The last Pokemon game I remember playing was Gold edition. That cartridge rode inside the bright green casing of its Gameboy Color for practically its entire lifespan, partners in crime. The crime? Distracting me from my childhood. I was an obese kid from a poor family. We did not have much, and what little money I could scrape together through birthdays and Christmas I used to buy video games.
However, I couldn’t just blow this rare chance to actually own a game instead of merely renting or borrowing. A purchase had to be something I'd keep playing, it had to last, it had to be something I could sink hundreds of hours into, take over to my friend's houses, it had to be a game that was popular, and that people had a modicum of respect for in an era where games were still kitschy, a nerd's niche.
I needed Pokemon.
That game got me through some rough periods. Spending the summer being watched by my grandparents. Nanny, my grandmother had Emphysema, and spent the majority of the time unable to speak, watching the price is right, and soap operas. I feel bad saying that it was boring, but as a kid that was certainly more macabre than the wide-spread notion of camp outs and water gun fights. If I didn't have Pokemon to retreat into that summer would have consisted of spending every day watching a kind old woman wither away while cancer devoured her lungs. I was eight.
Instead I was exploring the Johto region, forming an emotional attachment to every Pokemon in my party. An attachment that has kept me from deleting the save to this very day. As sad as it sounds, they were my friends.
But as I grew older my family situation began to improve. There was more money, certain bad habits my parents got caught up in were kicked, I lost the weight that kept me bound to my imagination out of fear and comfort. I grew up, I ended up going to college after high school, in order to pay for it I work a full time job at an infamous retail chain. In the between years Pokemon gave way to a minor World of Warcraft addiction, a temporary Battlefield craze, and access to the gaming computer I always dreamed of, which brought with it a host of affordable single player games, and RTS's through Steam that I wouldn’t have been able to afford before.
Yet as I grew older I had friends that maintained their relationship with Pokemon. Friends who didn’t abandon the series in a sea of other digital distractions like I did. As I was playing a game that in my teenage arrogance I saw as “far superior”, games like Fallout, Skyrim, WoW, or any PC RPG essentially, I lost sight of the magic, and I actively questioned people who could still lose themselves to a colorful, pixelated dogfight simulator.
However, with the release of Pokemon X and Y a close friend upgraded to Nintendo's new slab of a 2DS, and that left her no longer needing her DS lite. She took the opportunity to force the old handheld on me, and I begrudgingly started my first Pokemon journey since middle school in the Unova region of Pokemon White.
So much had changed, and yet, as is often said about bikes, I don't think one ever truly forgets how to play a game they've sunk hundreds of hours into as a kid. The basic mechanics were still the same, you play to the elements, get a Pokemon in the red before attempting to catch them, make sure your party doesnt have any weaknesses to the gym leader's Pokemon, it's all simple stuff I'm sure anyone who has played these games knows by heart.
But what I seemed to forget is how unmistakably brutal these games can be at times. When I was younger I would often “cheat”, which is what it seemed like to me at the time. In MMO terms, what I did was grind. Since I had no other games to play, and a desperate desire to escape into my little green box, I could spend dozens of hours making sure I had several Pokemon on hand who were completely overpowered for whichever region I was going into.
Now, with time at a premium, I don’t have the patience, or attention span to spend half an hour grinding one level for my juggernaut, one-hitter-quitter Tyranitar. Little did I know then that I was robbing myself of the games biggest current draw, its unrelenting difficulty. I'm not comparing it to Dark Souls, a roguelike, or the old school NES masochism simulators. But Pokemon does have a way of lulling you into a comfort zone, then smacking you silly with a gym leader who has mastered what would be a wall-locking 100 Hit combo in a fighting game.
I'm still continuing on my journey, but I must admit that I was wrong those years I gave Pokemon the cold shoulder. I turned my back on an old friend, but, in doing so, I gained perspective. I realized that somehow Nintendo found a formula that can make a 10 year old forget his problems, and make a 20 year old feel like a 10 year old again, if only for a little while.
For that, I thank you Nintendo, Game Freak, Pokemon. I look forward to another 10 years, but this time I plan on doing so with you at my side...
In my pocket.