The Pokemon Generation Reaches Adulthood – A Pokemon Lifer’s Retrospective

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“Lavender Town Acapella,” by Smooth McGroove:…
“Try To Catch A Few,” by Smooth McGroove:…
“Wild Battle Music,” Pokemon X and Y OST:…
“Main Theme,” Pokemon X and Y OST:…
“ポケモン交響曲,” by hapi:…
“Farewell Pikachu,” Pokemon TV OST:…

Pokeball Pattern by Cyanide-Tea:…

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Of all the things associated with my generation, as a young man born in 1991, I best relate to being a part of the Pokemon generation. On a basic level, it’s one of very few things that absolutely everyone in my generation is familiar with, but is largely alien to generations before. Alongside Link, Sonic the Hedgehog, and Harry Potter, it’s among the most iconic cultural symbols of a generation of newly minted adults. And I dare say that having come out in the mid-late nineties, it belongs specificly to those of us born in the early nineties more so than to adults born in the late eighties. If you’re 25 and under in 2013, chances are you were at the right age at the right time to be a part of the Pokemon craze.

And this generational connection is perfect, because what Pokemon is, and what it’s about, both symbolize the cultural upbringing of my generation. It was among the first franchises to be successfully multimedia right from the get-go, and it was an international sensation almost instantaneously. It paved the way for many multimedia franchises to come, and was a symbol of a growing global culture. Pokemon may have come from Japan, but it’s reach extends throughout the Western world. It’s quite telling that Pokemon X and Y were the first Nintendo games to ever be released worldwide simultaneously, packaged with a selection of languages, set in a country largely based on France, and featuring multi-racial NPCs and character creation, which is exceedingly rare in Japanese games.

Pokemon’s “gotta catch em all” tagline both reflects the ethos and lifestyle of a generation that grew up on and essentially formed the base layer of today’s internet culture. A generation prone to consuming massive amounts of media and information, and constantly in a state of audio-visual saturation. A generation of collectors—of products, information, ideas, and friends.

From the very beginning, Pokemon WAS social media. You literally could not, “catch ’em all,” by yourself. There were three starter Pokemon, and you could only chose one of them, which meant that you and your friends would all pick different starters and have totally different experiences with the game because of it. Even though Pokemon Red and Blue were hyper-linear in structure, the mere fact that you could catch and train Pokemon of your choosing at your own pace meant that your experience could be totally different from that of your friends, or even across multiple playthroughs.

Certain Pokemon could only be caught in one version of the game, and others would only evolve if you traded them first. The game was full of secrets, and Pokemon that everyone knew existed, but few knew how or where to get. It had areas that were maze-like caverns which, if you were a dumb kid like me, you needed one of the older neighbor kids to navigate for you.

And that wasn’t all! The social aspect was pushed to the next level by the Pokemon Trading Card Game, which has trading right there in the title. Trading cards and battling with friends, neighbors, and even strangers at Pokemon league events in comic stores and Toys’R’Us was the essence of the entire game.

And each part of the franchise fed into the other brilliantly. The TV show had characters and a storyline for kids to relate to, and helped to rationalize the type weaknesses from the games. The show also brought life to the Pokemon that we saw on the cards, and the card game helped us to appreciate the Pokemon that we never managed to use in the games. I never caught a Scyther or an Electabuzz in Pokemon Red, but I knew these Pokemon were badass because I had them in my deck.

And if the different parts of the franchise and interactions with other kids weren’t enough to inform you of the Pokemon universe, there was one other great cultural force emerging in the late 90s to take care of your needs: the internet. My earliest internet memories are of browsing the official Pokemon website as a kid on my mom’s old Windows ME computer, and trying to draw every Pokemon in the Pokedex. Good old GameFAQs was around even then, along with the likes of Cheat Code Central, and there you could learn secrets like the MissingNo. glitch, or gameshark codes to fuck up your save file trying to get Mew and what was known at the time as Bluchu.

But while Pokemon could be considered the defining franchise of my generation’s upbringing my personal relationship with the series goes a bit deeper than that, and leads up to the reason that I, at age 22, am proud to call myself a Pokemon Master.

You see, as a kid, I was a snobby, elitist smartass, just as I am today, and despite the pressures of the world around me, I was always convinced that I was in the right about everything, and that there was no point in being disingenuous about my passions because they made sense to me.* When I was in the second grade, I caught the Pokemon fever like crazy. Playing Pokemon Red, going to Pokemon league, collecting merch and cards and filling my imagination with the world of Pokemon—that was my LIFE. I didn’t care about anything else in the world the way I cared about Pokemon, and for around a year or so, that was totally okay. Everyone loved Pokemon, I was just part of the crowd.

And then, something changed. By the time I was in the third grade, Pokemon was suddenly not cool anymore. Everyone treated it like it was for little kids, and they were too good for it. Pokemon wasn’t the only reason that I was a target for bullying at that age, but it was the biggest one. I was still coming to school every day in Pokemon t-shirts and stuff, and getting bullied for it only made me more passionately attached to the franchise. I saw the other kids as disingenuine, and I swore to myself that I was never going to be like that. When I grew up, I was still going to love Pokemon, and be into all the same things I was into as a kid.

In my childhood, I set a lot of goals and expectations for adult me to pick up on, especially with regards to my hobbies. Adult me was supposed to have a lot of money doing a job he loved. He was supposed to buy every video game that had ever been made, and know everything there was to know about video games. He was going to have the money to actually buy individual Pokemon cards from the comic store because he was going to know how to build a deck based on legit strategies. And he was definitely going to have the patience and the know-how to actually fill a Pokedex in a Pokemon game.

See, despite the representative ethos of “gotta catch ’em all,” most kids my age did not, in fact, catch em all, or even try that hard to, because it was a pain in the ass. We tried to catch the cool ones, and the legendary and secret onces, but most of us knew that our starter Pokemon was the coolest one in the game anyways. Every Pokemon game is structured so that a little kid can easily steamroll the entire game practically without ever catching a second Pokemon, because the starters have an insane experience growth rate and will own the entire game.

But as a passionate Pokemon fan, I always felt guilty about the fact that I could never catch more than thirty or so Pokemon without getting bored. The game was a lot harder if you actually tried to have a balanced team, and for me the more important goal was having a team of level 99 Pokemon by fighting the Elite Four over and over again. I knew, however, that other people had caught them all, and much like the people who always wiped the floor with me at the Pokemon league, they were all teens or adults. People with a lot more patience and knowledge than I had, whom I looked up to and hoped I could become one day.

My childhood Pokemon obsession lasted around four years. It inhabited the span of Pokemon Red, Silver, the two Stadium games, the first six or so sets of the cards, the first and second anime series, and an endless stream of merch. When I was eleven, I developed a whole new passion towards anime in general, and when Pokemon Ruby came out, I couldn’t seem to get as into it as I had gotten into the old games. I never finished it, and while I considered my love of Pokemon to be undying, I never even bothered with Diamond and Pearl, as they came out in a time when I wasn’t really into gaming, on a console I never personally owned, though both of my brothers did.

I never really felt that I was growing out of Pokemon, but there was just too much other stuff that I was more interested in. I felt a little guilty about not keeping up with the franchise, as the movies, shows, games, and cards kept coming out without me being able to follow anymore. Pokemon started to be more nostalgic and less something that I was actively invested in, but it also felt like something I was just waiting for the right time to get back into. I always felt that while I might never have the single-minded devotion to the franchise that I had as a kid, the day was going to come when I’d play through all of these games, learn all of these Pokemon, catch up on the movies, and feel like Pokemon was still an important part of my life.


And over the course of about four years, I started making progress. In early 2009, I started playing Red again, and I found that it was still a really fun bit of nostalgia. However, in what would become a disturbing trend, I decided to make a blog post about my playthrough of the game when I was around the third gym. After making this post, I might have played another hour or so before getting into something else and never getting back to it.

When Soul Silver came out in 2010, I was fucking stoked. I’d always considered Silver to be the series highlight, and one of my alltime favorite video games. This time, I was making a post after beating each gym leader, in what was basically a let’s play before I knew that let’s plays were a thing. This time, I made it through four gyms before burning out.

And in 2011, I got onto my biggest Pokemon kick of the bunch. White and Black were exciting games that seemed to almost reboot the originals in a fresh package. It had entirely new Pokemon with no carryovers, making it a great place to rejoin the franchise as someone who’d missed a couple generations, and it was in a much slicker package than any of the games before.

And at the same time, the Pokemon anime entered a new series, with the first time that neither Brock nor Misty were present as Ash’s companions. Now he was travelling with two new gym leaders, both of whom were played by some of my favorite Japanese voice actors, and it was way more entertaining than the last few generations of the anime had been. Pokemon seemed to have reached its zenith, and I was extremely excited… for about two weeks. I made it up through the fourth gym in white, and never finished the game.

Yet even after all those missteps, I still felt like it was only a matter of time before I was going to get back into Pokemon. Maybe when I finally had less stuff that I was invovled in, and was more ready to take a step back and really dedicate myself to playing through one of these games, I’d be able to recoup with the franchise at long last. What I didn’t expect was how this would occur at a pivotal moment of my adulthood in 2013.

At this point it’s worth mentioning that my brother Victor, a year and a half my junior, actually kept up with the Pokemon franchise over the years, as an avid gamer. Our brother Shade, six years my junior, also caught onto the franchise by osmosis, and is probably best familiar with the Diamond and Pearl generation.

Victor, being the typical gamer that he is, tends to get very hyped for big new game realeases, and informed me early on of the announcement of X and Y. And, while I was hesitant to be excited, both because I didn’t own a 3DS, and because of my failures with Pokemon games over the last 4 years, I still felt a pang of childish glee at the thought of a 3D Pokemon game. I remember as a kid being extremely frustrated that the two Pokemon Stadium games on the N64 weren’t proper RPGs, and when the Gamecube RPGs still didn’t get it right, I’d given up on the idea of a full console Pokemon game. Now, the technology was here to put a full 3D game on the level of the Gamecube into a handheld system. Who saw that coming 15 years ago?

But the person who hyped me the most was my girlfriend Cookie Cutter, also a Pokemon lifer who never got around to finishing Black, but was stoked for the new games. She went all-out and bought the Pokemon X 3DS, as well as two Sylveon plushies, and a Fennekin. She and I also discovered youtube Pokemon analyst Tamashii Hiroka and binged on her videos about a week before the new games’ release. At this point my Pokemon hype was through the roof, so I spent the last two days before the release trying to speed through Pokemon FireRed, catching 60 Pokemon in 22 hours and setting a personal record, right before moving on to the new game.

What I need you to understand is the gravity of buying Pokemon X at my age. I purchased this 3DS for 200 dollars, which is an amount of money that would’ve been alien to me more than a year ago. It was the most I’ve ever spent on something that was purely for entertainment. I even bought this Froakie plushie along with the game. I bought these with the money that I made from producing analysis videos for this very channel—money that I made doing what I’m passionate about, at the outset of my career.

I’ve also matured a lot as a gamer this past year. I’d always been the type of player who races through a game at top speed, and any time I took a little longer with a game, I’d tend to lose interest and move on to something else. Only recently did I come to realize that games give the most gratification when the player takes their time to see all that they have to offer.

The idea of blasting through another Pokemon game doesn’t really appeal to me at this point. After all, I know that these are easy games, which I could bowl over with my starter if I wanted to. However, catching ALL of the Pokemon is a challenge. Trying to level a constantly changing roster of monsters forces the player to think more about type differences and strategically choosing which monsters to bring to which battles. It also forces the player to explore all of the game’s systems, since there are a ton of evolutions that come from minigames, world exploration, breeding, and research. Playing to catch ’em all completely changes the pace and challenge of the game into something new.

The experience of getting into and finishing this game was immensely satisfying, starting from going to the midnight release at my local gamestop along with my cousin and Victor. There were easily 40 to 50 people there, mostly adults, playing Animal Crossing on their 3DS and collecting free swag.

Because I got the game so early, I got to experience the rare phenomenon of not having all the information about it from the get-go. Egoraptor described that experience as “simultaneously super cool and mysterious but also frustrating and agonizing,” and it was quite interesting to follow along with the GameFAQs forums and as they slowly hashed out the information at the same rate I was discovering it.

Cookie Cutter also decided to catch all the Pokemon, albeit at a more relaxed pace than myself, and we traded with one another extensively to help along with our collections. Between her and Victor I was easily able to take care of all three starters from both generations. I also informed my youtube audience that I was playing the game and collected more than 70 friend codes, even though I was rarely able to actually get online. Once I only had around 60 Pokemon left to catch, I put out a google doc listing them and got a bunch of help from trades that way as well. Having that many friend codes also offered me a lot of opportunity in the game’s Friend Safari feature, which I hadn’t even known was a thing beforehand.

Coming together with so many people over this lifetime passion of mine was intensely satisfying. Even my friends who couldn’t afford to buy the game or a 3DS were playing Black, White, and HeartGold on old DS’s and emulators, to feel in on the Pokemon experience.

I connected with the hype over twitter and tumblr by sharing my own funny moments and progress in the game. For the first time since I was seven years old, back before my classmates turned on me for failing to grow out of the Pokemon craze, I could feel a true sense of comraderie and community among people my age over a game about collecting adorable monsters.

Victor, whose first run-through of Pokemon X happened to coincide with his school’s fall break, had this to say about the experience: “This weekend I have been living out my childhood fantasy of being an adult who still stays up all night playing pokemon. I think I’m gonna use this as a turning point to really start focusing on my art and classwork when this break is over. My childhood is satisfied, on to adulthood.”

Of course, Victor is still going to play the next Pokemon game when it comes out, and even ended up doing a second run of X after making this post. His comment isn’t meant to imply leaving childhood behind, though. It’s more about carrying his childhood with him and not being ashamed of it. After all he grew up copying me. And what am I doing? I’m making a career out of it. My own irresponsible decision to stop everything and play Pokemon Y for two weeks is paying off in a short series of videos on the game. It’s given me one more avenue to express myself in the only way that I know how, and to continue establishing my career as a media analyst. After all, this is my life; and Pokemon is a part of it.

1 thought on “The Pokemon Generation Reaches Adulthood – A Pokemon Lifer’s Retrospective

  1. “As a kid I was a snobby elitist smart ass, just as I am today.” – Lost my shit laughin there.
    Your getting really good with the film editing. I’m really impressed. Loved the “Gotta Catch ’em all” archipelago at the end!

    I have a theory that no one ever really grows up and I feel that the more I see each day, that theory is just proven more and more.
    Sure, you may mature or may have a change in personality, there’s a point somewhere between the ages of 13-18 that we just stay that way. We walk around with this facade of adulthood, when in reality everyone’s just a child in a suit. No one wants to grow up once they see the harshness of realities. Who would want to give up being youthful and care-free for a world of paperwork and long nights to make a (sometimes) honest dollar?

    It’s the little things that keep us youthful and sane. Those same kids who may of bullied you over a game are probably out buying the fucking game as we speak shouting about how they have always loved Pokemans. I bet you their doing it with money from a job that don’t love as much as you do.

    I still feel as though I am 16 a lot. Gone are the day’s of copying answer’s off each other in Japanese class, but yet you and Vic still go around making video’s.
    That child like laughter on the inside is what I feel keeps us sane. That care-free lifestyle that we all so yearn for lies in the past with our youth. Some have a wasted youth (hurhur reference) but the reality of it is that they still have it. I can still go and be free and have an imagination, but with reality looming behind the corner, I just can’t have it every day.

    Hope you get what I am saying, I don’t have a way with words like you.
    Also, the only paper work I do is JOINT paperwork (buh-dump-tst)

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