After scant deliberation, i’ve decided not to play Pokemon Go, the video game craze that people will be talking about for at least a couple more days. The rationale behind my solemn and deeply personal decision may surprise you more than a shiny Girafarig in the tall grass.
i’m not foregoing the Go because i’m too cool for it, or because i like to buck trends and scoff at whatever pleases the masses. Quite the contrary: when i started playing Pokemon Red (admittedly a year or two after it first hit with the elementary school trendsetters who i was teaching in 1999), i took to it like Jynx to a minstrel drag show.
i took the “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” mantra to heart, and by cracky, i CAUGHT ’em all.
“ALL??” you say smugly, remembering that there was at least one impossible-to-catch pocket monster.
“ALL,” i reply defiantly.
The Nintendo Touch
A few years after working at the elementary school, i landed a job making video games, which turned into side gigs reviewing and promoting video games in sponsored interstitial segments on the kids’ teevee station. One of the channel’s frequent sponsors was Nintendo, and long after everyone gave up catching the elusive Mew without the help of a GameShark, i asked the company if they could sweeten the gig by trading the tightly-controlled beastie to me. To my great surprise, when i showed up to the commercial shoot, the Nintendo rep handed me a brand new Pokemon Red cartridge and assured me with the furtive secrecy possessed of many a smack dealer, “Mew’s on there.”
He wasn’t lying. When i plugged in the cartridge, the saved game had bypassed the “choose from one of three inferior Pokemon” intro. There was exactly one Pokemon in the trainer’s inventory, and that Pokemon… was Mew.
Sorry: let me try that again.
That Pokemon… was MEW.
Okay… this isn’t really having the impact on you that it should. Let me explain.
Mew was a cat-like Pokemon with magic powers who was marginally harder to catch than a REAL cat with magical powers. In order to get Mew onto your cartridge, you had to – as an eight-year-old –physically travel to the Nintendo store in Manhattan (once it existed) and … i mean, i don’t want to be on the hook for libel or anything, but i can’t imagine the deal went down without some sort of illicit sex. It was Times Square, and you were eight. You couldn’t get anything you wanted when you were eight – ice cream, a bike, validation from Uncle Roy – without trading filthy favours with adults, right?
What i’m saying is that to have caught Mew without incurring any therapy bills was a major feat.
And SURE, you can argue that i didn’t really CATCH Mew, but that like a wealthy angler, my tour company had gotten me drunk on scotch, stocked the pond for me, and handed me a fully-loaded fish rifle. But i count it as a win that i had a Mew in my hot little hands, and i didn’t have to set foot in New York, or wait for Nintendo’s roving band of child-stalking carnies to roll through my town and throw one of their “special events.”
When the game’s hotly awaited sequel, Pokemon Silver and Gold, was released, i not only went b-a-n-a-n-a-s and bought both carts, because (unlike Pokemon Go), no other grown-ass adults would play with me (and i’m not going to creepily stalk playgrounds asking children to trade with their Pokemon. What am i – Nintendo?), but i helped the company hawk their kid crack on Canadian teevee.
i poured everything i had into catching them all that summer, which was no mean feat: Silver and Gold introduced three fiendish pocket monsters known as the “legendary dogs.” i can’t remember the details precisely, but i do recall that at least one of the dogs would give you one chance to catch it before it teleported to a random location on the enormous map. If you accidentally killed a legendary dog (OOPS – i mean “made it faint”) [addendum: yeah, right], you had to be careful not to save the game, because you would never be able to encounter the creature on that cartridge again.
Pokemon games do have a special monster-catching ball called a Master Ball, but there was only one of them in each cart, and there were three dogs in the game. After i had burned through my Silver and Gold Master Balls to catch the first two dogs, i was left with the third. It took me weeks – WEEKS – of hard sweat and toil, hunched over my GameBoy Advance on a crowded commuter train, developing myopia and a lifelong humpback, forsaking my cardinal rule that when a video game stops being fun (which this one unquestionably had), i stop playing.
Finally, on one sunny afternoon as the train rolled into the station and i was the only passenger remaining on the upper deck, i caught the friggin’ dog.
i went to a Pokemon Centre and saved my game. i looked at my Pokedex. It was complete. But what of my life?
What of my life?
“And what of Silver and Gold’s exclusive Mew-like Pokemon ‘Celebi’,” you ask?
FUCK YOU AND YOUR FUCKING CELEBI.
Devilry in the City of Angels
To reward me for being a hardworking crybaby pain in the ass employee, YTV sent me on an annual business trip. That next summer, it was to E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. Now the news was that Nintendo was (predictably) releasing their next installment in the Pokemon franchise, to showcase their newfangled DS handheld.
The issue that i sniffed out immediately was this: Pokemon Silver and Gold were released for the Nintendo SP, a system which was backwards compatible (through a link cable or somesuch gimmick) with the original GameBoy cartridges. So you could trade Pokemon from your Red/Blue carts to the newer Silver/Gold carts. But there appeared to be no such capability permitting you to transfer your paltry (but in my case considerable) Pokemon collection to the new game. That means that you would have to RE-catch them all, including the hundred-odd new Pokemon, in the new title.
Was this true? And if so, what had my life become? Did Neil Armstrong, after walking on the moon, suddenly have his accomplishments stripped from him? Was it yet declared that Neil Armstrong did NOT walk on the moon? Or had we invented a newer, BIGGER moon, that presented a brand new challenge to him in his old age, now that he was well past his moonwalking prime?
Had they Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear down a DIFFERENT wall? Had anyone challenged Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to have ANOTHER dream?
i couldn’t believe that Nintendo, purveyor of the finest interactive children’s entertainment in the world for decades, would do something so callous. And on that trip to E3, with my YTV press credentials established, i traveled to Los Angeles to ask my question of the man himself: Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong and legendary game developer Shigeru “Shiggy” Miyamoto.
Miyamoto really didn’t have much to do with Pokemon. Executive Producer credit or something. But i would ask, and he would answer!
Get Shiggy With It
i can’t recall if that was the year that Nintendo unveiled the Wii (although i did attend E3 during that fiasco), but i did vividly remember being in a media scrum following Nintendo’s Law of Diminishing Returns press conference, where i not only came face-to-face (across a sea of faces) with Miyamoto, but i was also selected to ask him a question.
With my biggest, most pleading “say it ain’t so, Joe” eyes, i asked my question of the legendary game designer: will there be any way to transfer the 251 Pokemon from the earlier games into the new version?
Before the interpreter had finished translating the question, i knew what the answer would be. The man responsible for thousands of my life’s adventures regarded me with casual disinterest. “No,” he replied, through those twinkling, elvish eyes. “We don’t have any plans for that at this time.”
Bitter bile churned in my mouth, and from the back of the room i screamed “JUDAS!!”
In my mind. i screamed that totally in my mind. Security was pretty tight at E3 that year, and i find getting thrown bodily onto back-alley pavement somewhat uncomfortable.
Dust in the Razor Wind
And there you had it: my life’s work struck down in the blink of an eye. At that moment, i could see all my works dying on the vine. The saved game battery in my Pokemon cartridges would slowly fail. My Pokemon would all simultaneously “faint,” and my accomplishments would crumble like ashes and blow away in the cold Kanto wind.
So please, by all means: play Pokemon Go. Take up that mantle. Throw some pokeballs. Catch them all. i’ll sit here on my rocking chair on the porch, watching you all have your pokefun, with my shawl clasped to my throat, remembering those days when once, i too was a Pokemon trainer.