Ten year olds are idiots. Let’s face facts – it is a miracle that any of us are sitting here today, instead of having perished during the age where the only thing preventing us from chugging down a gallon of dish detergent was a cartoon frowny face.
I mean, how is it possible that I – a rational adult intelligent enough to understand at least half of the pseudo-philosophical nonsense Matthew McConaughey spouts on any given episode of True Detective
– was at one point dumb enough to believe that the secret to unlocking Mew in Pokémon Red
was held by an abandoned truck?
Yes, the truck. You know the truck. The
truck. The seemingly innocuous automobile sitting outside the S.S. Anne in the first Pokémon
games. The harmless scrap of scenery that, through a combination of schoolyard rumors and Internet conspiracy theories, became the key to the most coveted pocket monster in the original 151. The truck that became my white whale, my magic bullet, my singular obsession in my pursuit of catching ‘em all.
If I had to point to a single thing to define my gaming past – something that encapsulates all the wonder, imagination, and childlike stupidity of my earliest videogame memories – then it is without a doubt that godforsaken truck.
On its surface, Pokémon’s infamous truck is just one of gaming’s many silly urban legends. The idea that a player could catch the legendary Mew merely by shoving aside a car is absurd, even by the standards of a series whose central conceit involves magical monster fighting. I mean, think about it. Mew is essentially Pokémon’s Missing Link, an ancient creature whose existence has spanned millennia and whose genetic makeup forms the basis for all Pokémon life. An abandoned truck is an abandoned truck. You’ve probably driven by hundreds of them, left behind on the side of highways with plastic bags hanging out of their windows. The only “mysteries” those things are capable of containing are wasp’s nests and hobos.
But ten year olds aren’t normally ones to consult logic when confronted with ridiculous rumors. They have yet to be spurned by the harsh reality of life, their boundless capacity for hope yet to be ground to dust by the universe’s indifferent cruelty. They don’t know any better, because they are idiots. Which is why when I heard that Mew was hiding underneath that truck, my initial response wasn’t skepticism, but absolute conviction. Of course
it was under there. In a game that limited its scenic flourishes to trees, patches of grass, and the occasional fence, that simple pickup stuck out like an extravagant sore thumb. Why else would it be there, other than to hide Pokémon
’s most spectacular secret?
While I can’t recall exactly where and when I learned of Mew’s rumored location, I do remember the knowledge basically transforming me into Russell Crowe’s character from A Beautiful Mind
. I was a child possessed, deciphering coded messages in a vast conspiracy of my own creation. This was back in 1998, before you could just hop on an entire digital encyclopedia dedicated to Pokémon
and bring up an article that helpfully informed you that the truck theory was a bunch of bullshit.
I had to sift through countless seedy message boards, Yahoo! email groups, and eye-searing Angelfire fan sites, chasing down every half-baked lead in search of the truth.
Because, as you may know if your childhood was as consumed by the search for Mew as mine was, testing the rumor wasn’t as easy as swimming over to the truck and giving it the ol’ heave ho. The truck was inaccessible. Players reached the S.S. Anne before they had the Surf and Strength HMs, which were necessary for the swimming and heave ho-ing, respectively. After they set sail on ship, they couldn’t return to that area of the game, as it was forever blocked off by some punk sailor that turned trainers around if they tried to walk past him. Thus, the trick was finding a way to get back to the dock after the S.S. Anne had already left.
I can tell you with the utmost certainty that if I had dedicated the time I spent trying to get back to that dock on my fourth grade school work like I was supposed to, I would not be sitting in a Panera Bread writing my umpteenth blog post about Pokémon
. I’d be a Zuckerberg-esque billionaire, swimming in his Scrooge McDuck money pool and smoking cigars made out of poor people’s defaulted bank loans. Learn your geometry, kids. It’s important.
But such is the sacrifice one must make in their quest for rare Pokémon. In hindsight, the whole endeavor smacks of childish ignorance, as I wasted hours testing every crackpot method of accessing that truck. I tried everything shy of defeating the Elite Four 365 times, which even I knew had to be an anonymous jerk’s attempt to screw with a bunch of little kids’ heads. Though, granted, I only reached that conclusion after seeing how many times I could beat the Elite Four in a single Saturday, and falling woefully short of 365.
At the time, however, my efforts didn’t seem trivial. They felt important. As if I were an intrepid sleuth unraveling Kanto’s greatest mysteries. Because if there’s one thing videogames do better than any other form of media, it’s secrets. Sure, books can have hidden meanings and movies can have shadows that look suspiciously like suicidal munchkins
, but videogame secrets are more tangible. They’re characters for you to unlock, or bonus stages for you to explore, or all-powerful bosses at the end of back-breaking side quests. And as a kid, before you’ve been burned out on cynicism and knowing better, they take on a greater sense of importance than some measly additional content. They’re a personal discovery, as if you chipped away at a part of the world that no one else has ever seen. They make you feel like motherfucking Magellan, charting new territory in an electronic frontier.
So when I finally was able to reach the truck – through a convoluted process of saving and rebooting in a specific spot while my trainer walked in a specific direction, which somehow allowed me to surf over the sailor standing guard – I wasn’t crushed by the inevitable lack of Mew. It wasn’t a harsh life lesson in disappointment and lowered expectations. I simply decided the truck was a dead end, while the real secret to finding the mythical Pokémon remained beyond our mortal grasp. My long, arduous journey had been worth the effort, as I wouldn’t have been satisfied until I found out the truth for myself. Besides, finding a way into an inaccessible area of the map was a minor victory in its own right.
And my failure didn’t prevent me from tackling similarly ludicrous rumors in other games. I spent just as many hours hunting down Mew as I did trying to acquire the Triforce in Ocarina of Time
, or figuring out how to collect the Stop ‘n’ Swop items in Banjo-Kazooie
, or eventually turning my Pokémon trainer’s sights on how to catch Missingno.
I divided my time between actually playing videogames and scouring AOL message boards for ways to reveal their innermost secrets. My Nintendo 64 and Game Boy weren’t just consoles – they were elaborate puzzle boxes, and I was intent on divining their every solution.
As much as I want to write off my grandiose investigations as the work of a dumb kid with too few friends and too much time on his hands, the fact is that nothing has informed my current gaming habits more than that maddening truck. To this day, I adore any game that can make me feel like a ten year old chasing wild Internet myths again. My most-played title on Steam is The Binding of Isaac
, a Zelda-inspired labyrinth of steadily unlocking secrets. For me, Dark Souls
biggest draw wasn’t its punishing difficulty, but the game’s cryptic mystique, where every new area and boss felt imbued with the sense of a terrible discovery. And for all of its supposed pretentions, I maintain that Fez
is one of the best platformers ever made, because it nails an atmosphere of greater meaning, its obtuse puzzles, Tetris-inspired symbols, and strange collectibles hinting that there’s much more to the pixilated universe than the game lets on.
My gaming past is one shrouded in secrecy and stupidity. I still don’t know who the hell puts Mew under a truck, but in a way, I’ve spent my adult gaming life trying to figure out the answer. I’m enamored with the unique ability of videogames to contain hidden rewards for the most dedicated explorers. And as I grow ever more jaded in my later years, it can be nice to remember a time where something as simple as an 8-bit truck could inspire such passionate speculation.
Even if it did coincide with a time where I had to be actively told not to jam toys into electrical sockets.
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