My Bittersweet Pokemon Journey
Back in 1996, nobody quite knew what would happen when Pokémon Red and Green versions were related. Of course, GameFreak probably hoped it would become huge. Satoshi Tajiri especially as this was a passion project in the works since 1989. Seeing it finally come to fruition was probably a huge relief and a weight off his shoulders.
I was born in 1992, the perfect age to be introduced to the first generation. I can’t remember exactly what I did first: played the games or saw the anime. Granted, my memories are hazy in general, let alone so young. But I remember it was before I moved to what I consider my hometown. My mom’s childhood best friend would watch us in the morning before school. I have a very faint recollection of seeing some episode on her son’s TV. What it was, I can’t remember. But I do remember watching it on a weekday morning.
And, from there, an obsession was born. I used to think it was beyond strange to say Pokémon made me into who I am today. Back then, having any sort of “nerdy” interest was to be punished. Yes, even in the hayday of Pokémon, I’m pretty sure I was teased for liking it. For a long time, I felt pretty isolated in feeling like fandom shaped how I interact with the world. After living in our current era of geekiness, I’m glad to know I’m not alone. Fandom has had such a positive impact on so many people. It shaped countless people. It’s led them toward hobbies, careers, and even families. Even so, for a very long time, I felt like the only person.
For me, the biggest shaping factor in the Pokémon fandom was fanfiction. When I was about nine, I started a story with a simple premise: what if a nine year old went on a Pokémon journey instead of a ten year old?
Yes, it’s dumb now looking back on it, but back then, it felt like an earth-shattering question. As a much more mature writer, I can see why certain age limits are put in place for certain things and so on. But, back then, I was a dumb kid. I had what felt like an awesome idea and just ran with it. I wasn’t worried about anything else. I had a story and I wanted to tell it, so I told it.
It’s not a lie to say that story went everywhere with me for years. Church, youth group, camp, school… If I could sit down and write, then I wrote. I even wrote in the car. I worked on that story feverishly. I knew no bounds. I just rode that momentum for years. I think I finished it when I was about thirteen or so. I was so proud when I finally finished it. It was a massive endeavor but I did it.
Looking back, that story is about what you’d expect of such a young fic author. The main character is a blatant self-insert powertrip. The world bends over backwards for Daisy, the protagonist. Literally nothing makes any coherent sense. The writing is abysmal. Like it’s barely prose. It’s basically just long stings of dialogue followed by one action and, if you’re lucky, one or two thoughts.
And, yes, it’s first person. Because of course it is.
The cherry on top is that it’s all written in present tense.
But you know what? I’m still proud of it. Without that story, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this article. If it weren’t for Pokémon, I wouldn’t be a linguistics major either. I would probably have never found any joy in languages or cultures or any of that. That first story was the springboard to literally the rest of my life.
When I was in eighth grade, I think, maybe even seventh, I decided to try to see if I could find somewhere to post that fic and share it with people. I was so excited. Those were the days when dialup still reigned supreme. So if I wanted to be online, it was for maybe an hour at a time.
That forum was both one of the best and worst things to ever happen to me.
I discovered text-based roleplay and made what were some of my most enduring internet friendships. There were four of us in there. We were so close and tight knit that it felt like nothing would rip us apart. We hopped from forum to forum together, Pokémon being the thing that bound us together. The characters we created and the bonds they forged strengthened our own relationships. We were together from about Gen 3 to Gen 5. That group lasted as it did all the way through high school until I had finally had enough of my coadmin.
The reason I say that forum was one of the worst things to ever happen to me was because of the coadministrator of my text-based roleplay forum. I won’t go into too much detail as to what happened. A lot of it’s not AAOG friendly. The least of his offenses were breaking every basic rule of roleplay, tabletop or text based. He powerplayed, godmoded, and so much more. The worst of his offenses was the fact he was emotionally abusive toward all of us. I think I might have been the worst effected as I honestly, legitimately, show signs of PTSD around roleplay to this day from his treatment.
Despite that, I continued to roleplay. Eventually, I found my way to the Pokémon Ranger spinoff series in about 2012 or 2013. Some friends on Tumblr RPed those characters (mostly in groups) and so I wanted to know more. And it turned into one of the absolute best things ever for me. I already did go on about my experience in the Ranger fandom at length in another article. They were some of the best years I’ve ever had on social media though, like all things, they did eventually have to come to an end.
All through this, I kept playing the mainline games.
Gen 3 hit. The original RSE are some of my favorite games. I fell in love with the idea of Contests. I spent countless hours on them. I made so many Pokeblocks. I grew countless berries. I figured out the best way to handle them. I created the perfect Beautifly for Beauty Contests. I watched the anime religiously every Saturday morning.
Gen 4 is my least favorite one. I find Sinnoh to be a really tedious region. And, honestly, this was almost the generation that lost me. I really don’t know what it is about Sinnoh I hate so much. There’s some deep reason I just don’t find it fun. I even tried playing a rom on an Acekard while breaking it with cheats. I found no joy in breaking the game over my knee. It just didn’t capture me the first three generations did. I decided to give the series one more chance.
Gen 5 is arguably Pokémon at its absolute best. Yes, the story of Black and White is inherently flawed. But at least they actually tried to create a story that was worthwhile. They tried to make a living, breathing region. There are a lot more reasons people understandably hate BW and BW2. I found BW2’s story to be lackluster, but the amount of content packed into the games was just unbeatable.
Gen 6 is where things began to go downhill and fast. To call Kalos barebones is an understatement. The story is almost an afterthought. The amount of new Pokémon is almost laughable. Honestly, the best way to describe these games is “wasted potential.” I honestly still enjoy them, but they’re basically junkfood. I at least really enjoyed the clothing.
Gen 7 is love/hate with me. I loved how alive Alola felt. Honestly, it’s even better than Unova in that field. The story wasn’t up to the part of Gen 5 in my opinion. But it’s still good. Lillie and Gladion are two of the best characters the series has ever put out. Team Skull is my personal team. They’re the ones I’d join if I had to be forced onto any particular team. Plus I got some fun headcanon out of Plumeria with it.
The reason I hate Gen 7 is literally because of one thing: level scaling. Yes, they did it in Gen 5. But Audino was a workaround. I’m someone that grinds the heck out of things in RPGs. The hardest RPG I’ve every played is 7th Dragon III: Code VFD. That’s one of those games you either grind until you can brute force everything or you play with very careful strategy. I absolutely hated that it felt like I was getting punished for my personal way of playing. Plus, the Ultra sequels were just lazy. I played through until the ranch part before just giving up. There wasn’t enough for me to feel like this was worth an entirely new game. I never finished USUM.
Gen 8… Yeah, this is where things get ugly.
I’m one of those people that sided with the Bring Back The National Dex movement and the GameFreak Lied tag. Honestly, I felt beyond betrayed by what happened with Sword and Shield. I still do. They made all of the lofty promises about remodeling Pokémon and anyone in the Pokémon fandom knows the drill. I don’t need to recount the drama that surrounded Gen 8. It’s just clear that GameFreak are getting lazy and complacent. They’re not putting in the same love and care that they did up until Gen 5. Or, heck, even the same amount they did with Gen 7.
And if you think I hate the series, I don’t. This series has given me some of the best friends I could ever ask for. My main RP partner at this point is someone I can literally have a 7 hour phone call with. No, that is not an exaggeration. I’ve literally spent either cumulative or consecutive 7-8 hours on a call with him. My old core of internet friends has largely drifted from me, yes, but I have other amazing friends because of this series.
What I hate with Sword and Shield is the fact GameFreak objectively lied to us. There’s proof of it. They went behind our backs and just clearly didn’t care.
Gen 8 marked the first time I didn’t buy a Pokémon game. It was the first time since Gen 5 I hadn’t preordered. It’s the first time I’ve refused to play a mainline game.
Honestly, I’m scared. I’m scared for this series. If Gen 8 is the benchmark for how things will be handled from now on, I have no choice but to walk away. I’m still on the lookout for Gen 9. I have some hope, but it’s muted. Gen 6 has had the series on a downward trajectory.
I want to keep loving this series. I really do. I’ve played and own so many of the spinoffs: all three Ranger games, the Orre games, and even Pokémon Channel. Yes. The awkward one where you watch TV with Pikachu. I can’t tell you how many copious hours I spent playing it as a kid. If I love Channel, then what does that say about my love of the main series?
I’m excited for the new Snap game. I absolutely adore Snap just like so many other people that grew up in the first and second generations. I’m still going to get it. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Hopefully things will get better. This is the 25th anniversary. This series literally made me into who I am today. It’s amazing and can be so much and I hope to see it reach the heights of Gen 5 once again.