20 Years of Memories: A Sincere Thank You to Pokemon

I would not be playing video games today if I didn’t play Pokemon for the first time when I was seven years old. I can guarantee that as a 100% fact.

I first got a GameBoy Color for my birthday one year, and with it I got Frogger and Bomberman. They were fun games, but they weren’t what drew me to gaming. When my parents bought me Pokemon Blue version, (and my brother Pokemon Red version, this would be a recurring theme throughout my life) I don’t think they realized that they changed my life forever. Let me recount 20 years of memories this game series has given me…let’s take a trip down memory lane together.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Japanese release of Pokemon Red and Green version, so I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what is probably the single most influential game/media empire in my entire history as a gamer. It only feels like yesterday that I shoved that small blue cart into my bright lime-green GBCi. I turned on the game, was introduced to Professor Oak and was on my way to adventure. I remember the first starter I ever picked was Squirtle, because I thought Blastoise was the most bad-ass thing I ever saw. I remember naming that Squirtle “Nads” because I thought my character yelling “Go, Nads!” was the most hilarious thing ever. I remember the first Pokemon I ever caught was a Rattata, and the first time I saw an evolution it blew. My. F**ing. Mind.

I remember the grand feeling of mystery surrounding the first Pokemon games. I remember the best kinds of schoolyard rumors…”My dad knows someone who works at Nintendo, and HE says if you use strength on the car parked by the SS Anne, you can find Mew!” “I hear, if you keep surfing off Cinnabar Island, then eventually you’ll make it out to the Orange Islands from the show!” “I hear, if you surf up and down the coast of Cinnabar…you can find a secret Pokemon named Missingo! If you catch it, you can get infinite Master Balls, and Rare Candies!” The last one ended up being true. It glitched my game beyond repair, and I had to start over.

Missingno

I remember when I got my first Master Ball. I knew how much power it held, and that I would only get one. I had just watched the episode of the show where the giant Tentacruel destroys that one city, and I thought Tentacruel would be the most powerful ever. I wasted my Master Ball on a f***ing Tentacruel. When I learned that Tentacruel kind of sucks a lot, I was very distraught.

I remember the first time I had heard of Pokemon cardsii. I told my dad about it, he went out and bought this two player starter set for my brother and I. It came with two 30 card decks, and a super-special Machamp holographic card. Of course, my brother and I fought over it, and my dad stepped in and said “NO, YOU KNOW WHAT? I’M TAKING IT.” That would start my Dad’s, my Brother’s, and my obsession with collecting the cards. My dad still has a binder of all of the first eight complete sets of cards, first edition, in the garage somewhere, and I still have at least 4 or 5 binders and shoeboxes full of cards that I come back to every once in a while to look at and build decks.

I remember the first time I played the card game in an honest-to-god tournament. I went to the Del Amo mall and thought I was such hot shit with my Scyther/Hitmonchan deck. Turns out, I was not hot shit. I remember going to a Pokemon TCG “class” at that tournament where they taught me DATA: Draw/Attach/Trainer/Attack. You know, draw cards, attach energy, use trainers, and attack. I played a shit ton of that card gameiii.

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Yes, this is my original Pokemon Card binder I made as a wee, wee lad.

I remember being an asshole kid. One day, I was sick at home, and to make me feel better, my parents bought me a pack of Pokemon cards. They also got one for my brother too. He opened it up and found a Charizard card inside, and this was when that card was worth 100+ dollars. I had never been more jealous of anything in my entire life. One night, I stole the card, and brought it to school to show off to my friends. I left it in my pocket, and it ended up going through the wash. To this day, this is one of  my greatest regrets. Alex, if you’re reading this, I’m so sorry, I was a dick.

I remember 2009, the summer before I went off to college for the first time. That was the summer of the Pokemon Card resurgence, where all of my friends and I rediscovered the game, and started building decks all over again. I had a killer Gallade/Leafeon deck that no one could touch. My friend Mikey and I would head out to the beach with our newly constructed decks and play the game again, basking in the old nostalgia.

This isn't even all of the boxes
This isn’t even all of the boxes

I remember going to Burger King a whole hell of a lot. Back when the first movie came out, they gave out little Pokemon toys in their meals, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t have to collect them all. I remember walking into the first movie, collecting my “rare” Dragonite card (My dad, of course, would take me to see the first and second movies at least 6 times to get all of the different cards that came with a ticket.) I remember I had six Burger King Pokeballs attached to my belt loops, and I held one of them up triumphantly as the opening slate rolled.

I remember watching Mewtwo fight Mew was one of the coolest god damn things I had ever seen. I remember crying uncontrollable tears the first time I watched Ash get turned to stone.

I remember Saturday mornings on the WB. You can be damn, DAMN sure I never missed Pokemon on WB every Saturday morning. I remember that episode where Ash F***ING DIED and hung out with Ghastly, Haunter, and Gengar as a ghost. I also remember the one where a Ghastly was pretending to be a girl and almost drove that horny bastard Brock off a cliff. I remember watching the Pokemon League finals for the first time, where Ash was going up against Richie, and he got his shit rocked by a Bellsprout, and has to use Muk against it in order to winiv.

Hard motherf***kers
Hard motherf***kers

I remember that Ash LOST the Pokemon league finals to Richie, and that rocked my whole worldview.

I remember dumping way, way, WAY too many hours into the mini game section of Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Stadium 2. I played exponentially more mini games than I did actual stadium battles.

I remember playing Pokemon Snap for the first time. And also beating it after a couple hours of play time. Still one of the best short games I’ve ever played.

I remember getting Pokemon Puzzle Challenge for the Game Boy Color because it was the first game to come out having Pokemon from Gold and Silver in it. I remember playing the game consistently for at least three years, because I was so convinced that beating the elite four on the highest difficulty would unlock the Kanto trainers. It didn’t.

If there was a game that was my soviet trigger game, this would be it
If there was a game that was my soviet trigger game, this would be it

I remember when I was in college one lazy day, a friend of mine bought Pokemon Puzzle League on the Wii virtual console, and challenged me. George didn’t know my power, and I wrecked him. Turns out that game is now so ingrained in my memory, I can play it on reaction alone.

I remember doing something incredible. My dad went to Japan for a business trip one time, and came back with a Japanese copy of Pokemon gold version for my brother and I to share. Of course, this was months before the game would come to the US…and the entire game was only in Japanese. Through sheer force of will, trial and error, and looking up Japanese words on the internet, my brother and I made it all the way up to the seventh badge with our ol’ buddy Feraligatr. Though, we definitely didn’t know it was called Feraligatr at the time. To this day, I still think it’s one of the greatest brotherhood moments we’ve ever had, and one of the most incredible things we’ve ever done.

I remember the first time I beat the elite four in Pokemon Silver version. It was over, I was shoved back into my house at the beginning…and realized that THE ENTIRETY OF KANTO WAS IN THE GAME! It blew my god damn mind. I also remember playing against all of my old favorite gym leaders again. I DEFINITELY remember the first time I fought Red. He kicked my god damn ass. Then I remember the first time I beat red, when I came back with my bad-ass Tyranitar, which is my favorite Pokemon to this very day.

I remember the weekend Pokemon Soul Silver came out. It was spring break, and I was going on a trip to Disneyland with my girlfriend at the time, and two of my good friends. We had to get going early, but you know I wasn’t going to miss out on having Pokemon Soul Silver, and I wasn’t going to miss out on having the PokeWalker (still one of the coolest ideas a game has ever had) at Disneyland. I had them stop halfway from Phoenix to Anaheim at a random GameStop in Indio California at opening, because I HAD to be one of the first people in line to get it. It was me, a bunch of kids and some parents. I played it the rest of the trip in, and I kept that Pokewalker with me the entire two days we were at Disneyland. It was one of the coolest weekends I ever had.

Not seen: The Pokewalker. Seen: The Pokemon hat I wore to Disneyland
Not seen: The Pokewalker. Seen: The Pokemon hat I wore to Disneyland

I remember high school. Pokemon Diamond/Pearl had just come out, and the games were going through a kind of Renaissance for us at Aptos High. My friend Chris and I would whip the game out during breaks and recesses and play with/against each other basically whenever we had a chance. The code word was “cats.” We would talk about our “cats” so people wouldn’t know we were talking about our awesome Pokemonv. This was the only reason I was able to make it through a single day of Mrs. Phillips’ Spanish class.

I remember last weekend, when we were playing the drinking game King’s Cup. A friend of mine pulled a 9 card, which means categories. So you name a category, and then say things in that category until someone fails, then they have to drink. He said first 151 Pokemon in chronological order. He said Bulbasaur, I said Ivysaur and the girl after me didn’t know a single Pokemon’s name. The two of us went on to make it all the way up to Beedrill before fucking up.

I remember about an hour ago, where I tethered my 3DS to my phone in order to buy Pokemon Blue version at work, so I can begin reliving all of these memories over again.

This isn’t anywhere close to all of the memories Pokemon has given me in my life, I didn’t even mention seeing Pokemon the movie 2000 for my birthday, or how seeing the third movie helped me cope with living in a new city, or when I had to buy an individual wireless router to find a way into the Pokemon Dream World in Pokemon Black because Arizona State’s internet wouldn’t connect to the DS…

The fact is, there are just way too many memories I’ve had of Pokemon to relay them all. But for 20 years now, it’s been a staple in my life and a constant in my gaming career. So I want to thank Pokemon for all of these memories, and for all of the ones that are certainly still to come. (Pokemon GO, I’m looking at youvi.)

BONUS: I’ve been writing about Pokemon since I was a wee, wee lad. This is circa 2000-2001.

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