Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I'm 21 and Still Love Pokemon, Let's Talk About That.

Internet, look at the sidebar, now back to me, now back to the sidebar. Unfortunately, the sidebar isn't me; if it were me, the ladies would need a moment to change their underroos and the men would have hetero-erotic erections out of pure appreciation. You might notice that it's not something else, either; it's not a poll. There's no Poll this week, Internet! Now before you begin looking under your beds, high-fives, or voluptuous bosoms for the wayward poll, stop! Because there is no poll this week.

Take a deep breath, calm down, it's going to be okay. This isn't the end of internet democracy. Democracy's just taking a break because democracy has finals next week and really can't afford to spend next Tuesday night writing about Dinosaurs or popular culture or something awesome like that. Democracy is also a metaphor for Tom, in case you were a little slow to pick that one up. It's okay, I won't judge you.

Well, okay, maybe a little. 
But don't worry! Neither this week nor next week has been ruined! I will be giving you guys a full post this week because hey, you voted and I can't wait to talk about this topic. Additionally, there will be something up next week, though what that will be, I can't yet say. Ideally, I'll find someone to write a little bit on something awesome but if I can't get that nailed down, I'll throw up a short story I have lying around or, if I'm feeling like I've got a good handle on stuff, I might put together another Dead Tom post for you guys. No matter what happens, there will  be something up and there will be some sort of poll which probably features dinosaurs. So, you know. For all you folks who voted for dinosaurs and only narrowly lost, you should totally still vote next week because damnit, I really want to talk about dinosaurs and you want me to talk about dinosaurs so let's make sweet, sweet, dinosaur prose love. 

But before we do that, let's make sweet, sweet, Pokemon prose love. I'm excited for this post for obvious reasons, but for less obvious reasons in that I've got a folder full of Badass Pokemon art that's been waiting for this day. Some might even say...biding its time.

That joke missed a fairly reasonable number of readers and I am A-OK with that.

I'm 21 and Still Love Pokemon; Let's Talk About That

Short version: Pokemon is Emergent Literature. 

Long version:
It was a fateful  fall in 1998 when my mom took me to Wal-Mart to purchase for me a copy of the original Pokemon games. I had seen my friends playing it and fallen in love with the cartoon and so like any kid, I had to have MORE DAMNIT. Really though, despite my earnest need to possess it, I kinda knew fuck all about Pokemon. Seriously, I had no clue what I was getting into, other than other people had it and so I had to have it as well. When the bored teenage clerk-person asked me which version I wanted so he could go back to wishing he didn't work there, I verbally puzzled aloud that obviously Red Version came before Blue Version (obviously) so Blue Version must be harder than Red Version and I should start with Red. 

Clearly, I had no clue what I was talking about because both games were mostly identical and had been released at exactly the same time and that's not even how games work. I was kind of an idiot as a kid. I kind of still am now, but for totally unrelated reasons. 

Seriously, I was such a stupid kid, I didn't figure this out for years. 

Pokemon was unique for a whole host of reasons, but in hindsight, I think the biggest thing about it was it was one of the last big games that came out before the internet made everything easy. When I got Pokemon, I had two sources of information about what to do; the game itself, and the crap my friends made up in the eternal schoolyard pissing contest of "Who knows more about Pokemon" If you were caught up in this, then you know what I'm talking about. Stuff like Mew being hidden in the game, that one Ghost from Lavender Town being catchable, challenging Professor Oak to a Pokemon Battle, the supposed "Missingno." Pokemon that you had to follow a set of arcane steps to reach, but once encountered, would give you an infinite number of the item in your sixth slot, crazy stuff like tha--OH MY GOD THAT LAST ONE WAS REAL.

For those of you not in the know, there was a glitch in the original Red and Blue versions that, once aforementioned arcane steps were completed, you could encounter a messed up Pokemon with weird attacks that could actually mess up your game really bad, especially if you caught it, and would, indeed, give you an infinite (More recent sources say 128) number of items in the sixth slot of your inventory. It looked something like this:

Wild Tortured Leftovers of Evolution appeared! Preform a mercy killing?
The glitch was, in a word, profound. It was obviously totally gamebreaking, the glitch being perfectly repeatable meaning HOLY SHIT GUYS, INFINITE MASTERBALLS! But the effects of that actually weren't too far-reaching. The required location for the glitch was rather late-game and by then you already had a zillion Pokemon and at least six out of the eight badges so really, no big deal. What was far-reaching were its effects on the aforementioned total-bullshit-rumors that it came packaged with. Your friend would show you Missingno, and next thing you knew, you were wasting six hours trying to get Gary's sister to have sex with you because your friend totally saw a screenshot, and it was awesome.

Missingno reached even further than that, though. Like I said, the internet wasn't quite yet the full force it was today and YouTube certainly wasn't a thing at all and so there weren't really many ways to shine the bullshit flashlight on stuff to make sure it was legit. Pokemon was far from the only game to experience these kinds of crazy rumors; in Tomb Raider there was said to be a cheat code that took Laura Croft's top off, in the Ocarina of Time, you could buy the Triforce from a shop once you beat the game, that kind of stuff. The difference was that, quite by accident, in Pokemon, one of these rumors came true and now, like a California Rumor Gold Rush, people started combing the game for other awesome stuff. They even did actually find some stuff, like a city made entirely of glitches and the fact that there are THIRTY-NINE GODDAMNED CATALOGUED VERSIONS OF MISSINGNO. There was now a distinct sub-sub culture of people who sought out and discussed Pokemon cracks, glitches, and conspiracy theories. To my knowledge, the only other game that had gained this kind of distinction was The Legend of Zelda, and that had already had about ten years to crank up to that level. 

And then something truly amazing happened. Two amazing things, actually. 

The first was that the internet finally got around to really happening.

Yeah, kinda like that.

 As I'd said before, Pokemon as a sub-culture and the Pokemon conspiracy theorists as a sub-sub culture were very cloistered away from each other. There were message boards, but the internet was still scary and full of viruses and geocities and 56k modems and once we got all that sorted out, these groups were brought together, as only the internet can do. Now, for most other things, Zelda conspiracy groups included, this had sort of a vaporizing effect because now people from all over the world could share their experiences with one game and confirm that no, there was no possible way to get Laura Croft naked, no matter how bad you wanted to see her poorly-rendered, cone-shaped boobies, you cannot beat the running man, and there is no cow level. Except for Pokemon. It did the opposite for that. These communities grew. So effectively, Pokemon had all the community connections the internet had to offer without losing much of its crazy. The reason it was able to resist comes down to the second amazing thing.

Pokemon fans grew up, but didn't stop being Pokemon fans. At the time, this was kind of unprecedented. We were all still in the mindset of "Games were for kids or lonely men" and it baffled people when lonely men sometimes did not appear. I'll admit, I fell into it to, and was part of the significant dropoff Pokemon experienced around the time they were releasing their third generation of games. There was a distinct span of time where I scoffed at people who still played Pokemon and proudly declared that I'd grown out of such a silly game, but the staying power remained for many many people and it's not hard to see why; forgetting the stigma attached to it, social, religious, and otherwise, putting aside the fact that it's fantastically and amusingly bugged, the Pokemon games contain impressively deeply detailed worlds, genuine secrets, and masterfully balanced (especially considering the size of the roster) gameplay with a distinct "Easy to learn, challenging to master" feel to it. That in mind, it's not hard to see why it captured the imaginations of so many kids and why many of those kids still enjoy the games today, even passing the games on to their kids, occasionally. Possibly even dumping their kids in a forest and instructing them to go train wild animals, but I mean, that can't have happened more than once....

"Look son! It's a wandering, tortured soul! Capture it and make it do your bidding!"

Now, when Pokemon was released, it was a sensation: Pokemania. For several years after, it was something of a cultural event; a thing that changed the makeup of not only American culture, but multiple cultures across the world. These days, I consider Pokemon to be Video Game Literature. Let me tell you why. Consider the picture I've painted for you so far; Pokemon had a huge rumor culture which benefited from being relatively large due to the size of the community, having a good head start from the pre-internet days, and also have a healthy number of legitimate rumors. As these same people who got into and stayed with Pokemon grew up, they stopped using the time-honored method of "making shit up" and started using clues and facts from the contexts of the games and cartoons. Here's an example of someone putting together that there may have been a war in the Kanto Region, of which you are the first generation to never see:

Click to Enlarge.
Here's another pretty well-founded theory that Ditto is a failed Genetic Experiment created on the way to cloning Mew:

Click to Enlarge
And here's a huge infographic with a load of them, some batshit crazy, but many of them being legitimate theories based on stuff that can be found in the games and cartoons:

Definitely click to enlarge this one
Finally, on a more technical side, here's a link to a wiki page that explains the exact mathematics that goes into catching Pokemon. People just figured this shit out. 

There's this idea that Literature is very high-minded and complex and yes, parts of it definitely are; sometimes stupidly so. For a huge portion of it though, that's not just untrue, it's dead wrong. Despite there being degrees available for it, anyone can do Literature. Really, it's just picking out details and coming to conclusions based on those details. Alexandre Dumass is Literature, so is Doctor Who. Hell, so is The Simpsons. All Literature really is is the codified, institutionalized science of being a really, really big nerd. All those Star Wars kids who argue about Greedo shooting first, slowing down footage, citing other examples and even going so far as to move outside the movie universe, into the actual production of the film? They're practicing Literary Scholarship. Any time you argue the events of a movie, book, television show, or video game, you're partaking in Literature. Here's a video which compares the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Classical Greek Philosophy. And that's part of why I love Literature so, so much; because when you get really really good at it, it makes your favorite stuff so much more interesting.

But I can already feel the stinging burn of a thousand eyes being rolled at once. Or maybe like...six. I don't think my readership's that big. I'm sure though that at least a few of you, maybe even a few of the douchey lit majors, are thinking to yourselves "Tom, that's silly. The creators of Pokemon surely didn't mean to imply all of this information, this is just fans being crazy and super nerds." And you know what? You're right. You're absolutely right. But then again, what did we just establish that Literature Scholars were? Really big nerds.

There's a saying in Literature; no interpretation is wrong, so long as you can back it up. Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 about Television. Most people think he wrote it about censorship. Everyone's right because everyone can back it up; it can be about both things. At some point, it becomes less about what the creator was trying to get across and more about how that message was interpreted. What the creator was trying say is important, definitely but no matter what they do, it's always going to come down to how the audience perceives it. This can lead to some masterful manipulations of perception like Starship Troopers and also accidentally commenting on things that you never intended to speak on, for better or for worse, as was the case with Bradbury. 

So you're right, absolutely right. Neither Gamefreak nor Nintendo tried to imply that Giovanni was Ash's father, that Cubone was what happened when baby Kangaskahns get orphaned, or that Gengars were corrupted/dead Clefables. These little bits of non-canon details sprung up from the world the developers created in spite of it though; people have and continue to interpret the events and details of the world of Pokemon to come out with increasingly awesome things. Pokemon has even met with a form of deconstructionism in the form of an advice dog meme.

That's a pretty good point, actually. Man studies Pokemon his whole life, yet  his encyclopedia is completely empty...

Pokemon has become this sort of Emergent Literature; literature that was never intended to be, wasn't designed or intended, just sort of happened as a byproduct. And although the amount of these new interpretations have lessened significantly as the sensation died down, it continues to happen, people continue to make new inferences based on this universe they grew up loving and as more people grow up with Pokemon, more of this keeps happening. If that's not a real term yet, by the way, I'm totally taking credit for coining it. 

So there you go, I love Pokemon, not despite my age, but because of it; because I got to be the seminal generation that brought it outside its own limitations. I got to experience this growth firsthand and even take part in it. I helped affect and grow an entire cultural event and that, my friends, is awesome.

Plus the games totally kick ass.

Thank you, goodnight.

I bet this being my profile picture makes so much more sense right now.

1 comment:

  1. I'm 22 and still enjoy Pokemon, still play it, still catch episodes every now and then, and read up on it all the time. Glad to see you've embraced it again. G'Night TOMBLINA! :D