151 problems (and I’m not talking about Bacardi)

I don’t know what’s in the waters round here, but it must be Pokémon because it seems to be the topic of late, at least among the blogs I follow.  The folks over at DISK READ ERROR recently did a whole month of Pokémon posts.  The guys running At The Buzzer also put up series of awesome posts on the subject in the not too distant past.   What’s Your Tag?‘s recent Nerd Wars! polls are all about Pokémon.  Sure, I could just ignore it all and go play outside seeing as I’m the farthest thing from a Pokémon fan, but their levels of devotion to the subject have been too incredible to overlook.  So I read, I laughed, I pondered, I searched, and then I started writing this.  I may not be a fan, but I know about Pokemon and how it has influenced a whole generation of gamers (and collectors, and Japanimation fans, and others.)

So as ye ol’ memory gears started a’rolling, I realized something:

As removed as I may be from the Pokemon universe, it actually played an oddly important role in my life as a gamer. It delivered me to, but more importantly from evil.

******

Ahem.

Hi, my name is cary, and I’m a hater. Or I was. I once hated Pokemon and all that it stood for. This is my story.

Pokémon entered my world in late 1998. I don’t know which came first, the cards, the TV show, or the game, but the first time I saw Pokémon was on a poster. A poster that my husband (then boyfriend) had gotten from Burger King. Yep, the Home of the Whopper, which, at the time, was offering Pokémon toys along with their kids meal. My husband doesn’t remember exactly how or why he got the poster – it was a novel thing, he remembers.  And on this poster was 151 Pokémon – along with their little Pokémon names and little Pokémon character pictures.  It was for me to put up in my apartment. Next to my Star Wars and Indiana Jones posters, of course.

This is not the Burger King poster. I don’t actually remember what it looked like, but the general idea of pictures and words is the same.

I didn’t know the first thing about Pokémon, but the character designs and names were awfully fun. We both found ourselves wrapped up in picking our favorites and adding their names to our lexicon. We amused ourselves by calling each other “Bulbasaur” and “Jigglypuff” for a few months. “Squirtle” became the most ridiculous thing we could imagine. We came to rail “Pi-Ka-Chuuuuu!!” at each other during fake (maybe drunk) fits of rage. We had fun in our own, isolated world, and didn’t pay much attention to the massive tidal wave that was the handheld game of Pokémon.

But then a couple turning points occurred that affected how I viewed Pokemon. The first point happened during Christmas 1998, when one could not escape the franchise. I mean, Pokémon merchandise was e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. I don’t think I went into a single store that Christmas that wasn’t selling something Pokémon.  You couldn’t walk two feet in the world without running into Pikachu mugs or Snorlax plushies or Rapidash towels. Pokémon was in department stores, hardware stores, gas stations, dollar stores, and restaurants. It was on every kid’s back, in their books, on their shoes, and in their hands. Pokémon was inescapable. And I got tired of it, so very sick of it, that holiday season.

I’m sorry Pikachu…not…not right now. (source)

But it didn’t end with the holidays. No Pokémon continued to be. It became its own force with its own gravity, its own language, its own culture. And that culture was for kids, as far as I was concerned, because outside of us and our Pokémon poster, I didn’t know a single adult that liked (or would admit to liking) anything Pokémon. And so the distancing began.

My transition from acceptable tolerance to judgmental hatred was quick and it was mighty.  And that’s when my core beliefs about gaming were shaken. In that moment when I relegated Pokémon to the something for children, equivocated them to the level of Fisher-Price and Sesame Street, I became a game snob. In retrospect, sadly, I was no better than some parents from the previous generation who believed that video games were only for children, far from intellectual pursuits or rational ways to spend one’s time. Pokémon, as far as video games were concerned, was far beneath my time. That second turning point occurred as I saw more and more kids, mostly young boys, who were completely entranced by the game on their Gameboys. I worked with kids who played nothing but Pokémon – they all seemed so brainwashed! I gained very minor cool points with them for sorta, kinda knowing the different between a Psyduck and Golduck; but to them, I was an annoying anomaly. Their parents didn’t understand Pokémon so how could I really? I was just like all the rest of them…an adult.

And so it went. Pokémon = silly addiction for kids. Let them have it, I thought, all the more Samus and Cloud and Street Fighter for me and my superior twenty-something ways. And I never looked back.

Now, hypocritical me, I still liked my poster.  I still thought all the little animal-things were cute and wacky, but I never, ever dared bring it up in mixed conversation.  I publicly cast off Pokémon.  I derided the addicted players.  And worst of all, I flat out refused to ever play a Pokémon game. Because how could I?  My place in the world was not with Pokémon, and could never be, and it was never going to be.

Moreover, the term “gamer” became a nasty word.  A “gamer” was some Pokemon-addled kid who spent mounds of free time with Charmander and Geodude.  Worthless electronic figments, and worthless additions to society.  I was not a “gamer.”  Yes, I played games, bu they didn’t play me.

Man, was I a dick.  I’m sorry Wil Wheaton, but I was. I guess it was a good thing that I didn’t spit my distaste all over the internet like most haters do today.  Instead, I isolated myself, and that made me fearful and stupid. But sometimes life needs to happen that way in order for change to happen.

As I grew out of my self-righteous second decade and into my reflective third, my attitude towards gaming changed, but it took some time.  It was a good many years before I found tolerance again. My full return to video games later in life was, I think, somewhat hampered by my prejudice not just towards Pokemon, but against any game I deemed too childish.   What brought me back around to a state of normalcy, so to speak, was…and here’s the twist of it all…the Nintendo DS.  Yep.  I got the newest Nintendo handheld and Pokémon stomping ground around 2007.  The first DS had an extra slot for playing GB, GBC, and GBA games.  So now, my newly-found self could go back and mend my ways and accept Pokémon into my life, right?

YAY! (source)

Not so much.

Oh c’mon…not again…(source)

I had grown past my Pokémon hangups.  Pokémon was a thing.  It was always going to be a thing.  And I hoped everyone who loved Pokémon and abused the hell out of their new DS’s while playing it had all the fun in the world.  I sought refuge in games like Brain Age and New Super Mario World.  I loved the flexibility I had with on-the-go play, and I quickly acquired a small stash of handheld games, old and new.  And best of all, I saw lots of other people, old and young, having fun on their DS’s.  It didn’t matter what they were playing, they were gamers and…yes…so was I.  I still didn’t like being re-labeled as a “gamer” at first, but as I found my way back to console gaming and fully accepted the likes of Mass Effect and GTA IV, there was no denying it: I was a gamer.

So I’m sorry Pokémon, for my misplaced anger towards all your cuteness and stuff.  My fear and seeming inability to relate to something so grand was what held me back.  When it’s all said and done, I could enjoy Pokémon as much as I enjoy polka-dots; anyone can.  And gaming’s not about what your playing, but the fact that you’re playing at all.  Flaunt it or keep it to yourself.  It doesn’t matter.  Just enjoy it.

17 thoughts on “151 problems (and I’m not talking about Bacardi)

  1. I think your reaction was natural. When something gets huge it is easy to dislike because everyone keeps talking about it. When you give it a go you may however discover why so many people like it. I take it your husband was Bulbasaur and you were Jigglypuff?

  2. Pingback: Dear Pokémon, Is It Too Late? | United We Game
  3. Whoa, thanks for the mention. My fellow DREs and I are very appreciative!

    Oh man, I had NOTHING but hate for these games when I first heard of them WAAYY back in the day but I succumbed pretty hardcore to peer pressure and it ended up appealing to (and possibly creating) my compulsive nature to complete every aspect of a game that I could… and was wrapped in a standard RPG package.

    Straw that broke the camel’s back? I got to be a turtle that had cannons coming out of its shoulders. SOLD!

    — Evo out.

    • You’re welcome! I learner quite a bit from your site last month. I can certainly understand the appeal of Pokemon, and it makes sense that it would have a devoted fanbase. I still think the animal hybrid characters are fun, though I don’t remember a turtle with cannons!

  4. I used to be a fan, but I outgrew it years ago. I had a poster, too, but it may’ve only had 150. I still have the cards. I feel silly having them, but I’m rather proud of my goofy collection, and I must admit, the Pokemon are pretty cute. I’ll admit, though, I was a snob against it, too, when I outgrew the series. (And I still think the number of Pokemon has gotten ridiculous. How many hundreds of the things are there now?)

    And I had a similar problem with looking down on a series, but for me, it wasn’t just Pokemon, it was Bomberman. They’ve added these Pokemon-like creatures called Charaboms, and I don’t like them. I was ready to sell Bomberman Generation for being too childish, but I recently have been playing again to make sure I really want to sell it. And I don’t. Despite the game being “childish”, it is tons of fun. So I have learned a lesson. All that matters is that a game is fun, whether it’s Halo or Final Fantasy VII or even Pokemon.

    • Agreed! I’ve never played Bomberman, but I had a similar feeling towards Super Scribblenauts, which I picked up just a couple years back. I was really unsure about it since it seemed like a kids games, but reviewers called it all the rage. It was actually a fascinatingly hard game and it wasn’t childish at all! I literally think one had to have a free mind like a child to suceed at it, but my old inflexible brain just wasn’t up to the task.

      And I’m not sure how many Pokemon there are now…1001 maybe? Seems like 151 was plenty, but I suppose not.

  5. My name is Michael, and I’m a Pokeholic.

    Seriously though, please pick up one of them. I can’t imagine having not, Pokemon Yellow was my first game and it’s the reason I’m a gamer to this day. They are deep, immersive and beautifully creative. Just ignore the accompanying cartoon.

    • I know, I know. :) Like I said in my reply to Sparkileptic, my time with Pokemon isn’t right now. I absolutely respect the games and its players, and I know they can be a lot of fun. I’m happy for you and everyone that enjoys them right now! Keep spreading your devotion – maybe someday the bug will bite me too.

  6. Until this day, my only experience with the Pokemon games is the merchandising and the playable characters in the Super Smash Bros. games. Like you, I hated on the franchise in my early gaming years but now have come to accept the fandom that it seems to generate in gamers and have actually become curious. Should I keep my interest at bay academically or should I explore one of the games?

    • I’m probably not the best one to answer that question, but it’s an interesting one. I’ve kept my distance from the franchise, partially because, honestly, it’s not something I’m interested in pursuing right now, and partially because I’m a more a solitary gamer and Pokemon is, though not always, a community game. Though I think most anything is worth trying once, the right time just hasn’t come along for me. Maybe it will and maybe it won’t ever. If a time comes when you think one of the games is worth exploring, then I say go for it. (But I understand that the games can be pretty addictive.)

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