It doesn’t seem too long ago that I was presented with a new game for my gigantic brick of a GameBoy in third grade. It looked cool enough, there was some kind of dragon on the front, and you can only beat “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan” so many times.
It took two days for me to become completely hooked on Pokémon, and I didn’t look back. As I traversed the mystical land of Kanto, assembling my team of animalistic assassins to do my bidding, I grew up with my Pokémon. Don’t get me started on any evolutions — it was like sending a son to college… not that I have a son or any children for that matter. They just level up so fast!
Some of my friends had taken a liking to the game, and that was fun for a while. They’d want to battle, and I’d casually lay waste to their sloppily-envisioned lineups, blitzkrieging them with “thunderbolts” and “flamethrowers” that would leave them on the floor in a fetal position that appropriately resembled a failed “defense curl.”
And if I beat up on friends from the real world, those of digital lineage didn’t stand a chance. Youngster Ben came up to me saying “I like shorts! They’re comfy and easy to wear!”* While I am inclined to agree with him, his Rattatta and Ekans left much to be desired.
I dove deeper and deeper into my PokéObsession. After beating the elite four, becoming champion, collecting all 151 Pokémon and leveling them up to level 100, I wondered what else there was to do. With nothing left to live for, I considered committing virtual suicide and catching Missingno, but a ray of light shined on a new region. Johto needed to be explored, and I’d sooner be a Kadabra with no spoons than not take on this humbling task.
Do you remember when Charizard saw Magmar on Cinnabar Island, and the fire of competition lit in his eyes after realizing there was finally an opponent worthy of his time? That was me, each time a new generation and region were released.
In becoming a Pokémon master, my PokéExploits became known throughout my school as my PokéRivals had difficulty controlling their PokéJealousy. One poor kid, let’s just call him Blue, even left our lunch table because he lost to me five times in a row. It was like a Diglett facing a Dragonite — no chance.
Years went by, and my compatriots started to take interest in other things. Some weird cult developed for these things called Yu-Gi-Oh!s and other boys started liking girls. I came to realize I was now the old master, forgotten by most but occasionally chanced upon by some young trainer trying to make his mark on a world that, unbeknownst to him, already belonged to me.
These young trainers were often third graders that I was in charge of at summer camp. I daresay I desecrated them all.
Still, in actually protecting the Pokéworld from all sorts of devastation, and at the very least uniting all peoples from the Whirlpool Islands (those swimmers needed some sort of support group or they’d all drown), I gleamed a sense of self that could not be better achieved had I used “meditate” several turns in a row. I had confidence. Sure, I had never kissed a girl yet, but if you needed to know what level Jynx learns “Ice Punch” (level 31, Red/Blue/Yellow), I had you covered.
Because that is what these games give us, isn’t it? The self-assurance to know that we can beat every last level, that we can be good at something even if it’s as innocent a game as Pokémon. And so when we chance upon the cards or even the GameBoy cartridges when we’re back at our parents’ houses, years later, digging through the debris and detritus that our childhood rooms store like tombs, finding these relics, these things that were so very much an identity marker for who we were as children isn’t something to be ashamed of. I was a Pokémon master, and while I can’t put that on my resumé today, it served its purpose throughout my youth. These games, these allegiances, and these characters all gave us all something to cling to, something to care about.
Sometimes I wonder what the actual lifespan of a Pokémon is, and when I’ll have to spread the ashes of the first of my old team at the tower in Lavender Town. Perhaps they’ll outlive me. Perhaps they’ll outlive us all. (Ok, probably not because there would be a huge population issue if that were the case, there’s definitely not enough tall grass.)
I don’t require much out of life. I prefer the simple things. Compassion, respect, and total domination are the virtues I live life by. If the day comes for me to put the Pokéballs back on the belt, I’ll probably go into business. The power plant in Kanto has been abandoned forever and I’m still fairly confused as to how several regions are actually getting power delivered to their homes.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s never give up on your dreams. With some good friends at your side, there’s nothing that can stop you. You’ll have some great times along the way — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve blacked out and somehow wound up at the Pokémon center. Keep pushing until you get to the top. I’ll see you there, and maybe if you’re good enough, we’ll link battle for old times’ sake.
*I found out after some time that Youngster Ben is, in fact, an asshole. If he offers you any super potions, don’t take them. Huge scam.