What is it about a videogame aimed primarily at children that appeals to me so deeply? Answering that question in detail will require going through specific experiences, so let’s summarize Pokémon, and specifically LeafGreen as the culmination of everything I had wanted from other videogames as a kid from a pure gameplay perspective. 150+ playable characters with individual strengths and weaknesses? In a saccharine, idyllic world? The games appeal to me most when I’m feeling unwell.
Let’s start with my first punk rock moment of childhood depravity.
I was in middle school when Pokémon Blue released. I was as unpopular of a kid as could be possible, not having had any long-term friends that could have ironed out any of my eccentricities. I casually had a group of acquaintances that would tolerate my annoying tendencies enough to include me in their talks about videogames and anime. Otherwise, I hated it there, I hated school, and saw studying as the only way to get ahead in life – and out of school. Then I started playing Pokémon Blue.
This one evening, I had just tunneled through Diglett’s Cave with Tank.
Tank was my soon-to-be Blastoise. Before the games released, there was a multimedia marketing campaign that could have only happened before the Internet became popular with everyone, where these bright and colorful characters showed up everywhere. On TV, radio, VHS tapes, stickers, and with a cartoon booking prime-time after-school time slots. It was like they’d learned everything about the successful marketing techniques of 80s merchandise-driven shows like MOTU, or to a lesser degree TMNT, and amped everything up. They’d figured out that you had to have a reason to buy them all, so why not catch them?
This all wasn’t consciously going through my mind at the time.
Instead, I had reached a point where I could save my game and go to bed early like a good student, or I could keep playing. My homework was as meaningless as it had always been but I had diligently done it all to keep my grades as good as possible. I kept playing. That moment might be more important than, say, hearing Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the International Fountain at the Seattle Center later in high school on a school trip, in the development of myself as who I am today because hearing that song was pure coincidence. It could have just as easily been “Rusty Cage” or closer to “Got The Life.” Issues was popular a year later. Those are external happenstances from people spinning music they liked.
Choosing to continue playing Pokémon Blue was voluntary recalcitrance.
Although I voluntarily chose to stay and soak in the punk rock that day, or however you want to call grunge, like those inside the fountain soaked up the water, the choice was almost not my own to hear it. Yes, I could have walked away or zoned it out, however, I was thrust into that world and when I sat in my professional mock interviews later on that afternoon, the seeds had already sown deeply enough to where my interviewer had noted some degree of hostility from me. I was fed up with school but knew the way out was through playing its games rather than quitting.
What that means to me is to choose the best path for myself. That’s not a path of dredging through hours of homework I disliked. That didn’t mean attempting to fit into social groups where I had been ostracized before I even had the chance to advocate for my case. I have since encountered this countless times. I do not fit into many social groups. Not so much because of that social upbringing, but because I have certain attributes by birth or choice, I will never fit in with others that might believe me to be an enemy just by my existence. Even if they won’t express it forthrightly, you can still notice it.
There’s none of that in Pokémon.
Playing Pokémon as an adult is a punk rock action because of how it’s still primarily a kid’s game. Characters, despite having lines of dialogue that occasionally quip similar to how kid’s movies have mature moments, still primarily give you the benefit of the doubt. You are the hero of the story without any irony or sarcasm. Within this bitter, terrible world of ours, videogames offer us this sort of sweet sensation that we can work through our problems if we just work hard enough. Many people, even those who play videogames and maybe subconsciously understand they’re entirely meritocracy-based, might accidentally overvalue their contributions and find themselves preferring to complain at whoever will listen that their minimal efforts didn’t lead them to maximal rewards.
I prefer the straightforward win/loss mentality of videogames.
I don’t mind spending hours toiling away at meaningless bullshit if that gets me closer to achieving my goals, especially if it’s easier in moments that would otherwise be tense. I am frustrated by work where, even with my best efforts and intentions, I constantly find myself undermined by changes to the work structure. How can I level up my understanding of processes if the gameplay mechanics [aka the processes at work] changes so erratically that nothing can truly be trusted? It would be like trying to level up Tank the Blastoise when I need to level up 100 other Pokémon. Given enough time and tolerance, sure, I could probably do it, but, why?
In LeafGreen, I can personalize my gameplay mechanics at my pace.
I can play how I want. I can level up a Pokémon if I feel like it, I can give it any moves I want, or I can put the game away for a few days. When my work goes well, it’s easy enough, like winning by picking the right moves against the right opponents.
When my work isn’t comfortable, I escape into Pokémon games.
|Quotes:  The “Pokémon Theme.”|
|Sources: My personal and professional experiences.|
|Inspirations: This style is more in the confessional style of Sober Living essays, and although originally I was thinking about writing about how nice it is to have a diverse team of characters – especially named after characters from my first novel and beyond, I was struck with the inspiration to write about this because I wanted to dig deep like this to realize why I was feeling the way I was, and it’s because even though I’m out on medical leave for back problems, my work doesn’t really compel me to, similarly, put my game down to go over my homework once more before bed.|
|Related: Other Media Meandry essays.
Pokémon LeafGreen Series:
01 – “Easy Mode Living”
02 – “Real Life Grinding”
03 – “Had To Play”
03.5 – “Fiction Inspiring Fiction”
04 – “Videogames Aren’t Ambiguous”
04.5 – “Level Up Yourself”
05 – “Catching What’s Next”
06 – “Recatching Escapist Tendencies“
|Screenshots: I had taken a screenshot after catching Nessa-Slowpoke but then yesterday was in so much back pain that I compulsively spent a half-hour or more leveling her up into Nessa-Slowbro. I also thought about how, in the novel, Sammohini gets a promotion from her level 1 to level 2 job, but she is still good friends with all her level 1 team, so they’ll be used for future Pokémon names. I’m not sure what I’ll do with that batch I caught to get the Soothe Bell, but those are thoughts for another day.|
|Written On: 2020 May 06 [7am to 8:02am]|
|Last Edited: 2020 May 06 [First draft; final draft for the Internet.]|