February 28th, 2017
Casey Moore, Host
February 27th, 1996 saw the Japanese release of Pokemon Red and Green versions, igniting a fire in the hearts of youth the world over. It became a playground staple in the States and a cultural surge that has yet to stutter in Japan, boasts loads of regional and national championships for both the video and card games, has an unbelievably successful mobile app, toys, candy, everything you can think of, Pokemon has been there and done that.
Yesterday was Pokemon’s 21st birthday, and there’s a joke about alcohol in there somewhere. I grew up strongly influenced by Pokemon, playing the TCG and watching the show and later getting a copy of Pokemon Crystal Version – the first video game I owned – for Christmas 2000. Naturally, the pop culture I’ve been involved in has been synonymous with Pokemon, being the foundation of no small number of friendships. Even my brother, my junior by 10 years, is enamored with Pokemon, regularly following the show and card game.
It’s nothing shy of a cultural bombshell. Pokemon has sparked leagues of bootleg knockoffs, fan-created mods, and a burgeoning competitive scene I fancy myself pretty good at. The day before the release of Pokemon X and Y in 2013, the entertainment room at my university broke into song of the “2BA Master” theme. Pokemon shatters the notions of cool vs uncool, exists beyond the niche of gaming, and for many people my age is the cornerstone of our youth; it’s nearly impossible to separate “childhood” and “Pokemon” for me.
The series has had plenty of turbulence with fan reception to its installments. Browsing just about any dedicated message board will show fans arguing which installments, or “generations,” were best and worst, with very little overlap in opinion save for disparaging feelings of Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Versions.
Most recently, the seventh generation installments in Pokemon Sun and Moon were so successful that the last sales quarter of 2016 was the “best-selling quarter for software in Nintendo 3DS history,” according to IGN . It seems the only direction Pokemon has ever had to go was up, and it shows no signs of slowing down.
It’s difficult to put exactly into words how significant Pokemon is without devolving into a list of the unreal amount of content the franchise has produced in its 21-year-long run. What Pokemon did for video games, propelling it into the spotlight with such grace and such genius marketing, is perhaps the most significant event in gaming history, bar the Nintendo wave of the 80’s reviving the entire market. Nintendo and its subsidiaries have consistently redefined what video games are meant to be, and Creatures Inc. blows that away with Pokemon – it’s no longer a video game, it’s a cultural phenomenon, it’s the childhoods of millions, it’s a landmark of multiplayer design philosophy, and a shining example of the innovation and creativity of truly talented game developers.
Pokemon is a labor of love. Franchise creator Satoshi Tajiri made the franchise as a representation of his musings of his own childhood, hunting beetles and embracing the childlike enthusiasm for exploration. Red and Blue could’ve been successes without the link feature, without the mystique, without the godlike marketing, but it was as though all the planets in our solar system and others aligned in just such a way that Pokemon could only ever been a groundbreaking creation. Pokemon is not a franchise made for children. Pokemon is a franchise made by someone who embraces a love of youth and a genuine desire to create something amazing, to give consumers a medium by which to experience the same childlike sense of wonder. Wanderlust, mystery, friendship, bonding – all analogous to Pokemon, and all crucial to its design philosophy.
Pokemon is so many things to so many people. To most, it’s a lens into childhood – the adults who played it when they were younger and fondly remember their Game Boys. To plenty more, it remains a lifestyle staple. To some, it’s a competitive experience, and to some it’s just a fun TV show.
To me, Pokemon represents the induction into my favorite hobby, a bridge to friendships, and a passion. It’s my childhood, and so far my adulthood as well, and consistently Pokemon games revive that desire to experience the world anew with each installment. I’m always excited to see what the new region has to offer, what new creatures there are to find, what new characters there are to meet, and every time I’m pleased with what I discover.
My 11-year-old brother loves Pokemon just as much as me, and that speaks volumes. It’s a way for youth to connect to the previous generation, and it seems as though it will continue to act as that conduit for at least a few more years to come – but probably several more.