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Growing up with Pokémon
by Tom Battey on 10/25/13 01:23:00 pm   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

It will probably tell you something about the sort of child I was that Pokémon was one of my major formative experiences growing up.

I can quite vividly remember being at a friend's house, aged about 11, both of us sitting there with Gameboys - either a Pocket or a Colour at this point, I can't recall - each with a different copy of Pokémon. The game felt so fresh and new back then, like nothing else out there.

We realised that each of our games had a different version of Nidoran. At that moment Nidoran seemed like the most important Pokémon there could be. My friend fetched his link cable, and we went through the incredibly laborious process of trading Nidorans, so we could both have one of each.

It was a bonding process. I guess some kids get each other friendship bracelets, or bond over illicit cigarettes or sips of smuggled wine. We traded Pokémon.

I remember the classroom at my high school that for a few months was reclaimed as a Pokémon room. The nerdy kids would gather at break times armed with Gameboys and link cables and Pokémon cards to trade and do battle and generally share the solidarity of our collective pastime. It was awesome.

There was a brief period when everyone collected Pokémon cards - even the cool kids who would never deign to play Pokémon the videogame. For a brief but glorious moment a nerdy kid could gain a vital shred of 12-year-old social acceptance by, say, owning a shiny Charizard. For those few weeks, Pokémon the card game seemed like the most important thing in the world..

In those days the old clunky social interface of Pokémon made complete sense. It was absolutely right that in order to share our Pokémon journeys we had to physically sit together, wired up with a link cable, because that's how friendships worked. Your friends were, by default, a selection of the people you knew by the necessity of being in the same school, the same class, the same set of rooms on a regular basis.

In 1997 the internet wasn't really a thing yet, or at least nothing more than an vague concept that had no real value to us as kids. Telephones were still largely big plastic things that were wired into your wall and presided over by parents. There weren't many ways for us to meet other kids, other than those we were forced to see on a daily basis.

So we picked our friends from the group of people we had little choice but to see every day, seeking out kids that shared our interests and hoping that this was enough to sustain a friendship. When you're 12, it usually is. And because of the kind of kids we were, we'd head up to the 'Pokémon room' at break time, wire our Gameboys together and evolve our Haunters into Gengars.

Fast forward sixteen years and I've just sent a Bulbasaur wirelessly over the internet to a complete stranger living in Kyoto, Japan - one of the 8,000 people my game informs me I have 'met' since I started playing. He sends me a Scatterbug in return, because as well as being a complete stranger he's also an asshole.

I'd be more annoyed about this if I could actually do anything about it. I suppose I could challenge him to battle and humiliate him in front of nobody, but that's too much effort, and besides, this interaction is fleeting, unimportant, quickly forgotten.

The internet is vast and full of people, all of them apparently playing Pokémon now. Many of them are assholes, but many of them are also kind and generous souls. There will always be another Bulbasaur.

It's easy to say the Pokémon games haven't meaningfully changed since their inception, and superficially they haven't. We're still picking one of three types of grass/water/fire based starters, we're still trudging through the same grassy fields and forests doing the same turn-based fire-beats-grass-beats-water combat.

But socially, Pokémon has kept right up with the times. Pokémon X/Y might be the most socially relevant multiplayer game I've played to date.

We now live in a world where it's entirely possible to 'meet' 8,000 people and have your only interaction be the transferring of a few bytes of data over the internet. People's friendship groups are no longer a few carefully selected friends sitting around a table wired up with link cables - they're networks of hundred of individuals listed on one social media site or another, some of whom you might never see, some of whom you might never have even met.

I have friendships I now conduct exclusively online, with people I may not have seen for years, people whom without the internet I'd wouldn't be able to call friends anymore. And this is great; these are people I genuinely care about, but can't see due to distance or time or work or reasons, and thanks to the internet we are still able to be a part of one another's lives.

And with the new Pokémon games, Nintendo has tapped into this new vein of society perfectly. I can battle with a friend I haven't seen in five years, I can trade with a friend who lives on the other side of the world. I can connect with a random stranger in a random place somewhere in the world and send him a rare Pokémon in the hope of receiving something awesome in return.

For Nintendo, a company for whom online multiplayer still seems like something of an abstract concept, this is a remarkably forward-thinking feature.

I think about the kids for whom Pokémon X/Y is their first Pokémon game, whose first ever Pokémon might be Froakie and who won't understand why getting a Charmander after the first gym is so awesome. These kids won't have to pick their friends exclusively from the select few people they see on a daily basis; most of them probably tweet as naturally as I speak, which gives them access to vast online communities and fandoms full of like-minded people, any of whom can be simultaneously friends and strangers.

I wonder how I'd have fared growing up in a world like this, a world where Bulbasaurs are traded across continents as readily as insults across a playground. I'm not sure it would have suited me. Social media still presents me with a certain level of anxiety, a need to check myself to ensure I'm being authentic without being an asshole, and I can't imagine having to deal with this extra level of social angst heaped upon all that which comes with just the raw fact of being a teenager.

Then again, I'm past it now, certainly too old for Pokémon, though I keep playing the damn thing anyway, and I missed being part of the Facebook generation by a scant few years. Kids just adapt to things - we adapted to the culture of developing little friendship circles out of a limited available pool of people, and I bet kids these days have adapted to using Facebook and Twitter to connect with one another in a way I never will.

Still, the entire internet is a big social platform to have to grow up on. I'm quite glad to have grown up in a world where our social interactions were tethered by link cables - not because I think those early friendships were any more meaningful for being physical, but just because I'm not sure how I, as a 12-year-old, would have handled the ability to address the entire world all at once.

I wonder what the equivalent experience is today of two kids sitting down on a sofa and swapping Nidorans like it's the most important thing in the world. I wonder how the internet has changed that. I hope that whatever has replaced this experience will remain as strongly and fondly in the minds of today's kids when they're grown up and sitting down with their new copies of  Pokémon Excelsior,  or whatever we're calling the damn thing by then.

I can't imagine what that will be like, but by then we'll probably be trading Bulbasaurs through wifi-enabled nano machines grafted into our brains. And it will be glorious.

Tom Battey is an author and person who sometimes writes about videogames. He writes at tombattey.com and does the Twitter thing @tombattey.


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Comments


Christian Nutt
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No way! Evolve that Scatterbug and you might get a Vivillon from another territory. =)

http://www.gameranx.com/updates/id/18237/article/pokemon-x-and-y-
guide-to-the-vivillon-patterns-around-the-world/

And besides, you might end up with a great pokemon, too. That's the magic of Wonder Trade...

Tom Battey
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Ah, see, I'd not realised there were so many possible types of Vivillion. That's pretty cool! Perhaps I'll be less harsh on Scatterbugs from here on out...

What I love about Wonder Trade is that while there are plenty of Bidoof-trolls, there are also lots of very generous people out there who send rare or cool Pokemon. It kind of reaffirms my faith in humanity when someone sends a Dratini or an Ivysaur out in exchange for who-only-knows-what.

Christian Nutt
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Yep! That's why I don't mind when I give or get crap, really. Just go again!

Ty Underwood
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For me, I end up with an entire box full of Abras or Bulbasaurs or Scythers because I am trying to breed on with a good nature. In the past these extras were treated like chaff, but now I think it's only fair to wonder trade all the rest so they all find a good home with nice trainers who will appreciate them.

Tom Battey
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@Ty: This is pretty much what I do too. One of the best things about Wonder Trade is that all those duplicate Pokemon you end up with, whether through catching or breeding (or more Wonder Trades) now have an actual purpose! You can swap them with strangers for Scatterbugs. And sometimes good things.

Carl Chavez
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Another interesting side effect of the new social Pokémon model is how the Friend Safari has made people broadcast their friend codes on Facebook and forums so they can get rare, high-IV, possibly shinier Pokémon in safari hunts. I'm still wary of having unknown people marked as "friends" on my 3DS who may spam me for chat requests and showing me naughty pics in their PSS profiles, but I guess lots of players don't care anymore.

As for Wonder Trade: I recently sent out 19 Togepi after a long breeding session. I was fortunate enough to get a Charmander, two Eevee, a Pinsir, a Froakie, and two Gible. Even the dreaded Luvdisc that I received still had a Heart Scale attached. So, in my experience, Wonder Trade has been pretty good. I think the players are more considerate than the Internet mobs expect. As for me, I'm about to send out a bunch of Hawluchas with held Wacan Berries...

Tom Battey
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I've not got as far as the Friend Safari yet, so I've yet to see how that works, but it sounds awesome! I'm looking forward to it.

I've found a lot of generous people on the Wonder Trade circuit - yesterday I got an Ivysaur! I always shoot back a 'nice'...and do my best to spread the Pokerus when I send out my own.

Jonathan Martinez
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As a 27 year old playing Pokemon X now, having been an 11-12 year old that played the original Pokemon Red (with lots of games in between) I gotta say, I can relate to your story.

Another interesting detail is that our generation of gamers is making this franchise far more multi-generational than it ever was when it started. Both the young and old can enjoy these games and they can even now be bonding experiences between parents and children. There's even an NPC in the game that says "I hope to trade pokemon with my children one day."
That is a very real possibility for the future. Very few franchises reach across generations like this and give old and new players something to bond over.

Brenton Haerr
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Honestly, I can say that I would LOVE for Pokemon to still be around in 10 years so I can play with my future son/daughter. Huge influence on me growing up.

I imagine this is how baseball is for dads who aren't horribly near-sighted and clumsy.

Ha.

dwayne hammond
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While I played many many games growing up, I never played Pokemon. I now have a six year old son who has become extremely interested in Pokemon through friends at school. He's dressing up as Pikachu for halloween... and we recently bought starter packs to play the card game together.
I THINK he's still a bit young for the game (again, I never played it myself) and I'm not sure that I want him on a DS quite yet... but Pokemon has already become a bonding thing for us. Honestly, at his age, doing anything with him is a bonding experience... and while I try to be careful to limit screen time for him, I will definitely enjoy sharing this game with him.

Jonathan Martinez
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dwayne, considering your boy is six years old, I wonder how he will respond to a text-heavy RPG.
I'd say, grab hold of any of the older games and give them a look. They all have the basics in common, adding more bells and whistles along the way.
If you think it's an appropriate game for his age, then go for it.

Tom Battey
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That's a kinda scary thought...there are people my age who played Pokemon when it was new who are old enough to have kids who are old enough to play Pokemon now. Wow.

That's pretty awesome - the idea that perhaps mum or dad can help out with their kid's first Pokemon adventure. Maybe trade rare Pokemon, or help train up their squad after bed time.

Like Brenton says, it's kinda like baseball for people who like Pokemon instead of baseball. It's really cool that videogames can have that kind of connection now.

Arthur Hulsman
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Can't wait to play pokemon with the Rift, while a pokemon holds up a virtual tv in where i can play pokemon and watch Modern Family at the same time. this all along with my buddy who is sitting next to me in the same (?virtual?) room.

Tom Battey
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I think Pokemon on an Occulus Rift would cause actual seizures. Seizures of joy, but also seizures of pain. In some dystopian future, this game will be weaponised to subjugate the dissenting masses by reducing them to piles of rainbow-coloured vomit.

cameron loui
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The days of Pokemon Red, playing on my huge fat white game boy. Since electronics were banned at my school, I sneaked into the bathroom with one of my friends and we hid in the handicap stall to have a Pokemon battle during recess. I stood on the toilet seat and he positioned his legs to look like someone taking a deuce. Awesome blog, ohh the nostalgic feels. :D

The other day I saw a little kid touching a monitor trying to click on things and move them, but the icons weren't doing anything and he was confused until his dad told him it wasn't a touch screen. I can't believe how much 10 years of technology has advanced.

Tom Battey
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Oh man, potential Windows 8 customer right there! Perhaps that interface isn't so misguided after all...

Sometimes I do stop and think about how much technology has come on in my relatively short lifetime. I'll be about to yell at my phone for not refreshing Twitter fast enough, then I'll remember when we first got internet (dial-up, with all the noises and dropped phone calls) on our ancient family PC, and I'll be like 'shit, when the hell did this happen?' Then I feel old.


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