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Pokemon Go - Capturing the Spirit of Adventure!
For those living under a rock Pokemon Go is a new Mobile game for smart phones that uses location tracking to allow you to travel the real world catching fictional monsters known as Pokemon. Pokemon, or pocket monsters, are creatures that you can catch, train, and battle against other people who have their own Pokemon.
Since it's inception in the mid-90s Pokemon has been a popular video game, cartoon and trading card mainstay for twenty years and counting. As someone who grew up with Pokemon and still plays the games to this day seeing Pokemon Go take off the way it has helps to remind me of why Pokemon is so popular and how the spirit of the original Gameboy game is captured perfectly in Pokemon Go.
In this hub I want to share my own personal history with Pokemon and explain, to those uninitiated, just why Pokemon remains so popular and why Pokemon Go has brought a new dimension to the series.
The Series Roots
To explain Pokemon Go and Pokemon in general we have to get at the heart of what Pokemon is all about. Pokemon originate, strangely enough, from the idea of specimen collecting, particularly of collecting insects. Have you ever seen a display case of butterflies or other bugs? Ever gone out as a kid and collected caterpillars or watched a tadpole grow into a frog? The idea for Pokemon comes from the childhood hobby of series creator Satoshi Tajiri. Tajiri was clearly fascinated by nature and particularly by metamorphosis and evolution. This idea, of venturing forward into the wild to study nature and collect animals to watch them grow and develop is one of the fundamental building blocks of Pokemon.
To Boldly Pokemon Go
In the first games in the series, Red and Blue (Red and Green in Japan) the player inhabits the body of a ten year old boy setting out on a Pokemon adventure to help a scientist named Professor Oak learn about Pokemon. Along the way you capture Pokemon and form a bond with them by fighting battles together with other Pokemon Trainers who are on a similar quest to you. You can delve into dark caves, surf across the sea on the back of your Pokemon, cut down trees that block your path and even defeat gangs of criminals intent on stealing other people's Pokemon.
The idea is that you are adventuring and along the way you are collecting and documenting as many Pokemon as you possibly can, like an explorer cataloging new species.
This emphasis on going outside to catch them all wasn't just part of the plot of the games, in order to catch them all you had to go outside to connect Gameboys and trade Pokemon with your friends. Red and Blue, the first games in the series, had certain Pocket Monsters which were exclusive to each version. Someone who only owned Red Version couldn't catch them all unless he was friends with someone who owned Blue Version and the two of them traded with one another. This way they could fill in the blanks in their respective Pokemon Encyclopedia or Poke'Dex.
So from the very beginning part of Pokemon was getting children to socialize and play the game with their friends – you could even battle with your friends! And the game also carried with it an awe about the power of nature. Each Pokemon had a type usually referring to an element such as electricity or water and many of them had real world animal analogues such as Caterpie evolving into the pupae stage of Metapod only to later hatch into the beautiful Butterfree. As I mentioned evolution and metamorphosis were a part of the game, as was the idea of exploring and documenting the natural world.
Why the Obsession?
Many people are curious as to why Pokemon was, and now is again, such a sensation and why so many are playing it. Part of it, of course, is the desire to Catch Them All. Others want to be the very best trainer, stronger than anyone else with the best Pokemon. And there are a lot of Pokemon. While Pokemon Go only features the original 151 Pokemon that were present in Red and Blue at this point the full series has 721 different monsters with even more new creatures being announced as Pokemon fans await the arrival of Pokemon Sun and Moon the next 'tent-pole' versions in the series.
There is a Pokemon for everyone, whether you're into ghosts, fairies, dragons, or even icy-breathed Ice Cream Cones the series has left few stones unturned and the amazing variety of designs and abilities helps draw in people of all ages, races and genders. Pokemon is inclusive and yet competitive, in encourages cooperation in the pursuit of catching the best Pokemon and yet rivalries and battles can also develop. And now, with Pokemon Go, the games encourage people to actually travel, to go outside and interact with others because at this point it seems like EVERYONE is playing this game!
Parents Just Don't Understand
I understand that some people just don't get it. There are those who never got into Pokemon as kids, those who see themselves as too old to get into it now and those who enjoy feeling superior to others because they've managed to resist the latest fad. As a lifelong Pokemon fan the addiction runs deep, starting twenty years ago when I had my first Pokemon encounter. I can remember it like it was yesterday (wavy flashback lines go here).
My cousin was staying over for the weekend during the summer and I remember he brought a strange new game with him, Pokemon Red Version. I can remember all of my neighborhood friends gathered around the Gameboy screen trying to get a glimpse at the game as my cousin played it.
Sometimes he would consult my friends and I on what moves we should allow each Pokemon to learn, which Pokemon to use, etc. Sometimes he would pass the Gameboy around and let everyone have a few battles in the wild or against the other NPC trainers. This was before game systems had backlights, this was before cell phones were even ubiquitous, we played outside on the porch until it was too dark to play.
We'd never seen anything like it. I didn't know what a JRPG was, I didn't even own a Gameboy at the time. Pokemon was a whole new world to us, a world of monsters many of which were awesome and fierce. They shot lightning at one another, cut each other with vines, attacked each other with psychic powers and blasted fire at each other. The game was instantly addicting and, for a bunch of kids, it was hard. This was before games had constant objective markers holding your hand and telling you exactly where to go and what to do.
Making things harder was the fact that my cousin's game cartridge no longer could hold a save file without it being corrupted. When the batteries died we had to start over from the very beginning. If the game glitched or crashed, same thing, starting all over. I can remember staying up late playing and handing it off to my cousin who was excited about making it through the Rock Tunnel after finally finding the Pokemon move that lit up the dark scary cavern filled with hostile trainers and about a billion Zubats!
Back then it seemed an impossible milestone – the Rock Tunnel, and yet the next day we had to start all over again when the batteries died!
A few years later I had the game for myself. I can remember hours spent under the covers with a Gameboy 'wormlight' in my room grinding out experience so that I could become the Pokemon League Champion and hours spent battling my friends through a connector cable. While for many kids the cartoon was also addicting I never cared for it myself, I stuck to the games and trading cards, but mostly the games.
Pokemon is of the Devil
I've mentioned in some of my hubs that Pokemon was controversial in the 90s due to claims that it was Shamanistic, or witchcraft related and thus tied in with Satan somehow. At one point my Pokemon trading cards were confiscated by my Father simply because there were ghost and psychic type Pokemon. Eventually I did get them back but lately, with the resurgence of Pokemon Go, there has also been a new backlash from certain Christians that these adorable little creature's are actually agents of the evil one!
Just as with Dungeons and Dragons and Heavy Metal in the 70s and 80s these sorts of fears are common paranoid delusions surrounding anything that threatens to pull a kids attention away from Bible study and “Christian values”. Of course nothing in the Pokemon games, including ghosts that eat your dreams for nourishment, is as evil or insidious as the God of the Bible. Pikachu is never depicted murdering any first born, that's God's schtick.
Pokemon, Plural, Is Of the Devil
For those of us who grew up with the original Pokemon games it's difficult to describe to those outside the group just what makes the games so special to us. It's an adventure game where you can easily lose yourself in the world that it crafts capturing and battling and evolving Pokemon as you learn more about them. It encourages children and people of all ages to go out and greet the world with curiosity and also incentives socialization and cooperation through trades and battles.
Pokemon Go has revolutionized the series by making it even more necessary to get out of your house and socialize if you want to be the best their ever was. It has encapsulated the spirit of the original games in a way that has never been done before.
So Pokemon Go, and the Pokemon games in general, help capture the spirit of adventure that is all too often lost in our modern lives.