I say goodnight to my co-workers and stroll out of the building as I have done countless times. This night however, I’m not going straight home. I head west to a part of the city where I rarely visit. The further I walk away from the downtown, the seedier the city becomes. I pull my arms in tight and walk faster.
The sidewalks are slick with past rain. I walk down a nearly abandoned promenade, with shops closing their doors on either side of me. The only people around have skateboards, gigantic puffy jackets, and cruel looks in their eyes. My head is on a constant swivel, for danger, yes, but also for anyone who might recognize me.
Straight ahead is my destination, a small shop. Their lights are on. It is a sickly light that falls somewhere between an operating theater and the green filter of The Matrix. There is one employee at the counter. It looks like it’s been a slow night for him. Now is my chance.
I walk straight to the door, but then in a moment of hesitation, I turn hard right and walk away. I do a lap around the area, but again I avoid going inside. I had gone over this night countless times in my head. On the face of it, it seemed like it would be easy. People on the internet were doing it all the time, but this was a world I had not been a part of in some time. I didn’t know how a transaction like this would play out.
I walk up to the Panda Express and order some orange chicken to calm my nerves. I run my opening line over and over again in my head. How do I ask for the thing, without overtly asking for the thing. Was there a secret phrase I was supposed to utter? An elaborate handshake? A knowing wink and whistle?
I return to the shop, knowing that if I don’t step through the door this last time, I never will. With a deep breath, I let myself in. The door chimes, and I’m bathed in the off-color light.At this point, the shop has two additional people. To my left, a patron with a neck tattoo is perusing the merchandise on the wall. We exchange a brief glance. To my right, now two employees are watching me from the counter.
“Can I help you?” the nearest employee asks.
I walk up to the counter. My heart begins to pound.
“Yes, in fact,” I say, assembling the words in my head.
The employee waits patiently for my request.
In a more confidential voice, I ask, “Are you guys doing the…”
I pause and eye Mr. Neck Tattoo on the other side of the room again. Can he hear me? I lower my voice even more.
“Are you guys doing that Pokémon promotion?”
The GameStop employee, who was several years younger than me returns an accommodating smile. He nods.
“You’re looking for Mew?” he asks, amused at my discomfort.
“Yes, yup,” I admit, positioning my body to try to contain the sound waves of our conversation to our little part of the room.
The kid pulls out a card from a stack on the counter. He hands it to me. On the card is a picture of the legendary creature, number 151. There’s a code on the back to download it to your game.
“Will that be all?” he asks.
“Yes, thank you.”
I slip the card into my coat pocket and disappear into the night, the proud owner of the one Pokémon I was never able to catch.
I am a 28 year old man.
Moment of Personal Weakness
This year Pokémon is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary. A lot has been said about the franchise and what it means to people who have grown up with it. I’m not sure I have much more to contribute, other than to echo the fact that it was a powerful presence in my childhood. I can’t imagine what my childhood would have been like without it, thought I’d guess I’d probably be a little more athletic. It was the game (and by extension the tv show, the toys, and the cards, oh dear god, the cards) that consumed an extraordinary chunk of my time and attention. My sister and I both had original blocky gray Gameboys, but before Pokémon came into our house, they pretty much acted as expensive paperweights. But, once we acquired those legendary red and blue cartridges, those devices became nearly impossible to put down.
When I heard that there were plans to release one legendary Pokémon every month of 2016, starting with Mew in February, the child in me gripped the table and started frothing. I had been tempted to purchase Pokémon X or Y when it first came out in 2013, but I was in midst of a Master’s program. Back then my resolve was strong, my time for gaming was minimal, and my pockets were essentially empty. In a moment of personal weakness this month, I finally gave in and acquired a refurbished red 2DS and Pokémon Y to take part in such a promotion. I justified it to myself as a research opportunity to see what a modern Gameboy game was like, but really I just wanted desperately to catch some wild creatures and force them to be my friends.
The 2DS arrived first. After using Apple devices for so long, I had forgotten that there were entirely other ways to make a mobile device. The 2DS is almost antithetical to the Apple aesthetic. My iPhone exemplifies extreme simplicity and material purity. It’s not uninviting, but sometimes when I see its finger print covered glass, it does give me a sense that it was designed for a more perfect, less oily mammal than myself. In contrast, the 2DS is a spunky, weird little device, shaped like a broad doorjamb, covered in buttons and ports and lights and inexplicably warm and friendly.
Having not played a Pokemon game since Red (well, maybe some of Yellow and Gold), it’s interesting to see how the game has changed and how much has remained the same. Most notably, everything is in gorgeous three dimensions now. There is such a great payoff in seeing your monsters animate in front of you. There are just so many Pokémon now. When I played Red, it felt like I spent half of the game catching Rattatas and Pidgeys. Now every time I veer into the tall grass, there’s a pretty good chance that I will stumble upon a creature that I have never seen before. The diversity of creatures finally makes the game feel like a somewhat convincing digital biota.
Trading has become incredibly easy. Back in my day, you had to have A: A friend, and B: A link cable. If you wanted the Pokémon that were exclusive to the other cartridge, you had to coordinate with a physical human being and connect your two GameBoys with a cable. Now, I can just upload a Pokémon to the network, make a request for another, and wait. It’s almost too easy now.
The game is beginning to let you do things with your Pokémon outside of battle, which I think is a good direction. The game has classically been focused around battling, but I have always wanted to have the chance to just hang out with my ‘mons. There is currently a suite of mini-games, of varying quality, that allow you to interact with your creatures. There’s this mini-game called Pokémon-Amie, where you strengthen your bond with a Pokémon by feeding it and petting it with your stylus. When you pet your Pokémon in the ‘right’ spot they smile at you and little pink hearts float above their heads. Despite my best efforts, it’s hard to avoid the notion that I’m giving my creature a Pokéjob.
The Dream Team
I spend a lot of time thinking about the team I would train this go around. I wanted to indulge my nostalgia, but also explore some of the newer additions. There is definitely a deep strategy present for selecting the perfect team, with the perfect stats, and with the perfect move sets. Ignorant of this complexity, most of my decisions were based on aesthetics.
Pablo – Greninja M
Like all previous Pokemon games, you are given a choice of one out of three starter Pokemon. I had a choice between ‘Green Hoodie Rodent’, ‘Firefox’, and ‘Rabies Frog’. I went with the Froakie and never looked back. His final evolution, Greninja, is the most wondrous thing, a genuine ninja frog. Pablo has been my champ. He’s always hovering near the level cap.
Pascaline – Raichu F
The hardest moral decision I’ve ever made in a game revolved around whether or not I should use my Thunder Stone to evolve my Pikachu. When Pikachu evolves into Raichu, it gains a stat increase, but loses the ability to learn new moves, loses its unique audio cue, and more importantly, it looses its iconic, cutesy, paedomorphic appearance. I fretted over this for days. Do I keep Pikachu the way she is, permanently youthful, forever a child, sweet and innocent, or do I sacrifice her youth to let her mature and grow up? In the end, I decided, all things are ephemeral, all things must change, all things proceed on a steady path towards certain death. Giving her the Thunderstone, a small tear rolled down my eye.
Ramsey – Charizard M
In an unprecedented move, this game offer me another starter from the original three, ‘onion lizard’, ‘burning lizard’, and ‘squirrel turtle’. I went with Charmander for old time sake.
Abyss – Malamar M
This was one of the new Pokémon available in X & Y. It starts off as the adorable cephalopod Inkay. To get this little tyke to evolve, you have to actually flip your 2DS upside down at a certain point. It has always been my dream to have a psychic squid on my team.
Sebastien – Kabutops M
My favorite creature of the original generation was the fossil Pokémon Kabutops. He’s so fierce and lithe, it’s hard to imagine he came from the horseshoe crab inspired Kabuto.
Burgess – Armaldo M
At one point they added an Anomalocaris inspired Pokémon. I knew I had to get one.