I held my Gameboy Color tight that Christmas, flipping the switch to that yellow cartridge that led me into the world of Pokemon. Hours passed and I finally saved my game. PLAY TIME: 3:47. That couldn’t be three hours and forty-seven minutes, I thought. Surely, I’d only been playing for three minutes and forty-seven seconds… But it was true. I looked up from the now glaring (this was before backlit displays) Gameboy screen as the sun was going down. I entered a fanbase that continues to this day, with Pokemon experiences like mine happening across the nation, maybe even at this exact moment.
But what makes the Pokemon series captivating and timeless? The formula of Pokemon is simple: catch monsters, train them, and battle them against other monsters, repeat. To someone unfamiliar with the franchise, the notion may sound loopy. Literally: an endless loop.
If you reduced Pokemon to these simple parts, the game would still be fun to play, but each game features its own internal plot and struggle. One thing becomes clear early on in both the television series and the handheld game: there are those that intend to exploit Pokemon for their own selfish needs, i.e. committing crimes or to fulfill some twisted superiority complex, and then there’s the “you” character, who treats Pokemon with respect and as friends.
I recognize the Pokemon as fantasy creatures, but that doesn’t keep the relationships with them from being any less valid than those of pets or other wildlife in the real world. It is believed in some circles of psychology that interactions with our pets are merely projections of our own emotional state. If we say, “My dog is depressed,” that really means, “I am depressed and I see it as a manifestation in my dog.” While I don’t entirely agree with this, we don’t know the full range of emotions animals can feel (assuming they can feel at all.) And wouldn’t it be better to assume that animals can feel, and be right, versus assuming animals can’t feel, and be wrong. Forming relationships in virtual worlds with fantasy creatures very well could’ve stunted my development with the real world (the jury is still out on this,) but I do think that playing Pokemon games taught me to treat creatures of all type with respect and not to be used as fodder for some selfish aim.
Even though I haven’t picked up a Pokemon game in over a decade, I still wonder what else there is to explore. What is the prevailing evil and how will it be thwarted? Of course, nothing will be quite like my first adventure and I know I can never be a kid again, but something remains when considering the time I spent in that world. Like a good book or movie, the Pokemon universe is one I’m glad I stepped into and one I won’t let go any time soon.
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