We weren’t around back then, but you can still hear the doddering dinosaurs from way back in the late 1990s talk about those glorious days. The Gameboy was enjoying a moment and Tetris was all the rage. In those primitive ages, the few minutes of entertainment one block-building session of Tetris afforded was probably the only way to relieve yourself of pre-YouTube boredom. That was until a handful of Japanese game designers designed a revolutionary gaming concept. From the simple concept of bug catching emerged a full-blown twenty-hour campaign with an intricate storyline, aesthetic creatures, and seamless level progression. Pokémon was born.
It all seems surreal. Today, downloading a three-minute song consumes a handful of MBs (megabytes). Through some witchcraft, the developers of Pokémon managed to cram in an interactive and immersive, multi hour experience into 0.1 MBs of cartridge space- the maximum afforded by the Gameboy. Sure, the graphics were nothing like you would see on the new PS5 but Pokémon was no less magical than 4K games. As you selected the move “Flamethrower” for your Charizard, a colorless stencil mark in the shape of a flame appeared moving away from the gritty icon of your Pokémon on the two-inch screen on your Gameboy. The flame mark touched the opponent and the opponent’s health went down.
You did the rest.
In your head, you saw Charizard take flight, do a barrel roll in the air, rear back its serpentine neck, open its mouth and let loose a stream of red-hot flames. The opposing Pokémon reeled from the force of the blast, its feet dragging through the ground and leaving behind trail marks. Its eyes were shut in pain as it consumed the effect of the attack. Its legs threatened to give way under it. Finally, it would regain its senses and refocus itself for another round of attacks.
The battle continued.
Pokémon is now the world’s largest commercial franchise- larger than Mario, Star Wars or the Avengers. It celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and commemorated the occasion with a special virtual concert for players of Pokémon Go- the mobile game that rocked the world with its groundbreaking virtual-reality game mechanics. Post Malone headlined the concert with a new and original single. The newest Pokémon video games were received to mass commercial success and Netflix has inked a special agreement to exclusively air episodes of the anime series to American audiences. Pokémon now defines global popular culture.
You chat excitedly to your friend about the exciting new frontiers for Pokémon. Your friend is playing his ultra-high resolution game on his shiny PlayStation. It’s a new game where you take on grisly, ghastly ghouls in gruelling hand-to-hand combat. He grunts as his buff, highly customized game character takes a hit and loses health points. He curses and directs the limping avatar to the cadaver of a slain enemy and then his avatar proceeds to slurp on the blood of the dead enemy to regain health points. You are chattering about Pokémon and his patience is running thin with you now. He resoundingly puts down his controller and turns to you with an air of finality, “Dude, Pokémon is for kids.”
This gets you thinking. Maybe it is time you chucked out all your Pokemon cards, sold off your game cartridges at the pawn shop and scrapped the knock-off comic books you bought from some kiosk many years ago. Maybe Pokemon is, in fact, for kids.