To know me is to know that I love my yearly series, and here’s a new a one! This year I’m taking on the 30-Day Video Game Challenge (30VGC). Though, actually, it’s going to be more like the 26-Week Video Game Challenge, since I’ll only be covering two or three topics from the challenge each month. You can check out my intended schedule in this post. With that, it’s game on!
My choice for a game everyone should play is a Pokemon game.
Um. I guess I need to clarify that a little. By “a Pokemon game,” I mean one of the standard (I guess?) ones where you choose a starter, go out into Pokemon game land, and try to catch ’em all. In other words, not Pokemon Go or any of the other spin-offs.
Does that make sense? Because although I think I know what I’m talking about, I really don’t know what I’m talking about. I’ve only ever played one “standard” Pokemon game, Pokemon LeafGreen. So what the hell do I know?
Well, I know that I used to to be a Pokemon-hater. Long story short, when Pokemon first came out, I didn’t understand it, and I didn’t care to. Aside from getting a kick out of the character designs, Pokemon was something for the kids, and I…
…was an adult.
(But not that adult, apparently.)
Fast forward 18 years, and an older, wiser, and more tolerant version of myself decided that maybe I should finally see what this whole Pokemon thing was about. Spurred on by personal reasons and the original “Twitch Plays Pokemon” phenomenon from a few years back, I took up the mantle of Pokemon LeafGreen. It became my first game project, and it remains my most memorable.
While my experience remains grounded in pretty much only LeafGreen (I did make an attempt to play Emerald not too long ago, but I got terribly stuck in Slateport City.), I don’t think it matters which standard Pokemon game you play. Aside from different characters and better graphics, the most recent games still seem to carry the same premise as the original ones from the 1990s. (Please correct me if I’m wrong.)
But wait!, you say. Hasn’t everyone in the entire world played a Pokemon game?? This whole sham is utterly pointless!!?! STOP TYPING NOW YOU FOOL!
I suppose that, at this point in Pokemon’s evolution (ha), it’s certainly possible. But I’m also willing to bet that Pokemon detractors still exist. I guess I’m trying to reach out to them? Because Pokemon may not be what you think it is. It sure wasn’t what I thought it was going to be, anyway. Playing LeafGreen actually taught me a lot about myself as a gamer. I realized that although I thought I knew everything I ever needed to know about games, I really didn’t. There was still plenty out there left to learn, and LeafGreen provided one such avenue. Since playing the game, the way that I play games generally has changed. LeafGreen taught me lessons in exploration, savoring the moment, becoming a better planner, understanding what it actually means to get sidetracked in a game, and remembering that the smallest action can have the largest consequences. At the time, I was in a moment where I realized that I had taken for granted many of the games I had played before. The careful calculation required to successfully finished LeafGreen without too much frustration (though there certainly was some) made me want to revisit so many other games with this revised attitude and outlook. And y’know what? It worked.
Now, understand that I’m not getting all Tony Robbins up in here, proselytizing Pokemon as some sort of wellness ritual. Playing Pokemon game will cleanse your very soul! No, not that sorta bullshit. I mean, damn, playing any game that you think you hate is bound to affect something in your gamer brain, whether it reinforces your opinion or changes it completely. What I’m saying is that in a world where people have been challenging to the high heavens the question of “what is a video game?”, which is all fine and good, Pokemon LeafGreen reminded me that there’s more to games than just saving princesses, wiping out all the enemies, and blowing up that last stronghold. When I started replaying games, even the ones that I held dear like Fable, Mass Effect, and Dragon Age, I couldn’t help but take along and use some of my LeafGreen memories, though caught up in understanding better the importance of strategy and team-building in games. In fact, those replays proved that not only had I missed so much by using a habitual “bash all the things from point A to point B” play-style, but also that the games themselves offered rewards in story and design that I had never noticed before. Sure, I had played Mass Effect several times before LeafGreen, but had I really played it? Based on what Mass Effect was life for me after LeafGreen, deeper in meaning, richer in story, more enveloping than I remembered, I don’t know that I had.
In short, I think everyone — even you, you couple dozen holdouts — should play a Pokemon game to learn, or perhaps, re-learn what it means to play a game.