At its core, Pokemon was much the same back when I was a child as it is today. It was a new series of course, but the basic concept has stayed constant: Catch em’ all and Beat em’ all (the gym leaders that is). The names, skins, devices and culture have changed around a fairly steady entity and as yet another generation debuts center stage, it’s a time for those of us who have been there since the beginning to reminisce.
Those in our twenties and thiries are the senior citizens of the franchise and at some point we were probably sure that this or that game would be the last one. For better or worse we were wrong.
- We fought the shading wheel on the side of our Game Boy Black and White’s to attain that perfect grey so we could see with just the right angle from the sun because there were no backlights.
- Steroids, cloning, and a dozen other illegal activities were all a-okay.
- We all had a link cable to trade that only worked half the time, and only if everyone laid their gameboys flat on the table, and nobody breathed.
- Each playthrough took double the time: our mom’s couldn’t afford to buy us running shoes.
- We all had that one friend with overly protective religious parents who wasn’t allowed to play “because of the violence”… and we always let them play at our house.
- We all had that one friend who stacked his deck and thus always drew the right cards at the start of the battle… and we still beat him.
- We were the shrewdest of appraisers when that kid a few houses down claimed he had a real Blastoise that we had been buying stacks of packs to find.
- We used rocks to weigh down our cards when our parents made us “go outside and play” and we were forced to battle on the sidewalk or driveway.
- We sat cross legged Sunday morning in front of the TV set, waiting through corny Slip n’ Slide commercials to see if we really knew, “Who’s that Pokemon?”
- We smashed plastic Pokéballs into the sidewalk in mock battles until the springs broke, or the Pokémon inside was unrecognizable… whichever came first.
As young kids we played through all of that “hardship”, which should make us appreciate the new innovations that the creators make with each new generation. But though I’ve played up to Black and White, I always find myself retreating with earnest back to those clunky early incarnations and many others look upon each new incarnation with an air of superiority and disdain.
I, as many of you, have likely wondered about this and guessed at the reasons. I often entertain the theory that the new Pokémon just aren’t as cool as they used to be: Trubbish/Garbodor the garbage Pokémon? But then I think of Muk, which we pretend is toxic sludge and not what its name implies. Then I think it might be us that’s changed. There’s no doubt that Pokémon was, and still is, a great franchise, but maybe what keeps us coming back is not just the games, but the memories attached to them.
I don’t own a Nintendo 3DS, but if I did I would definitely have Pokémon X and Y on my list (when did we switch from colors and stones to letters again?). Contrary to what some might think, for me it’s not because of some misplaced brand loyalty, but because every time I see a Generation 1 Pokémon I remember all the great times I had as a kid living on a small base in Portugal with practically nothing else to do.
It was really more than just a cartridge in a device or a stack of cards: Pokémon helped shy awkward kids, who moved frequently, make friends and connect (especially military brats like me who moved every 2-3 years), Pokémon helped kids become more avid readers as the need to understand why Pikachu’s thundershock is ineffective against Brock’s Onix is imperative, Pokémon trained kids to solve problems using independent thought and reasoning, and Pokémon still does all these things today.
It’s a new generation… for a new generation, even if a few Pokémon are named for piles of trash (if anything it’s a reflection of our environment today anyway).
With the end of Pokémon’s X and Y conference, I retreat back to my umpteenth playthrough of Ruby and my legion of Wingulls knowing that Pokémon will continue being special for a new set of kids just like it was for me and that is something as Pokéfans that we should all be celebrating.