Never Too Old to Grow Young…

It strikes me suddenly as unthinkable that I can have maintained two consecutive blogs over a period of five years without having indulged in anything more substantial than a throwaway reference to one of my favourite subjects. It seems even more of a preposterous oversight on my part given how manifestly fond I am of admitting to guilty and/or masochistic pleasures. In fact, anyone coming to this blog without the tiniest fragment of verifiable knowledge pertaining to my doings, would be forgiven for thinking me a pathologically masochistic exhibitionist. Hopefully the following will go some way towards dissipating any such inferences; after all, I suppose a legitimate pathologically masochistic exhibitionist would probably be busy flagellating himself publicly, and therefore disinclined to write a short personal essay on Pokémon.

This choice of subject matter may seem surprising. After all, I am an educated young man – or, at least, I have a degree, and can therefore qualify as such on a superficial level. I daresay that, among those whom I might rather pretentiously refer to as my ‘contemporaries’, there are many who would laugh at me for such a childish preoccupation. I would, of course, challenge them there and then to a Pokémon battle. Failing that, pistols at dawn or some sort of eating contest might suffice, however narrowly.

I should take a moment here to point out that, when I refer to Pokémon – in this instance and in every instance hereafter, except where noted – I am referring not to the anime, nor to any of the assorted exercises in anaemia Nintendo have pedalled as spin-offs over the years, but strictly to those games following the hallowed format of the original 1996 releases. If all that sounds to you like the pedantic ramblings of a tedious reactionary then evidently you have never deluded yourself into giving a shit about something miraculously trivial, for which I pity you.

For anyone of a certain age with a predisposition towards time-consuming solitary pursuits, Pokémon requires no explanation, and even someone who finds themselves outwith these thoroughly democratic parameters will probably be more familiar with Pokémon – at least in its capacity as a multi-media franchise – than almost any other existing specimen of global pop-culture. But it is only the former group who can fully appreciate the importance of that most crucial and lasting aspect of the Pokémon phenomenon: the games. I provide here a brief account of their genesis for the sake of tidiness.

The first three games were released in Japan in 1996: two in February (Pocket Monsters Red and Pocket Monsters Green) and one in October (Pocket Monsters Blue). Two North American releases, gameplay fundamentally unaltered but with some changes to the graphics, followed in 1998. These games, entitled Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, became the best-selling role-playing games of all time.

Since that time I have dedicated a not unembarrassing number of my waking hours to these games and their subsequent incarnations. While at university, and particularly during the summer holidays, I was almost as likely to be found playing Pokémon as reading some impressively thick Victorian novel. Even during my last few weeks as an undergraduate, occupied as I was with researching and writing my dissertation, I managed to fit in some frivolous Pokémon-raising. That this should be the case is perhaps indicative of the impulses which drove me to do so.

As much as the following paragraph is about to contradict me, I thoroughly enjoyed writing my dissertation. However, as legions of students will attest, it is a singularly demanding enterprise. I’m not too modest to admit that I never doubted my brain, but there were still times when I experienced reservations. Would my resolve last? Had I done enough research? Was my argument comprehensible to anyone but myself? Would I be hamstrung by the relative sanity of my marker? You will understand why something as familiar and amiable as a video game was of such help on those lonely, scholarly vigils, which frequently lasted into the early hours of the morning. Despite being in a near-permanent state of mental convalescence, by playing Pokémon for fifteen minutes or so, I was able to recharge enough to carry on writing.

Beyond the element of familiarity, there are, of course, other reasons why these games are, above many others, so timelessly enjoyable. The dialogue is often hilarious, if unintentionally so. The premise of the game – essentially consistent for seventeen years – of a young boy leaving home to travel the world in the company of dangerous monsters it is his job to befriend, is too ludicrous to be anything other than superb. And the depth of the world this boy inhabits is astonishing; particularly in the earlier generations, the Pokémon inhabiting it were often based on real-world creatures, both actual and fantastical, from foxes and tortoises, to dragons and the mythical Japanese baku.

Anyway, it’s silly but I’m rather fond of it.

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