In 1999 I can’t really say that as a 9 year old kid that there was really much that I needed back then. If I was to write down a list of necessities in order of importance, it would probably be something like this:
3) Food and water
I am sure that most other kids at the time also had a similar opinion on how important Pokémon was. I don’t really remember life in any way lacking before it came along, but once it did, it was like some crazy drug that became entwined in our very beings extremely quickly. We were addicted, and nothing would fulfill the need for that fix.
It started off with fairly humble origins though. I vaguely remember seeing Pokémon Red and Blue for the Gameboy sitting on the shelves in Woolworth’s. It was with an equal measure of vagueness that I gave an internal nod of appreciation to the watercolour picture on the front of red, that was some kind of dragon. But aside from that, I don’t remember even picking it up to see what it was about. It was only when a friend mentioned it to me at school that I really started to show interest. He had blue version and I remember him telling me about how many monsters he had caught.
It was another couple of months before I bought the game for myself. My parents were doing a stall at a car boot sale (flea market to non UK readers!) and I think I had been encouraged to sell some of my old Action Man figures, probably to free up some space as it’s likely I didn’t play with them anymore. I think I sold quite a few and I was talking to my Dad about what I was going to do with the money and he had heard on the radio about how the Pokémon game was pretty revolutionary because you could trade between Gameboys using a link cable. So it was my Dad that encouraged me to get it. Naturally I chose the version with the dragon on the front.
It didn’t take long for me to really fall in love with the game. What wasn’t to love. With the primary objective being to collect monsters, make ’em battle, and defeat all of the other trainers throughout the land, I don’t think it could have possibly appealed to me more. That is not to say that I thought it was a perfect game back then. I didn’t truly understand the idea of the strategy aspect of the game, of training every single Pokémon in your team. I kinda just stuck to my favourite, and had one super powered one, and the rest were a load of crap. I ended up accidentally breaking my Gameboy Color because of this. I was just west of Viridian City, on the way to battle the elite four and I had to fight the rival trainer one last time. He kept beating me, time and time again and I kind of threw my arms in the air in frustration and my Gameboy shot out of my hands, hit the wall behind me, bounced off and landed on the floor. As soon as I picked it up I saw that the screen had cracked, and the display underneath was truly fu**ed. It look like a splodge of leaking ink. There was a steady few seconds of realisation before the tears started and I ran to the bottom of the stairs sobbing to shout up to my Mum that I had ‘dropped’ my Gameboy and broke it. I did get a another one eventually, and to this date, I don’t think I have ever treated anything so delicately and with such reverence.
The games were only the tip of the iceberg though. A hugely successful animated series that loosely followed the game came out, followed by Pokémon yellow version came out, which was nearly exactly the same game as red and blue, just with things added from the TV series and the inclusion of having Pikachu following you around everywhere. With the TV series came such things as the TOMY collectable plastic figures, A trading card game from Wizards of the Coast, electronic toys from Tiger, Heinz Pokémon spaghetti, Pokémon Blastoise Hydropump douche, Pokémon paint stripper, Pokémon coffins, and Pokémon cigarettes. The last four I am obviously talking shit, though in this day and age I wouldn’t be surprised if they exist somewhere out there. There was a Pokémon aeroplane for Gods sake. My point is that much like the Ninja Turtles, Dinosaurs and the Bubonic Plague, it was at one point everywhere.
Not everybody seemed to collect the figures (I loved them and wish I still had them all, they usually came in a pack of two or three with either a stupid masterball or weird plastic Gameboy toy with pogs in) but everyone seemed to collect the cards. Friendships were lost over them, physical fights occurred because of them, and people turned into thieves because of them. They were actually like narcotics! Like everything in this post, I will probably take look at stuff more individually at a later date.
My Dad was an avid flyer of radio controlled aeroplanes, and on one of the visits to the model shop in Leominster, I noticed there were Pokémon trading card game starter sets on the counter. I think they were about £7.99 if memory serves me. I really wanted one but didn’t have pocket money and I remember Mum asking me if I was to have one, which I would have wanted and I enthusiastically pointed out the Brushfire deck. I went to the back of the shop to look at Lego and when I came back, a deck was missing from the display so I kinda suspected I was going to get it. I was overjoyed to open it Christmas morning. My Dad and I kind of simplified the rules and split the deck in two and actually played it a few days later. I think I was the only kid at school who had come close to some semblance of playing the actual game.
When the movie came out in the cinema, I went to see it with my Uncle. I thought it was just the most awesome thing that with the ticket you got given a promotional Pokémon card. To me that was way more desirable than a shiny holographic card. My Uncle gave me his, so I came out with a Promo Electabuzz and Dragonite. A few weeks a friend was going to the cinema to see it as his birthday treat, and his parents paid for his friends to all go as well. I took a pocketful of other cards with me and ended up managing to get the other two promotional cards in the set. I dunno why, but they will always mean more to me than the other cards, probably just because it was the first time I had managed to complete a set of something.
Unfortunately, a few weeks later I was outside of my house and a boy who was a friend of friends told me that they weren’t legit cards, that they were fakes and that I was ruining the hobby. I protested this and he ended up shoving me. I ended up going inside all teary. It didn’t stop my appreciation of them anyway.
It amazes me that Pokémon is still a thing today. I haven’t played much past Fire Red and Leaf Green, as I didn’t want to have to catch 6547,000 Pokémon that seem to exist now. I could deal with the original 151, then the 250. Nowadays the ‘Gotta Catch ’em All’ tag has long since been dropped, as it is practically impossible to catch them all. I wouldn’t have the time now to catch ’em all in the current generation of video games. With all my collecting of other junk, having to go to work and writing posts on remembering Pokémon as kid, there really wouldn’t be enough hours in the day. And I wouldn’t want to if I did have the time, as I don’t particularly much like the look of Pokémon these days, when they are shaped like ice-cream cones. Someone told me the other day there is even one shaped like a set of keys, though I don’t know how true that is. I know there was some questionable Pokémon when I was kid, but I am too old and cynical to deal with ice-cream Pokémon.
However with my rant aside, for something that to me seems very over saturated and nothing like what made me love it as a kid, it really must have something still appealing in it for kids to still be buying the cards and the toys to this day.
Of course, seemingly contradictory to what I just said about not wanting to catch ’em all, I am going to have to mention Pokémon Go, the new app that has recently been released. It seems like everyone I know around my age has gotten on board with it. What I love about it is that so far it feels as though it is catered towards the people that grew up playing the original games. I haven’t encountered a single ice-cream yet! Just the regular old fashioned Pidgeys and Weedles. Pokémon is 20 years old and I find that very difficult to comprehend. It certainly doesn’t feel like twenty years. I don’t accidentally throw games consoles into the air these days and break them, and don’t get shoved for owning supposed fake merchandise of anything. But the fact that I can talk to friends about which Pokémon I have just caught, or can get excited about my Charmander evolving, it really is a testament to how versatile and adaptive the series has been. There is enough familiarity with Pokémon Go to hit the nostalgia glands, but so much ‘new’ that it is exciting. And it encourages you to get out and explore new places like my little Pokémon trainer sprite did in Pokémon red many years ago. The only pleasant exception being so far I have only encountered one Zubat.
I might still catch ’em all. All the ones that matter anyway.