In this series of posts I want to explore games from my past. In doing so I aim to not only highlight pieces of game history (good or bad), but also examine my personal relationship to gaming. In this post I want to focus on one of my great gaming loves: Pokemon.
Pokemon. It’s a piece of the pop culture puzzle that defines my generation. “Only 90s kids will get this!!!” But in all seriousness, I couldn’t write about games that have define my personal history without talking about Pokemon. The fact that it’s once again surging in popularity only makes this topic even more fitting.
I can’t say what my very first interaction with Pokemon was. Looking back it feels like the cartoon, the cards and the game all exploded into my life at once, although I doubt that’s true. However, this piece is more about my subjective feelings and memories than facts, so its a moot point really. However it happened I, like just about every child I knew, loved Pokemon in all its guises, but for me the Gameboy game was my very favourite.
The first game I got was Pokemon Blue. I eventually added Red and Yellow to my collection because I had to catch ’em all. Also as a child I did not recognise marketing techniques designed to grab as much money as possible from gullible souls by selling the same game with minor differences three times. But I digress. And despite my more cynical attitude I loved each one of those bright, plastic cartridges in their own special way. And I kind of still do.
My first starter was Bulbasaur but I neglected him and he never became a Venusaur. Still, when I look at pictures of the squat, plant-dinosaur, I think back to my first naive steps into the world of Pokemon. In my next playthrough I chose Squirtle, and with every evolution I loved him more. I say I can’t pick a favourite 1st-gen starter, but secretly, it’s Squirtle because Blastoise is an absolute monster and the best. (Don’t tell the others I said that.) I picked Charmander last, but he’s still great, although to be honest, I like his second stage evolution better than Charizard. This is because I wasn’t allowed to buy Pokemon cards (too expensive) so I had to scrape together people’s hand-me-downs and then trade them for better cards. Charmeleon was the first “good” card I got and I have always felt emotionally attached to his ever since.
Going back to the Gameboy game – I loved it so much. I had two walkthrough guides that I consulted at all times, even though I had played through the whole game several times. But I liked to get all the secrets, know where all the good pokemon were, and form the best strategies for the gym leaders far in advance.
To be honest, I’m not actual sure how to convey exactly how important Pokemon was to me as a child. That sounds really hyperbolic, but it’s true, Pokemon meant, and therefore still means, so much to me.
During the height of the pokendemic, my sister was very ill. So as a child I spent a lot of time in hospitals, trying to amuse myself quietly. And Pokemon was the perfect thing: an exciting, but familiar game that was engrossing and time consuming. The few times I’ve played Pokemon as an adult I’m surprised by how much farming/grinding you have to do. But during that time in my life I became a champion at waiting. I could wait for hours and not be bothered by it. I loved the 4 hour drive to the hospital, just sitting looking out the window. And I especially loved playing Pokemon for hours at a time. I wish I had half the patience I had then, but perhaps being so engrossed in a fantasy world, rather than a depressing hospital, helped with that.
Critically, the Pokemon franchise gets flak because each release is the same game, just with new graphics, more pokemon and a different setting. And I understand. If any other company did that, I’d go full cynic on them. But, I love how every time I play a new Pokemon game (which granted, isn’t often) I feel nostalgic. I know what I’m getting and what I’m getting is a connection to child me. I even heard someone criticise the UI and suggested it should be updated, and honestly I was horrified. I love the new gen Pokemon games because I know the younger version of me would have loved them so much.
I have a lot of fond gaming memories from this time in my life that I suspect I’ll touch on in future posts (playing Spyro before school, A Bug’s Life in the family accommodation at the hospital, discovering Silent Hill in the ward play room and wishing I hadn’t), but Pokemon was the most important to me. It was a constant, reliable friend in a scary and uncertain world. And I just hope each new game makes a child as happy as it did for me.
Please share with me your memories and stories of Pokemon, or any games that impacted your childhood. I’d love to hear about the games that shaped you (or just made you smile and/or rage).