At Boy Scout camp, we had no reception. To use the Internet, we had to go to a narrow span of space inside the staff lounge and stand on one foot while leaning to the north, which was the only place the WIFI worked. I did this once a day to check my email, and, occasionally, I looked at a newsfeed to see if the outer world was still there. It was here, while balanced precariously in a northerly direction, that I saw the headline:
Pokemon Go More Popular Than Porn.
This was my introduction to Pokemon Go.
At first, I confused this with Pokemon Sun and Moon, the new DS game my kids have been waiting for. It took a little while before I realized that this was, actually, something new. Very new.
This was like nothing that had ever been done before.
Ash Ketchum gets off to a rocky start
but almost two decades later, he's still going strong!
A bit of history:
My first encounter with Pokemon was, well, probably before you heard of it.
Back in the late 90s, I wrote for a briefly-existent magazine called Animefantastique. It was put out by the folks that publish Cimemafantastique magazine. They wanted to cover anime for the American audience, but maybe they started too soon, as it was not yet as big as it would be a few years later. So the magazine did not last long. My last article for them did not even get published.
My last article was on this new-fangled thing called Pokemon.
A scene from the very episode my sister-in-law translated for me
So early in the Pokemon phenomena was this that, in order to review the TV show, I had to get my Japanese sister-in-law to translate an episode. It had not yet been released in English. This was before the release of the first movie, which came out in 1999, I believe.
This movie introduced Mewtwo.
Mew is cuter.
As part of my article, I interviewed the head of 4Kids Entertainment, the company that was bringing Pokemon to American. In the conversation, I asked him if he thought that Pokemon might make a big splash and be popular for a year or two. He told me that a year or two was nothing. Shows like Power Rangers and Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles had maintained their popularity for four or five years. 4Kids had high hopes.
Turns out, they were right! More right than any of us could have foreseen!
(Including them. Apparently, in 2005, 4Kids did not renew their contract to be the American distributor of Pokemon. Maybe they thought the fad was over. Poor guys.)
Then, when my eldest son was three, his godfather lent him 72 episodes of Pokemon. Almost the first two seasons, I think.
It was love at first view!
Love at first sight–unlike Ash and Pikachu,
who did not get along at first.
I remember the day I heard pitiful wailing coming from downstairs. I ran down. My three-year-old was in tears. Rushing to his side, I could find no injury. Eventually, the mainly-pre-lingual boy (he learned to talk quite late) was able to communicate to me:
Butterfree had gone away.
Ash's first catch.
In the TV show Pokemon, ten-year-old Ash Ketchum’s first Pokemon catch, after he and Pikachu set out on their Poka-journey, was a Caterpie. Caterpie evolved into Metapod, who has the ultimate technique of harden, as in hardening its cocoon-like outer shell.
“Harden, Metapod! Harden!”
But I digress.
Metapod then evolved into Butterfree, a cool butterfly pokamon who could do actually effective attacks, like put people to sleep. Eventually, however, the day came when Butterfree was mature enough that it was its time to go off with a flock of other Butterfrees, to do whatever Butterfrees do that lead to little Caterpies.
So Ash had to let his very first catch go.
And my three-year-old son cried.
It was the first time he had ever been upset by something that was not a concrete problem. I was impressed that he was able to comprehend the sadness of the scene enough to be upset by it. It showed he was growing up.
What followed was a childhood steeped in Pokemon.
According to some…this is the best Pokemon of all
My sons watched the show. They hummed the song. They played the card game. (I won’t even tell you how much I spent on cards one summer. Or about the time that the neighbor’s kid tricked my four year old out of the most expensive card we owned. I stormed right over there and got it back.) They played with toys (many of which they inherited from their cousins, so they were straight from Japan.)
Not our house…but it could be.
Eventually, they even played the video game.
Iced poka ice cream cake.
We even had Pokemon birthday parties. In the Pokemon TV world, kids leave on their poka-journeys at ten. So both of the talking boys got a Pokemon party for their tenth birthday. I planned Orville’s for a whole year, buying cute plushy pokamon dolls, so that every kid got to unwrap one from pokaball colored paper and take it home. I even made a pokaball ice cream cake.
Holding a pokaball — maybe not my best picture.
By Juss’s tenth birthday, I had even found plastic clear and red spheres, that looked like pokaballs to put the plushies into. We went out hiking through the local forests, pretending to spot pokemon, and running off to catch them.
You could say that we played Pokemon Go before it was cool
Catching Pokemon before it was cool.
Note the riolu in hand.
They lived and breathed Pokemon.
It changed our life.
Orville even invented his own world (Eddaria) with his own version of Pokemon (W-Beasts, short for War Beasts), which he still works on, even today.
Young magician and his assistant, Turtwig
So, when I read that they had come up with a way to make it so that kids could go outside and catch Pokemon on their own, by combining a video game with GPS geocaching, I thought:
Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.
Then, the stories started pouring in.
First the horror stories: Two people walked off a cliff and were badly injured trying to catch a Pokemon. Someone got pulled over by the cops for speeding—trying to catch the Pokemon you could only catch at 88 miles per hour. People walking into traffic without paying attention.
But then came the good stories.
People getting out of the house. People going to seminaries and churches. One seminary had a Pokemon Go event and reported six conversions.
Bestselling author John Ringo wrote a very touching piece about the way that getting out and hunting Pokemon changed his health and his life.
There are even dog shelters that that will let your walk their dogs while you play (so you don’t look too stupid out there on your own. Helps the dogs, too.)
But the people who are the happiest are young men, a bit like my sons, who grew up with Pokemon, watching it, playing the card game or the video game—watching someone else journeying around to capture pokamon.
And now, they can do it themselves.
The joy on the faces of young men in their twenties who I have spoken to about this game…I’ve almost never seen anything like it.
And to hear modern young geeks talking about the hours spent hiking or the distant they have biked.
Exercising geeks. Almost a miracle, in and of itself.
The first thing my kids discussed when they heard about the game was how long you could keep it interesting. Pokemon Go has about 150 pokamon, but currently there are something like 721 pokemon in the game/TV background.
That promises a lot of later releases.
“And then they could introduce breeding,” said my younger son, who has spent serious amounts of time trying to breed Pokemon on his DS to get just the one he wanted.
Being able to both walk out and catch pokamon…and get new varieties by breeding the ones you catch with people you meet on the street…that has potential.
And then, there is Team Rocket. Who would not want virtual spies stealign their hard-won Pokemon. Not to mention that Giovanni could easily use Pokemon Go to carry out his plan of world domination!
Pokamon are everywhere. The president of Isreal had to call for security when this member of Team Rocket showed up in his office.
Giovanni even cries out "Go! Go!" in his theme song. Clearly he forsaw Pokemon Go over a decade ago!
Giovanni of Team Rocket.
His theme song is one of my favorite songs. Cool lyrics:
"I was born to rule the world.
"There'll be world domination, complete obliteration
"of all who now defy me!
"It will all be mine, power so divine
I will tell the sun to shine
On only me!"
Oddly, my kids are not interested in Pokemon Go. Probably because they don’t have smart phones. But I suspect it is just a matter of time. Sooner or later, someone in the house will get a hold of the game, and a new chapter of Pokmeon adventures will enter our lives.
Gotta Catch Them All!