Pokémon-20Pokemon just celebrated it’s 20th anniversary this weekend. Wow. That’s a lot.

 

So many pokeballs,

So many gym badges,

So many pain in the ass Zubats,

and so many 10 year olds starting out away from home on their first big adventure.

That’s kind of a big deal to me. I don’t play pokemon nearly as much as I used to. I’d go so far as to say that a Pokemon game hasn’t been in my top 10 RPGs for years now. Still, the games, the characters, big battles and small touches do come to my mind a lot when I think of games. Whenever news of a new one breaks I’m all over it, I still preorder a copy when the release date is announced. I don’t play Pokemon too much, and it’s been many years since I’ve tried to catch ‘em all in a game, but Pokemon is undoubtedly important to me.

 

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I always choose Red

 

I was in 3rd grade when Pokemon came out in The States. Back then the only handheld I was rocking was my Sega Game Gear which was dying a slow death from a trickling, anemic library of games. (By the time I got one it was already dead.) A kid I ate lunch with brought his Game Boy Pocket with Pokemon Blue to school one day and after one day of him showing it off I knew I had to have it. It took months of pestering my parents, but on my birthday in late February of 1999 I was blessed with a Gameboy Color and my own copy of Pokemon Red. Things got real. I took it with me everywhere. In the car, to my grandparents, school, and with the help of a handy dandy worm light (the dark ages man, literally,) I had my first “What do you mean there’s a 2 AM” gaming moment. Pokemon Red has forever imprinted my tastes, molding me into the RPG nut I am today. Although I had toyed with Dragon Warrior several times at a friends house I consider Pokemon my first real RPG experience. It really is a perfect for that.

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I Always bet on Bulbasaur. And give him a stupid name.

 

I was the perfect age to play Pokemon when I started.

If you don’t already know, (in which case you’ve been living under a rock away from gaming for twenty years, in which case how do you get wifi?) in Pokemon you play as a ten year old kid who goes out into the world to explore, collect, encounter, challenge yourself, and connect. There’s no grand schema, no earth shattering crisis or drama, six layers deep. You’re just a kid exploring the land, adventuring your way through with your monster friends. Ten years old is the perfect age to do any of this, in the real world or not. Kids that age thrive on curiosity and imaginative exploration. Pokemon caters to this whimsical mindset and delivers a game that is exploding with content that engages players and easily excites. When I was ten I lived in rural suburbia with rich woods in the neighborhood to play in and explore. The only problem is I personally couldn’t. I’m severely allergic to most trees and grasses, flowers, etc. in the area, and with my super-asthma just running around the garden was was enough to get me totally congested, itchy and wheezing. This is why Pokemon was perfect for me, especially at that age. I could live my adventure without bringing along inhalers and benadryl.

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I may be 26 but that doesn’t stop me from giving every rival a dumb name. Like Francis.

 

I was part of that first wave of Poke-kids. you know, the ones that gobbled up the VHS tapes, always trying to trade cards with people who locked eyes with us and argued about false secrets until some exasperated adult shut us up. For those older gamers around us that had to sit and listen through this crap….. sorry. I was maybe one of the worst I know, too. A trait that passed on over to a cousin five years younger than me with Pokemon Ruby and Saphire, and his little sister with Diamond and Pearl. 

It’s weird to me still however, how growing up can change your relationship with something you love. It felt very odd to me how so much of my generation of Poke-kids, the first and arguably the biggest, just dropped it all like a hot potato as they went through adolescence. I understand that it’s not uncommon for teenagers to put away things from childhood, some people shelve gaming as they move through childhood. I can get that. But I saw lots of people I knew treat Pokemon with a strangely jaded cynicism. If you were sixteen and were caught playing Pokemon Diamond, oof, better get those headphones on quick because some words will soon be thrown your way. I think it was this atmosphere that had me putting a mild distance between myself and the poke-critters for a while. I wonder if it’s just a thing teenagers do. Again, not all teenagers I know acted like this, the same goes for teens in the present. It just shows that those who try to act adult by suffocating the child within are farthest from true maturity.

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This Awkward Zombie comic sorta sums up my experience.

 

This became more and more evident as I prodded along through college. It gradually dawned on me one day after a couple of students flocked to me when I was wearing a Pokemon shirt that, teenagers really are stupid and adolescence is a dumb part of life. (I mean, I had thought this before many times but this was a good bit of confirmation) After my reputation as the retro gamer nerd was somewhat publicly known I even had a couple people ask me for Pokemon advice. Pokemon was cool again. I’m not sure entirely sure why and I’m not going to challenge it. Maybe part of the reason I’m noticing more adult people gravitate towards these games again is because they miss that feeling of childhood. Maybe they want to feel a grasp of something they’ve lost. I think one of the reason Poke-kids become fans again as adults is because they realize they STILL ARE the kids they were when they were ten. They realize that that special frame of life is invaluable and can be embraced at 10 to 25 and beyond. What better way to reconnect with all of that in a battery powered vessel on the go than with Pokemon?

I love all of this Pokemon 20th hype. I really do. It’s bringing all the fans out of the woodwork and bringing out the kid in some people I know who haven’t shown it in a long time. the whole event reminds me of that birthday in 1999. It’s late February, I just got a new handheld with the Animal Crossing New 3DS bundle, and just two days after my birthday I can download my favorite Game Boy game and start it all over.

 

Now, If you need me I’ll be the asthmatic kid playing games by a dim, glowy light under the sheets tonight. 

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