This article is part of GameGulp's continued celebration of 20 years of Pokemon.
The first memory I had about “Pokemon” was not the anime, or any of its merchandizes, or even the pocket monsters themselves. It was the move called “Mega Punch.”
In early 2000, on my sixth grade, two other boys were playing with their respective classic Nintendo Game Boys. It was a novel thing to have in our time and area. Having one meant you’re a privileged fuck. And other students would revere at your presence, hoping to get a turn with what was the greatest handheld game console. Others would opt to steal it. But for the most part, everyone around our age who was too interested in a Game Boy like some holy relic that fell from the sky could only watch over the shoulder, drool, and hope and hope, until that hope withers away with mild envy and building, bulbous rage for the Game Boy’s stingy owner.
It was rare that anyone actually lent their Game Boys. Things got lost a lot around school, and no one was risking that for a damn second.
I had a Game Boy, mind you, which meant I was viewed as a privileged fuck, I also own an SNES and a Sega Genesis – both still working to this day – and this had placed my social status in the worst situation – a privileged fuck – and people around that school that weren’t privileged fucks didn’t like those kind of people – we were by no means, rich, but we did well. Despite the luxury of having multiple gaming platforms, I only had a few number of games: Spider-Man, Tetris, Contra, Sonic, Mario, and those things that we all can get tired off quite easily. I got to play more, only because other privileged fucks traded their own game cartridges with one another. I remember running across the street to meet up with our neighbor who also had a Game Boy and traded cartridges with him, which by the end of the week, ended up with someone else, until everything came to a full circle, where everyone has their original games back tucked in their pockets.
My biggest weakness was being a bit too nice, too eager to make friends, despite how everyone viewed me. So I lent my Game Boy, whored it around, letting everyone who touched it basked in its sacred monochrome light.
Gaming felt good, it was the grandest pleasure of all – until of course the glories of sex in later, later, way later years. I wanted to share it, let others enjoy a handheld gaming console that can fit in your pocket. Well, someone did eventually get to pocket it and run away.
It was the most devastating thing I had to go through as a kid. I ended up being one of the kids who looked over the shoulder of the ones who played with their own Game Boys. They glorified themselves in their own spotlight, holding the device for all to see. (Then again, they had every right to play with it during recess and lunch breaks.) About out of eight Game Boy owners, three were playing a game that caught my attention. I remember what that tiny screen said with frightening clarity: “TM 01 Mega Punch.”
I asked out loud what that was, like other kids who kept asking questions about the game. What did that attack do, was it strong, what game is that anyway?
Silence. Silence. More silence.
“Hmm? Uh, yeah,” he said.
Ah, okay. So, you can delete one of the four moves to learn that new move, why not try it out?
“Mega Punch is weak.”
From my perspective, Mega Punch doesn’t sound weak. That’s why it’s called “Mega Punch,” right? Right?
“Can I try?”
One of the reasons why my old Game Boy was so dear to me was because my mother bought it, as a companion for my SNES. She wasn’t paid well during her early career days, switching jobs every now and then with salaries only slightly higher than the last, sometimes lower. Once, she quit her job just to get on a plane and fly half the world to see me. A gesture I never appreciated until my older years, when I have grown wiser, and learned the truths of being an adult: The impossible question between being with your child versus a decent job to feed said child. The former is the common noble route—the fairy tale that many people seem to prefer, as if to say, it’s alright to starve as long as we starve together. The latter would ensure well being—and as Filipino soap operas and film loves putting, the child will grow up into an ungrateful shit, despite having all the privileges of the world.
Neither is the right answer, because there is no answer to such things. There is only compromise. It’s a situation not everyone takes too well, and with good reason. Though, as a parent, would you rather be with your child and together starve? No, that is not an option. What about the other? Leave child to earn some money. This is something children also don’t take too lightly – and it is a complicated situation that is blown out of proportions by the media, specifically the local films that feature overseas workers. In such films, children were determined to starve and remain uneducated than lose their parents. It’s such a low quality drama, truth be told, that underpins how the real stories of such things really go on.
In my case, it was a simple thing of meeting my mother halfway through our seriously fucked up situation. Both the Game Boy and the SNES were both fruits of my mother’s long hard labor, depriving herself of nice things for herself. It was a testament and a tangible form of her sacrifice and love for me. I had accepted these gifts like holy relics. The SNES itself is stashed somewhere in safety, still kicking should I decide to summon it once more.
A year after finding out about Pokemon, along with all its craze, posters and cards sold here and there. I vowed to somehow get into that game and show those stingy, privileged fucks what I was made of. While staying with my mother in the US for a few weeks, I found myself standing in the videogame section of Toys ‘R Us, staring blankly at a yellow Game Boy Colored. Then there the games, the faces of Charizard, Blastoise, and Pikachu posed their best in those carton boxes, as if trying to make an impression impressive enough to be adopted into our home.
“Do you want it now?” My mother had asked.
I wanted to say yes. I needed this game to fulfill my childish wants. Even then I felt her reluctance. She didn’t have enough money, and yet, even without me saying yes, must have felt it through her bones. She got me the Game Boy Color, the bright yellow one, and to match it with colors was a Pokemon Yellow. Pikachu stared at me, all charged up and ready for action. The excitement sent lightning bolts through my skin.
To say I was stoked was an understatement. The game was both simple and sophisticated, collecting monsters, trapping them in tiny red and white balls, turning them into gladiator slaves, to inflict harm against one another for the enjoyment of humans a step above life. Privileged fucks.
I captured every Pokemon I spotted, spent countless hours raising them. Then I spent days, fighting my way through the game, earning badges, raising my monsters, and fishing a lot. As an only child who often dwelled within the confines of his own imagination and staring into blank walls for hours, Pokemon Yellow provided me a lot of comfort in my solitude. Witnessing firsthand my Caterpie’s evolution to Metapod, and then to Butterfree, is and will always be, everyone’s first love. The phase of the evolution itself feels like a coming-of-age story that unravels some secret truth to life. Osiris, Egyptian God of the Dead’s first riddle, the first riddle ever: What walks in three legs in the day, two in the afternoon, and three at night? Man.
And what is a man walking through the phases of life? It is a journey, a constant evolution that seeks fulfillment in life.
Anyway, back to Pokemon.
The best part of having this spanking new Game Boy was I got to play games without bothering anyone who wanted to watch the TV. And Pokemon Yellow was far from any game I had played. It gave me some story—well, sort of, a roster of a 150 monsters to collect, experiment, and raise, eight badges to earn, dozens upon dozens of NPCs to beat, and of course, fishing.
Beyond that, I had to make sure my partner following me all the time was in a good mood. I don’t remember if there are any significant changes about Pikachu’s mood. But I always did my best to keep him happy, letting him fight first despite up against a rock monster. Believe it or not, on my first playthrough I beat Brock’s Onyx with Pikachu, by spamming Quick Attack and unleashing reserves of Potions. I also beat Lance’s Dragonite with Pikachu, using Mega Kick. I’m quite proud of winning against such odds.
Later that month, I got on a plane, and flew back home. I brought my new high-powered yellow Game Boy with a bright yellow cartridge and with a screen that has the faintest shades of colors in them. I was the only one in our small community that has Pokemon Yellow. Of course, some of the privileged fucks that played Pokemon actually started talking to me. We traded secrets and hints about the game, specifically the Safari Zone and searched for the mythical Missing No—an unfair privilege that I didn’t experience with my Yellow.
Now, here’s the funny thing. If anyone opens up their Pokedex, they’d notice there are a ton of missing Pokemons on that list. Despite our great efforts to locate those hidden Pokemon, we never found them on the game. No one understood why some games had ekans and the other a coffin, or one version has Magmar, and the other only has Electabuzz.
After scouring the Internet, it turned out we all needed to trade – and who had a new Game Boy with a complete set of equipment? I did.
Pokemon trainers from school flocked my home, using my cable to trade Pokemon. More people caught wind of my mythical cable and more came running in, hoping to complete their Pokedex. I remember a Red player trading me her Haunter, and I my Kadabra, and we both screamed out our surprise at what happened. True story. Best fucking coincidence ever.
And then of course, we battled each other for the first time. This is only based on my memory, but if I remember it correctly, there were three options to do battle against each other, which required Pokemons at certain levels. This made it impossible for us to use some of our best Pokemon in battle. It was still fun by the end of the day, using other Pokemon we have stored in the box and neglected for so long.
I lost, they lost. On one very important match, where we had bet three weeks’ worth of lunch money, my Level 60+ Blastoise was knocked out by a Level 60+ Nidoking. This was after getting a lucky critical using Blizzard on his Zapdos. I really don’t know how I defeated his Nidoking with my Pikachu – all I remember was using Mega Kick. I don’t know how Pikachu did it, but that Nidoking would’ve needed to go the nearest Pokemon Center ASAP. The final round was an even greater stroke of luck. Pikachu faced off against Articuno. He moved first, using Blizzard, and for some lame-ass reason, missed. And my Thunder knocked him out in a single, super effective hit.
Of course things didn’t end there. Many more battles took place in the future. I was also the most patient of the trainers and I say with such great pride, I was one of the very best. I was the first to raise a Gyarados, Rhydon, and a Dragonite.
Things didn’t change when we jumped to Gold and Silver. I got Gold and raised a kickass Typlosion, and I’m sure that we all had eye-popping revelation that after finishing the Johto region, we can actually explore the Kanto region and collect 8 more badges and fight another set of Elite Four, a champion, and the main character from the previous Pokemon version.
Sadly, those were the last glorious days of Pokemon.
I haven’t gotten around Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. But in my experiences with the X and Y games, the whole connectivity has been taken for granted. It felt less genuine, and more like a chore. All I had to do was raise ten elekids and I basically got everything I needed through online trade. Of course, this changes the whole meta, the whole trading and battling, and the Pokemon community as a whole. These impersonal Pokemon trading were more about conquests, knock down the next foe after the next – the sense of discovery of the bigger world of Pokemon has evolved.
It is less about exploration. The meta-game is all that matters. People might complain that this devalues trading. It has. That’s no debate. But rather, it encourages to seek out battles with other players. No, I’m not talking about online battles. I’m talking about going to conventions, meet other players in school, get together and play.
On a flight to Guam, which took four hours, I popped up the game from my bag and discovered another player within the plane. He must have been surprised too and a challenge was immediately issued.
We never sought out each other though. But on my way down the plane, I saw a boy quite younger than myself, holding a blue 3DS. I nodded to him, seeing if he’d acknowledged. He didn’t, instead looked at me confused and probably awkward. And that made me feel stupid all the same.
On a nerd-infested convention, my friend detected two players within the vicinity. We found them, a boy and a girl, couples it seemed, and challenged them to a two-on-two battle. They were younger than us and understood the meta more clearly than anyone. Our team never stood a chance. They were coordinated and knew each other’s Pokemons.
It was still fun. It just needed a new approach.
The journey in Pokemon is no longer confined in its screens. It has expanded its horizon, putting the exploration onto the real world, meeting new friends. That’s what the merchandise is telling people, anyway. The upcoming Pokemon Go may or may not be a disaster, but the whole Pokemon name itself needed to evolve and they are following the grassroots that Nintendo has established.Looking back, I don’t think my mother knows how much getting that new Game Boy with Pokemon Yellow has made a difference in my life. And that’s not being cheesy. I actually got to socialize better with my classmates. Though, I understand that most of them didn’t end up as my friends, just people that talked to me because I had a game they liked and I had something they needed—the cable—but there were a few rough gems out there that ended up being some of my closest friends.