How I Learned to Stop Hating Pokémon


The original Pokémon game came out in the U.S. in 1998. I was 19 at the time, which was apparently a far too cynical time in my life; I saw right though their less-than-subtle marketing campaign. The game tied into the toys and the cartoon with the super catchy song demanding that I catch them all. 19-year-old me thought I was so clever for spotting the overt money-grabbing, cross-promotional juggernaut, and I pretended that it didn’t affect me.

I didn’t have a Game Boy at the time, so I would have had to go out of my way to play it anway. Besides, I was way more into real RPGs like Chrono Trigger, A Link to the Past, Breath of Fire II, Wild Arms, and whatever they were calling Final Fantasy IV back then. (The whole SNES Final Fantasy numbering thing is still confusing to me.)

By 1998, I was already completely obsessed with Final Fantasy VII on my PlayStation, and in the fall of that year we got both Metal Gear Solid and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Compared with those milestones, the Pokémon games seemed pretty silly to me.

But I watched probably a dozen episodes of the cartoon anyway (I liked Team Rocket). Go figure.

Though, I’ve admittedly never liked Team Rocket as much as these people do.

So here we are 14 years later, and I still haven’t played a single minute of any Pokémon game. Ever. The closest I have ever come is that one Smash Bros. game that had Pikachu in it. I also never got into the trading card game, but, to be fair, I never got into any trading card game, including Magic: the Gathering.

Now, I know some will call me a heretic and ask for my geek card so that it can be torn up and I can be sent away in shame. In my defense, though, if you could have seen the group of “winners” at my high school that played Magic, I think you would understand why I avoided them with such vigor. Besides, I was plenty geeky in other ways, and we can’t all be into everything. There are only so many hours in a day.

Anyway, I’ve been noticing this trend where modern games implement a retro throwback graphics style. And, to be honest, I never knew I was yearning for the simpler 8- and 16-bit graphics of my younger days until they started making games designed to replicate them.

Picking up the Xbox 360 port of the old X-Men Arcade game brought back a ton of great memories. And more recent indie games like Fez, Braid, Limbo, and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery have proven that games can have style be fun and innovative without having high-res, super realistic graphics. You can’t pine for the old days with a line like, “they just don’t make ‘em like they used to,” because they do, in fact, “make ‘em like they used to.”

It should also be noted that I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the last four years as a moderator on an Internet message board where people discuss geek culture and videogames. The experience of wading through the vitriol, whining, and constant negativity that is the Internet has actually inspired me to be less cynical about things.

So between my nostalgia to play an older style RPG and the shedding of my more cynical skin, I have come to the conclusion that the time has come for me to actually check out the new Pokémon game coming out this fall, Pokémon Black/White Version 2. Or one of them, at least. I respect the fact that the franchise has stuck around so long and has seemingly kept its longtime fans pretty satisfied.

I should also mention that World of Warcraft played a big role in this decision. You see, I played for almost 7 years, from the original release up until just a few months ago. One of the things that makes the biggest MMO in the world so successful is its constant theft of innovation from other sources. (On top of this is the fact that its designers have been on a steady track in the last few years of simplifying the game. It has gotten to the point where the game out now is almost completely unrecognizable as the game I started playing all those years ago.) And it seems that one of the biggest features they are touting in the next expansion (due out September 25th) is pet battles. So I figured there’s no sense in playing Blizzard’s version of Pokémon when Nintendo is releasing a new version of the real thing.

Or maybe the not-so-subliminal messages in that damn theme song have just been worming their way into my subconscious all these years, and I have finally run out of resolve. Or maybe I’ve always secretly wanted to capture small animals, make them my slaves, and make them battle each other while I cast wagers on the outcome, and the only way I can satiate this hunger is to be a the world champion of sadistic animal trainers/fighters in a cartoonish videogame.

Crap, I think I just talked myself out of it again.