
Pokemon Go was just released, and those who downloaded it on the first day were often greeted with this:
"Haha, you thought today was going to be fun!"
It was an omen of despair. I rebooted the app over and over again in frustration, forgetting that when trillions of people are all trying to play a new phone game on its opening day, there may be a few kinks to work out. The game would eventually bring groups of people together in a way that hadn't been seen since war was invented, but initially, I couldn't wrap my brain around why Pokemon Go didn't want to just go along with the fucking plan and cover all of my emotional needs. I was forgetting one of the prime themes of Pokemon: You will always want what you can't have.
If you ask people what their dream Pokemon game is, they'd probably reply with either A) An RPG-style game on a non-handheld Nintendo console or B) an official Pokemon MMO. Now, both of these forget two huge problems. The first is that owning a Nintendo console that was made after the GameCube is like putting "I name all of my knives after famous clowns, and vice versa" on your resume. The second is that releasing a Pokemon MMO sounds less like fun and more like a Purge specifically designed to cause desk chair owners to die of malnutrition. People want these so badly, and the closest we've ever gotten to either are games like Pokemon XD: Gale Of Darkness, a title that smashed together every message board username I had at 13 with a plot that I would've written around the same time.
The shadows make him more mature.
At this point, both games will probably never happen. But that's not the only way that Pokemon mastery often remains a dim campfire across a frozen tundra. It preaches the virtues of "Gotta catch 'em all!" And counting the ones revealed for the upcoming 3DS games, that "all" is 720+ strong. Complaining "Aw, man! There's too many Pokemon! Not like there used to be!" is the wrong way to go about doing things on the eternal high school reunion that is the internet. Plus, people who whine about the "crazy" new Pokemon are purposefully forgetting that the original 150 included stellar examples of creativity like "normal rat" and "inventory item with eyes."
Gotta ignore 'em all.
The issue lies with how you acquire them. The special events that Nintendo holds, which require you to nab them during a certain period of time and trade them from game to game if you want to keep them, are the only way to get certain rare Pokemon, and it is a system that is nearly exclusive to the series. Imagine going to GameStop at 8 a.m. in 2002 to get Link for Super Smash Bros. Melee because he wasn't available in the game and might not be available in the next four games. That sounds like an insane, franchise-breaking concept, but it's how Pokemon does business. Pokemon lets you know that you'll always crave comfort and stability, and that you'll only get what you want if you're lucky.
#4. It's Lonely At The Top
Success in a Pokemon game is bombastic and short-lived. The champion or gym leader you just beat is obnoxiously proud of you, but after the battle, you're forced to go back outside into a world of people who insult you for no reason. "Hey! You should be an easy fight, squirt! Let's battle!" No one cares that you own the six most powerful magical monsters in a world full of powerful magical monsters, and that if you wanted, you could demand the head of every Bug Catcher in the region. The least they could show you is a little grace, but 95 percent of the time, they approach you with balls-out confidence. Their team is literally what they found when they brushed their hand through the grass in front of them, and they're ready to fucking murder you with it.
But once you get past all of them, you'll be begging to go back to the time when battles were actually fair. The average level of your Pokemon when you beat the game tends to be around 65. The max level that you can reach is 100. Pokemon's post-game content is tragically sparse, so once you beat the Elite Four, the top trainers in the world, your journey is pretty much done. If you want to reach Level 100 and patrol the world like a vengeful god, you still have a third of the game left after you squash the Elite bros and get told how great you are again.
The trainers who are around still attack you with obscene aggression, and you just have to squash them. When you run out of these tributes to your ego, you wander back and forth across the land, left with nothing but your thoughts, knocking out random wild Pokemon for the meager experience points that they give you. There is no one to relate to, and no one to share your feelings with. It's why at the end of Pokemon Silver and Gold, you find Red, the character you played in Pokemon Red and Blue, just waiting at the top of a mountain. There is nothing else left for him except to kick the ass of every hiker who accidentally crosses his path.
"I'm Red. I eat bugs to survive. Time to die!"
Pokemon teaches you that, once you're above everyone's level, all you can deal is pain. Everything you do is the equivalent of dropping a rock from a high building onto the people walking below. You imagine that efforts will be rewarded with results, but that's not always the case. That's because ...
#3. Some People Just Aren't Going To Make It
One of Pokemon's many hidden messages is that believing in yourself isn't a "fix-all" solution, and is actually a very delicate process. Look behind you at everyone left in the Viridian Forest or Mount Moon after you've enacted a slash-burn campaign on their realities. They all started out with the same goals as you, and they all believed in themselves, just like you. And when you beat them, they all either lamented their defeat or announced that they'd get better one day.
Or they just talk about their lack of pants.
And they never do.
A man in the prime of his life.
They're stuck standing on the side of some deserted road until they die, repeating their mantras to themselves and getting only a nightmare echo in return.
This is unusual in video games. Most of the time, when you stab an alien or punch a thug to death, their bodies disappear after a little while. It's this aspect that prevents us from looking over the battlefield and thinking "What the hell is wrong with me?" And while Pokemon hasn't given us the option to viciously murder our opponents after we knock out their pets yet, it doesn't change how weird it is that they're just ... standing there, assuring themselves over and over that they're right, and that they don't need to change a thing. Pokemon shows us that some people simply aren't going to make it. Some people are never going to change their strategies, and though they'll start out with the same passions as you, somewhere along the way, they'll hit their personal ceiling and never make it any farther.
You're going to drown.
Look at the range of people whom you're tearing apart. Some of them are old and frail. You get your Pokemon license when you're 10. It's not that they're really slow walkers, or that they all had simultaneous midlife crises and decided to abandon their families in order to improperly raise Spearow. These are people who have absolutely refused, year after year, to adjust their attitudes. They know the right way, and they'll be damned if they have to switch up their routines. Even as they're stuck there, having had half their money stolen by a guy who started his journey fucking yesterday, they assure themselves that nothing is wrong. It was a fluke. They'll make it, even if they have to do the same thing over and over again, forever.
Pokemon Go constantly asks players whether or not they want to make it as well. The app's tutorial was booting it up and being told that the servers were taking a long lunch, preparing players for short bouts of breezy enjoyment interspersed with eras of resentment. And while these eras would shorten over time, what they would come to lack in long-term anger, they'd make up for with sudden, confusing hate. You'll flip that ball at a Pokemon you searched through your neighborhood for an hour for, the game will tell you how pants-shitting awesome it is that you caught that Scyther, and then it will freeze or shut off suddenly. And when you start the game back up, there will be no trace of your prize. "Do you want to make it?" Pokemon Go whispers to you. "It's okay if you don't. I am certainly being NO help whatsoever."
Get ready. In two seconds, you're gonna throw your phone.