My first video game love was Pokemon.
I played both Pokemon Blue and Pokemon Yellow first, and my strategy for the first generation games was pretty basic. For Brock’s first gym, if you didn’t have Squirtle or Bulbasaur on your team, either you catch a Nidoran and level it up to learn Double Kick, or you catch a Caterpie then evolve it to a Butterfree that can use Confusion. The rest is easy. This is only vivid to me because of multiple playthroughs and the sharpness of memory only childhood can give you. Like I said, first love.
I remember filling a piggy bank with coins and small bills to pay half the price of a Pokemon Ruby cartridge. Sure, my dad paid for the rest of it but it was the first thing I seriously saved up for. Its reboot, Omega Ruby, was the first video game I bought with a salary.
At one point in college I got into competitive Pokemon battling through pokemonshowdown.com, where I learned about strategy and training specific stats. There’s a lot of math. I know the game has evolved because its audience found new ways to complicate it. My friends look at me weird whenever I talk about stuff related to competitive Pokemon battling like IV training or EV training, but Cole Sprouse does it, so you’re not allowed to think it’s weird anymore.
The 7th generation of games, Pokemon Sun and Moon, were released late 2016 partly in celebration of the franchise’s 20 years of existence. Very few cornerstones of popular culture make it to two decades of relevance. The Simpsons is one. The 7th generation of games, what it did was, it took the conventions of the previous games’ tropes and conventions — the eight gym leaders, the rival trainer, the criminal boss — and kinda turned them on their heads. The gym leaders became captains and kahunas, the rival trainer became a nice dude, and the criminal boss was a juvenile, street-level goon. There’s way too much for me to get into without completely losing myself in alienating jargon. But to put it simply, the new games were designed in such a way that it referenced a lot of what came before. Its history. It knew its audience had aged.
I’m pretty sure this isn’t the case with just Pokemon — other games are being treated to an audience that analyzes and intellectualizes its entertainment. Gamers who were into Street Fighter or Tekken now have actual video essays to study. Eric Barone grew up with Harvest Moon, then he made Stardew Valley! He met the creator! What a time to be alive, guys. We’re fortunate enough to live in a time in which games are now more or less accepted as an art form, but it’s more than that. It’s always a surreal experience when you realize how deeply the entertainment you grew up with grappling-hooked itself into your life and psyche.
This fan-made commercial for the new games sums it up pretty well for me. “You evolved, so did we.” Pokemon as a game matured along with its audience. It’s been with me longer for any person not related to me by blood. We spent a life together.