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I have a confession to make: I have never attempted to “catch ‘em all.” Unlike most children of the 80’s and 90’s, I had zero interest in being the very best, like no one ever was. I was wholly aware of the Pokemon craze from the moment it skyrocketed into playground popularity here in the States, I’ve just never taken the time to become a part of that critter-catching world. Until now, that is. Just shy of my 30th birthday, I’m finally going to join Pikachu, Charizard and the rest of the Pocket Monsters on their latest adventure through the world of Pokemon. Dear lord, give me strength.
Consider this column the jumping off point of what will evolve into a short series highlighting my trek into all things Pokemon. I’ll let you know how those first few play sessions go, and then check back in after I’ve had an opportunity to sink some real hours into the latest game. For now, though, we’ll be taking a brief look at my history (or lack thereof) with the Pokemon series, and my reasons for finally dipping a toe into those deep, deep waters.
As I said, I was certainly aware of Pokemon when they first arrived in the U.S. in the mid-90’s. How could I not be? I was around 14 at the time, arguably just over the target demographic for the new line of games, trading cards and television shows. A child who desperately wanted and could not have a pet, I distinctly remember the idea of these “virtual pets” you could catch, train and play with being particularly intriguing, but the Red and Blue versions of the game never made my Christmas list.
If I’m being honest, it was most likely a result of peer pressure at first. Though many of my current friends grew up playing the Pokemon games, most of my peers at the time of the first games’ release simply thought they were made for children. We were teenagers, for crying out loud, and Pokemon weren’t cool enough.
Once the Pokemon phenomenon really took hold, pretty much everyone was singing a different tune. I remember quite a few high school friends started dipping into the series, no longer worried about whether or not the games were considered cool. Pokemon had taken off in a big way, so now they were pretty much the definition of “cool.”
Everyone was playing except me, of course. I had already moved on to the PlayStation One and would not return to portable gaming until I picked up a Game Boy Advance SP some years later during my freshman year of college. But if you want to know what really drove the final nail in the Pokemon coffin for yours truly, it was a card game called Magic: The Gathering.
I began playing Magic in middle school, sneaking my cards into the science lab in the early mornings to get in a game with friends, playing it during recess, or at friends’ houses during sleepovers. My love of Magic continued into high school, where fewer people seemed to be playing the game. I had a core group of friends who still liked to get in a regular match, though, until that fateful day that one of them came strutting into our social studies class with a deck of Pokemon cards.
“It’s actually pretty cool,” he explained. “And more people are playing it than Magic now.”
Blasphemy! How dare he speak about Magic in such a way. No way in hell was a game featuring goofy, smiling critters as deep and engrossing as one about wielding elemental forces and commanding an army of beasts, sorcerers, soldiers and the like.
The other guys seemed intrigued, though, and in about a week everyone had their own Pokemon decks and refused to go back to Magic. After multiple futile attempts to get in a round of my favorite card game, I finally caved and bought myself a pre-made Pokemon deck. I think it was called Hot Water, and featured primarily fire and water ‘Mon. I’ll admit that the game was fun and, because it was brand new, also pretty exciting. But still, it had killed off my beautiful Magic and, for that, I could never forgive it.
Refusing to buy any additional Pokemon cards and unable to keep up with the decks the rest of the guys were putting together, I finally sold my Hot Ice collection and got out of card games completely, not to return until my freshmen year in college (apparently when we as humans finally let ourselves do the things we enjoy guilt-free rather than worry too much about what other people think).
Pokemon murdered Magic in my world and, for that crime, everything that had anything to do with the series was officially on my no-go list. I didn’t actively hate the franchise; I just didn’t go out of my way to experience any of it. I ignored the games, flipped past the shows on the TV and only caught bits and pieces of the movies when I happened to pause on HBO and one of them was playing. As for the card game…Okay, so maybe I did hate THAT part of the Poke-verse.
So today I sit in front of my computer, just four days out from the release of Pokemon X and Y, dead set on breaking this trend of mine. I pre-ordered Y to make it more difficult to go back on my decision, and having a handful of friends who are lifelong Poke-fans is certainly going to help ease me into this brave new world. As for why I chose Y over X? The bird-thing looked cooler than the deer-thing.
My copy should be in-hand come Saturday morning, at which point I will finally load a Pokemon game into my 3DS and begin my adventure. I’ve decided to pick Charizard as my starter, a sort of apology for ignoring him and the series in general all those years ago. I’m sure the banter my friends share while playing these new games will go straight over my head at first, but I’ll eventually get the hang of it.
Or maybe I won’t. Maybe the series simply isn’t for me and, unfair grudges or no, maybe I just won’t see what all of the fuss is about. The point is that I’m going to give the series a fair shot. After all of these years, I think it’s time I finally find out what Pokemon is all about.