I scuttle into the committee meeting five minutes late and pull out one of the chairs near the door. Nothing’s started yet, mainly due to the fact that everyone’s just chatting away rather casually and sipping on their pints. This is one of the good things about being involved with university life in the UK, it’s incredibly laid back and always come with the option of alcohol. Anyway, I’m digressing.
I put my stuff down and plug into the nearest conversation on this lovely Thursday afternoon last week to hear, “I was wanting my Pokémon game to have arrived by now!” from the guy two seats down from me.
“I thought I wasn’t out until ’til tomorrow?” asked someone, leaning across the vast table to join the discussion.
“Well, yes, but Amazon are supposed to ship for release day so sometimes stuff arrives early. Or in this case not…” he trailed off wistfully.
“Uh, guys?” I chimed into the conversation, “Try and not be too jealous,” as I held aloft a sealed copy of Pokémon Black, a whole day before it was supposed to be released. Half of the room’s eyes lit up instantly as I just smiled. Here we were, a group of seemingly mature students studying English and Maths and Law and Engineering and we were getting stupidly giddy over a video game. And we’re not alone.
I first got into Pokémon when I was seven, during the height of the franchise’s first boom. It was 1999 (Yes, I was seven in that year. My apologies to any readers who are now sobbing over their squandered youth.) and the games, the anime, the trading cards, the toys and even the original sticker album were all anyone ever talked about. It felt like I was the last to know but when I got in on the craze, I was hooked. The bedding, the guide book, the completed sticker album are all still up in my loft and didn’t even come close to reflecting just how important became to my life. At some times it was very nearly everything, and I loved it.
And then everyone else moved on. While Pokémon remained popular around the world, it wasn’t the cool thing for ten-year-olds to be doing at this point and the vast majority of people tossed aside their cards and Game Boys and dashed headlong into the next trend. But I didn’t see the point in giving up something I loved, so my close friends and I continued our Pokémon journeys with Gold and Silver, having some of the most epic Pokémon battles ever seen by man. (Jennifer’s Lv. 93 and my Lv. 87 Ampharos constantly battled for supremacy.) The cartoon continued on, the games provided an ever evolving challenge and the good times carried on.
It’s certainly funny to think just how important a video game series been to my life. (I’m sure that’s something Tidman and Hoover will back me up on.) In good times and bad, Pokémon stuck by me and I stuck by Pokémon. Even when the series made the jump to Game Boy Advance and I didn’t know anyone else playing the games at all, I soldiered on faithfully. Those were the start of the twilight years of my relationship with Pokémon, when I was traversing Hoenn all alone and the cartoon seemed to intermittently disappear from television. Before my complete immersion into the internet, I padded along by myself, enjoying the series more than ever but feeling somewhat lonely as I took part in the hobby that made everyone I knew cringe in utter embarrassment.
And then something happened. Pokémon experienced a rebirth, in my life anyway. The introduction of the Nintendo DS, and with it Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, brought new players to the field and an online world to the previously isolating realm of local gameplay. Far more importantly Pokémon seemed to develop a retro-esque sense of cool with people my age, especially for anything from the early generations. Discussing Pokémon, especially with girls, would typically enact such a reaction as “Ooh, like Pikachu! I used to love him!” or “I remember the cartoon, I used to love Togepi!” (I was more than happy to indulge such conversations, us gamers need all the help we can get in the romance department.)
(If any proof was needed of my adulation and consuming relationship with Pokémon, the writing of this article has come to a shuddering halt due to my playing of Pokémon Black. I just caught Pokérus for the first time ever and I’m currently in a mad dash to spread it around, oh the sadness.)
Pokémon had returned to a platform of acceptability and rogue coolness (the best kind) and the reaction only intensified when I left school and headed for university. A fair majority of my wide circle of friends seemed nearly as obsessed with Pokémon as I was, with retro Game Boys and DSes emerging from every well-worn backpack you could see. More than that, a general air of respect and adoration permeated everyday conversation. Questions and knowledge quizzes made glorious and painfully obscure references to mind bogglingly specific episodes of the anime and Pokémon display picture weeks bandied around Facebook. I had found my people; I was home.
That was until the release of Black and White approached. The air grew tense and to stave off the pressure everyone dug out old copies of previous adventures in a mass-case of Pokémania. Conversations soon became dominated with things like all potential teams in FireRed and where to find the Waterfall HM in Sapphire, all of us sitting together, training, battling and playing together. When the latest iterations of the series finally hit shelves (or a few days before it hit shelves, as we’d tracked it down early) it soon became a competition of who could get to the end fastest and who could have the most powerful Oshawott when they got there.
(I won’t lie, I buckled early. My well nurtured social life kept butting into the game and when I finally spent an entire day staring at my DS, the headache that was induced was so thumping that I had to watch television for a few solid hours to relieve it.)
While fads may come and go, Pokémon has remained an important part of my life and of my generation. Perhaps it’s this complete universality that has allowed Pokémon to endure so long, still entertaining the hardcore gamers and the kids that fell in love with the adorable Pikachu from their childhood. It seems to transcend gaming in such a way that taps into something personal in all of us in a way that’s quite indescrible, though one of my non gamer friends did give it her best shot. “You couldn’t catch Mario in a ball and take him home in your pocket, could you?”