5 Reasons Pokemon Fans Grew Up To Be Monsters
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.
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.
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 ...
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.
All People Care About Is What You Can Provide For Them
The Pokemon games have always gotten flak for their lack of player customization. "Do you want to be a boy named YOUR name, or a boy named after the color of the game box?" is about as much introspection as you were allowed back in 1998, and it hasn't improved at the same rate as the game's other functions. But that's what Pokemon wants. Because the Pokemon world doesn't care about you. It doesn't care about your feelings of self-worth. It cares about your Pokemon.
Just like the world around us constantly threatens to take everything away if we can't prove that we're actively and tangibly contributing to it, the Pokemon universe bases everything around someone's Pokemon and how adept they are with them. Along with the main "Kill your neighbors and take their trophies" quest, there is a side story that takes you into direct opposition with a villainous team which raises a moral question and attempts to answer it by dueling children.
No joke, this is my favorite song.
They aim for places like laboratories and mountains, and the towns nearby are 100 percent willing to champion a fourth-grader, as long as it seems like that fourth-grader is decent at yelling orders at his animals. Is there no one else who can do this? Someone with some terrorist negotiation skills, or at least a high school reading level? The Pokemon world gives so few shits about that. You have Pokemon? Rad. Awesome. You're great. You can do anything.
So just Die Hard your way to the top of that tower, kid.
It's why the people in town who should be talking about their jobs or the way that they help the local economy end up talking about Pokemon. I just want to know how much a room costs, but the shop and hotel owners won't shut up about the creatures they have no business dealing with. In a Pokemon-fueled world, they're desperate to connect with anyone. They just want to fit in.
And then there's this guy in Vermilion City who clearly wants to bang his horse.
The centerpieces of each place aren't the town halls. They're the gyms. And the people who run those gyms, along with the Elite Four, are free to perform vigilante justice whenever they see fit.
I'm almost certain that this is illegal, Lance.
And if your prime motivation is not to get to a place where you too can hit evildoers with dragon lasers, you're nobody, and the world passes you by. And when you become middle-aged, you'll find yourself asking preteens if they want to talk about how wonderful this whole Pokemon thing is, because you need to feel like you matter. And it's only the new crop of preteens that won't know about how much of a loser you are.
You Have To Give Up Some Things If You Want To Succeed
Pokemon only allows you to carry six monsters, and each monster can only learn four moves. When you're first starting out, this isn't a problem. The land around your hometown is populated by small birds, rodents and, at its most dangerous, worms and legless rock fellows.
"Evening, miss. My life is agony."
And at first, all these guys know are variations of the "slam into another guy with a part of your body" tactic. So again, six monsters with four moves each is not a problem. It still seems huge. Just like when you're a kid and you dream of being a rock star / president / astronaut / pro soccer player / pro wrestler / Sam Neil's character in Jurassic Park. Those all seem like perfectly reasonable, reachable careers. But as you get older, and you find out about more careers and more things that you might be good at, you find yourself having to narrow things down. You can't be a pro wrestler because you have skinny upper arms, and you can't be president because anxiety is your prom date. But you find that you are passable at some new thing, so you go do more of that. As the options open up, what you can do is decreased. To be successful at something, you have to cut things out that would take time away from it.
Pokemon lets you know, through many failed battles, that your Beedrill sucks when it's forced to be hit by anything. So you get rid of it, because there are monsters out there that can actually take a punch. It lets us know that, no matter how much you love one of your attacks, you have to learn Surf, because it's a necessity of life when islands are where your promotion is located. The computer where you store your Pokemon should be a place where you find the Pokemon that you need for certain situations, but instead it just becomes a box of failed experiments. All of your childhood naivety sits in there, along with all of the ways that your life could've gone if you hadn't focused on what could win you battles. All of the things that once made you happy.
Convince yourself that you didn't want 'em all in the first place. Makes it easier.
Pokemon Go does something similar. After hours of catching Pidgey and Clefairy and an Eevee or 20, you find out that certain Pokemon only appear in certain places, and that if you're not willing to go over there for an unknown length of time, you'll never manage to catch them and evolve them. So do you go over there and take that risk, or do you continue to walk around your house, advancing with what is readily available to you and continuing with what has proven to be successful?
Adulthood means putting your childish things behind and ruling the world with a Pidgeot, all while you dream of Zapdos.
Okay, scratch that. THIS is my favorite song.
Daniel has a blog where he writes things. I give it a B+.
Learn the math behind Pokemon in 4 Creepy Ways 'Pokemon' Changed Since You Stopped Playing and check out why Pokemon will destroy us all in 4 Reasons Pokemon Is the Scariest Alien Invasion Story Ever.
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