The little old one-bedroom apartment where I live by myself has very thin walls, and the windows have drafty casements. I can hear everything that goes on around me, such as some neighbor’s fifth daily play of ‘All of the Lights,’ or when some other neighbor is washing dishes by her own open window.
In the middle of the day on a Monday my neighbors could probably hear me yell ‘Girafarig.’
I didn’t mean for them to hear me. It’s just I was watching episodes of the Pokémon cartoon streaming on the Cartoon Network website, and before commercials they show a silhouette of a Pokemon and you’re supposed to guess who it is. A chorus of voices cheers out, “WHO’S THAT POKEMON?” and this time I cheered back, because I recognized the shape of Girafarig, which as you might guess is a fictional animal that looks pretty much like a giraffe with a cute face except its back half is black and has a large bulb on the end of its tail and the bulb has a face too. Giraffe-a-rig.
If you live in a city like New York you eventually stop worrying about who hears you and sees you doing what. Because there are so many people that you practically live in public, the idea of privacy is an illusion. But this time I felt kind of self-conscious, because most noises neighbors hear one another doing (cooking, vacuuming, music, television, acts of intimacy) are things that seem within the realm of normalcy, while being really excited about fictional animals is not.
But people who are Pokémon fans trade eagerly in the currency of interest in fictional animals – sometimes literally, as the primary object of the video game (the universe of which forms the spine of the ongoing 400-plus episode television show) is to “catch ‘em all,” to complete a virtual rolodex of available Pokémon. For the Pokédex. That’s really what it’s called.
And, I mean, you don’t just collect them. If I were to explain it in completely neutral, factual terms, it’d go like this: You play the role of a Pokémon trainer who leaves home to capture and raise wild Pokémon and strengthen them through battles with other trainers around the world. Different Pokémon have different elemental properties – on a basic level, fire, water and grass affinities, for example, that make them more effective when they are placed in combat against Pokémon weak to their affinity, like fire Pokémon being vulnerable against water Pokémon or water Pokémon being vulnerable against electric Pokémon. The object of every Pokémon game is to journey through the world assembling a very strong team of Pokémon whose abilities have been carefully selected during their statistically-complex growth process to complement one another so well that ideally they can defeat other people’s teams through that careful selection and through your wisdom as a strategic player. Ideally you also manage to find and acquire rare or ‘legendary’ Pokémon that are only available to find under certain circumstances or at the completion of certain challenges.