But I wouldn’t want to explain it in completely neutral, factual terms. Reading the last paragraph, you probably glazed slightly, switched to another tab in your browser, or chose that moment to start skimming the rest of this article in a disengaged way. So instead I would probably explain it like, “oh, it’s like… it’s just this stupid thing. It’s a way to kill time.” I would pause and say something like, “I mean, they’re really cute. It’s just fun, I dunno.”
Everyone has moments in life where they become briefly aware of how substantial is the wall between themselves and other people. Saying you’re playing Pokémon to someone who idly inquires about your portable video game system and then goes “isn’t that a kids’ game,” prompting you to try to explain it’s really like an all-ages thing and it’s actually pretty complicated to where adults can still be engaged with it, is generally one of those times.
Maybe if I were in a generous or energetic mood, I’d say something proudly defiant. There’s that popular line of thinking that it’s progressive to loudly proclaim your eternal childhood, under the assumption that true maturity and self-possession come with fully owning your interests, rather than worrying about how old you are ‘allowed’ to be to enjoy them or what society thinks. In accordance with that philosophy I should find true happiness by yelling ‘Girafarig’ in my apartment as loud as I want, whenever I want, and when someone goes “are you actually yelling about Pokémon,” I should go, “fuck yes I’m yelling about Pokémon,” and they would admire my uniqueness, self-ownership and timeless zeal for living.
There are Pokémon events where if you go to certain stores you will be able to download a rare Pokémon for a limited time. If there is one I want, I go. When I go to the big, eternal-childhood paradise of the Times Square Toys R’ Us, where there are life-size Harry Potter LEGO sculptures, the miles of realistic stuffed toys call out to me with their plastic eyes as I walk by. When there is a bin full of stuffed dogs that are all the same, I have to resist the urge to buy one so that it will feel special.
I go down the escalator past the gigantic ferris wheel into the part of the store where they sell video games (it proclaims GAME ZONE or something, I think) and I stand in line with a lot of 8 year olds holding portable Nintendo systems, with their parents who have brought them to get the rare Pokemon being offered. It is loud and kids are grabbing at things they want to buy.
I mean, really, I’m not usually the only non-child in the room, but I still picture myself turning to someone’s mother and explaining, with an abashed expression, “it’s for work.” She would look at me with the dawn of understanding in her eyes, and say, “oh, what do you do,” and I would say, “I am a video game journalist,” and she would nod in total comprehension, even admiration. Maybe she would even tell her son, as we approached the store assistant for download instructions, “let the lady go first; she’s working.”
However, that wouldn’t happen even if I did capitulate to self-consciousness, to the reflexive urge to explain myself to strangers. Most people, even if they understand how one could make a living writing about Hollywood or movies, don’t understand how someone can make a living writing about video games. You can, but as Pokémon games have not meaningfully evolved their design since the late 1990s, there isn’t much to say about them. It’s not work. I go to those things because I want to, I guess. It’s not like I go to all of them, either.
Although playing Pokémon games on a practical level mostly involves hours upon hours of walking around in circles in tall grass until a Pokémon jumps out so you can fight it, each game does have a loose story, and sweetly naïve dialog. The games are about people partnering with mysterious creatures to find success and happiness in the big, big world. The games’ paper-doll child characters live in a universe of ever-present possibility; Pokémon is about battling, but no one ever gets really hurt. They learn life lessons on understanding and communication among different groups and cultures, and the value of friendship, teamwork and loyalty.
Maybe if you’re the sort of person who still fleetingly considers mass-manufactured stuffed toys as in need of rescue, something in you will be attracted to the kind of game where someone shouts to their fantastical friend-for-life, I choose you. Or maybe if you’re the kind of person who feels foreign and amorphous in crowds of parents who you often imagine to be giving you strange looks, there is something appealing about cute faces, two-dimensional smiles, and endless digital lands of repetition.
In the beginning of the newest Pokémon game, Professor Juniper tells the player character, a kid who is about to set off with two dear friends on their rite-of-passage Pokémon-training trip, some words of advice.
“On this journey, you will meet countless Pokémon, and many people who think in different ways!” She says. “Through all these meetings, I deeply hope you find something that you alone can treasure.”
I mean, it’s just kind of this cute thing. It’s fun.