8:30 PM on 03.28.2015
For the first time since primary school, I had an intellectual crisis after an argument over Pokemon. How’s that for a bombshell first sentence? Now that I have your attention, let me horrify you: I hate Pokemon.
Only now you that you have been lured into this article with the sweet honey of outrage do you realize you’re stuck in a self-indulgent navel-gazing piece.
I also told a hideous lie, for I do not hate Pokémon. It would be more accurate to say that I don’t ‘get’ it as a franchise. I never had a firm grasp of the mechanics beyond a very basic level. I don’t even have a great deal of nostalgia for it and when I look at the newer designs, they just seem to be really dumb. It’s full of grinding, with hidden mechanics that require hours of spreadsheets to learn. I don’t get Pokémon.
I realized in the beautiful afterglow of the shouting match, however, that the above sentiment is also a giant lie. The truth is that I don’t want to get Pokémon. Over a decade and a bit, I decided that Pokémon was a thing beyond my understanding that I will never get. I’m hoping to use this article as therapy to perhaps understand why I came to that decision.
The last experience I had playing a mainstream Pokémon game was the moment I gave up on Pokémon Ruby in 2004. It was probably around the halfway point of the game. I had a team floating around level 40-50, I’d just beaten a particularly stiff gym battle and got to a new area. Suddenly, everything was kicking my ass harder than before by a fairly substantial margin. It didn’t take many more kerb-stompings for me to realize the awful truth. I had a horrible, badly optimized team. I’d been playing the game wrong yet skated through for hours on dumb luck.
All of my time was wasted; all of the level-grinding had been worthless. My Pokémon Ruby experience was like Baby’s Day Out: a child blissfully unaware that he was narrowly avoiding terrible pain and death at every turn. Unlike Baby’s Day Out (well, unlike most versions of Baby’s Day Out), reality caught up with the baby: he slipped from a very high place and had a terrible moment of clarity just before he hit the ground.
That bad experience might explain my adverse reaction to the mere concept of Pokemon. However, I’ve had experiences like that before. I enjoy hard games with permadeath. I’ve had games corrupt my saves and make me go back to the start. Hell, I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve had to restart thirty-plus hours of Crusader Kings because a new patch rendered my save incompatible. I was younger when Pokémon slapped me back to the start, of course, but I’d got back on the metaphorical horse before. Further complicating matters is the fact that my recollection of the event is being tainted by my current feelings.
I can be extremely impatient when it comes to particular kinds of grinding. When I look at a Pokémon title, I can only see myself on the following, insipid path: go into long grass, hit A button, exp bar goes up incrementally, numbers go up incrementally, unlock new monster portrait. JRPGs seem poor at giving you small rewards to prod you to keep grinding in the same way that the western titles I play do. That said, I acknowledge that my prejudice is certainly based on this exaggerated nightmare version of the game that I have constructed in my head. There’s a huge difference between simply acknowledging something as not being your thing and stubbornly declaring that it is too complex to even consider playing. Especially given that, as my friend pointed out, it’s a series readily mastered by young children.
Pokémon is a very aesthetically pleasing title. Many of the monster designs are total garbage (sometimes literally) but a larger portion strike the crucial balance between being cute, badass and endearingly goofy. As a general rule, Pokémon has fantastic art direction. I’ve played games that are extremely tedious and seriously mechanically flawed just for the aesthetic elements.
I’m reaching the alarming conclusion that I just enjoy being contrarian. There’s something darkly fulfilling about being a bit of a dick to something that you perceive as having hurt/excluded you. I’ve been told I’m a snob and a secret hipster, I think there’s possibly something to that. It’s not pleasant to acknowledge that I might wholly embrace the same sense of smug arrogance that I readily condemn other people for. Even then, I’m not entirely sure that being an asshole explains developing this inexplicable notion that Pokémon was something I’d never understand.
The more benign possibility is that I’m over-thinking my tastes changing as I’m getting older; a side effect of thirty looming ever closer. Though if the latter means acknowledging that thirty is approaching, I think I might stick with the one where I’m sort of a cunt.