Pokemon GO Is The Second Time I've Missed The Pokemon Party

Image Supplied

This is not the first time I’ve missed a Pokemon party.

In fact, looking back, avoiding Pokemon has become something of a lifelong habit.

A habit that's come back to haunt me.

Welcome to 2016. Welcome to Pokemon GO. Welcome to the video game story of the year. Welcome to the goddamn Thunderdome.

It's weird. The whole thing has a whiff of Déjà vu about it. Time is a flat circle and whatnot. It's hardly the first time the world has gone crazy for Pokemon. Hardly the first time Pokemon has left me bewildered. Pokemon has been confusing me for most of my adult life.

The year. 1999. Pokemon has been out in the US for almost a year. It's been driving Japan crazy since late 1996.

Roughly 17 years from this point Pokemon GO will be headline news. It will slither its way into Australian consciousness like a technicolour ringworm; there it will stay until it consumes us all. It’ll drive mainstream media wild. It’ll have adult men and women doing things previously thought unimaginable, including -- gasp -- taking walks in the park.

Back to 1999. Back to Pokemon Red. A different time. Pokemon is different. Pokemon is simpler. Pokemon is children huddled around a barely-lit monochrome screen. Parents don’t understand and, frankly, neither do I.

I’m 18 years old. I’m surly as fuck. I love video games -- Nintendo games in particular -- but I’m in my second year at university. I’m too busy trying to impress girls and pretending to like poetry to play Pokemon. I’m not even sure where my Game Boy is. I haven’t touched it since my fourth play through of Link’s Awakening and I’m fairly sure that beneath that thick layer of dust lies a cracked screen, batteries that need replacing and buttons that don’t work all that consistently.

Pokemon: I don’t even have the slightest urge to catch ‘em all.

It’s 1999. What am I doing? I’m probably reading Edge and being obsessive about Star Wars. I’m probably playing Grim Fandango. I'm probably stuck on one of its bullshit puzzles. I’m playing Ocarina of Time. I’m borrowing a PlayStation to play this Metal Gear Solid game everyone is banging on about.

Image Supplied

Then one day my younger brother comes home from school. He turns on the TV --

“I WANNA BE THE VERY BEST…

“LIKE NO-ONE EVER WAS…

“TO CATCH THEM IS MY REAL TEST…

“TO TRAIN THEM IS MY CAUSE!!!”

What the hell is all this racket?

I stumble from my bedroom. I'm making weird noises. Groaning noises.

I swear to God I am the shittest teenager who ever lived. My hair is greasy. I’ve yet to discover the link between soft drinks and the pus-filled plukes that keep appearing on my forehead. My hormones are pulsing. There’s nothing that can’t disinterest me. Nothing I haven’t figured out. Nothing I’m not smarter than.

My brother is on the couch, nodding his head to the beat, still in his school uniform, eating a bowl of cereal.

He is watching Pokemon, the animated series. This is some weird-ass shit.

What. The. Fuck. Is. Going. On.

I turn around slowly. I walk back to my bedroom. I close the door. I never open it again. Pokemon is dead to me. Pokemon was never animate. Pokemon was dead on arrival. A corpse. I wanted nothing to do with it. Ever.

Hindsight being 20/20, that was probably a mistake.

Today, as a ‘fully-grown-adult’, it’s obvious to me that enjoying something aimed at a younger audience is a-okay. It's obvious my instincts were misguided. But I’m sympathetic towards 18-year-old Mark, fumbling blindly in the dark, desperately trying to construct an identity based on the things he does and doesn’t like. How the hell was he supposed to know that Pokemon would become a billion dollar, global phenomenon that transcended generations?

How was I supposed to know that -- almost 20 years later -- I would be editing a video game site during a second Pokemon frenzy? That my ability to do my job would be partly dependent on knowledge of a video game series I’d been ignoring for the entirety of my adult life?

Whoops-a-daisy.


Image Supplied

2016. Round 2. I also somehow managed to miss the second Pokemon party. How do I keep doing this?

I have no-one to blame but myself.

Hilariously, I decide to take a holiday. An overseas holiday. This was my first mistake. I’m terrified of accidentally racking up a tremendous phone bill, so I leave my phone at home.

That was mistake #2.

I fly out of Sydney airport on July 5. The world is normal. 30 hours later I land in Scotland, oblivious to the fact that the world was now abnormal.

Against my better judgement I decide to go online, check emails/Facebook/Kotaku.

Surprise! Pokemon GO has been released. Surprise! Australia is in tatters.

My social media feeds: Pokemon GO. Nothing but Pokemon GO. Kotaku Australia. Pokemon GO. Nothing but Pokemon GO. I’ve never seen anything like it. Our very own Alex Walker seizes the initiative. He was lucky enough to get access to the beta -- perfectly placed to write an early guide to the game. 'Here Are Some Tips For Playing Pokemon GO'. Three weeks later it’s the most-read article on our site ever.

Ever.

At one point there was more people reading that post than all the other posts on Lifehacker Australia and Gizmodo Australia combined.

A couple of people I know decide to organise a little Pokemon walk in the Botanical Gardens. Word spreads. Thousands of people turn up.

Thousands.

Mainstream media hops on boards. Everyone I know in games media is invited on TV: The Project, SMH, Channel 9. All the channels.

Hot takes. As far as the eye can see. A hot takes arms race. Every possible angle. Desperation. A hellish inferno.

Rhodes. A literal warzone. Water balloons. Police tweets. People on the streets. People losing weight playing Pokemon. People discovering dead bodies whilst playing Pokemon.

All the while I’m sitting in another continent -- a Pokemon GO-less continent -- utterly bewildered.

What. The. Fuck. Is. Going. On.

I close the tabs on my browser. I’m on holiday, I’m supposed to be taking a break from all this. I slowly close my laptop. I walk away.


 Meet Your Pokémon Go Team Leaders

Arriving back to Australia is like accidentally entering another dimension.

Everything is the same. My house is the same, my friends are the same. But something is different. I half expect it to start raining donuts.

My family visits to ask about the trip. We show a few photos, we order pizza. ‘Movie night’, someone shouts! ‘Great idea’, everyone replies in unison. But before we choose what to watch three on my in-laws are putting their jackets on.

“Where the hell are you going,” I ask. “It’s 10pm.”

They look at me all confused.

"Um… Pokemon GO?"

Obviously.

They walk out in single file like members of a strange and benign cult. 30 minutes later they come back, speaking a language I cannot understand.

This happens again, between episodes of Stranger Things, a show that should discourage walking around the woods at all hours of the night but somehow doesn't. The lure is too strong. My in-laws are on the prowl. Later they recruit a non-playing relative to drive them around Parramatta in search of Pokemon.

This is the point where I'm supposed to complain. That's where 'hot takes' like this are supposed to dove-tail. This is the point where I'm supposed to hate the thing you like, make fun of it, drag it down. But I'm not going to do that. Not this time. That's 18-year-old Mark shit. That's not 35-year-old Mark.

The truth is I don't understand Pokemon. I never have. I sure as hell don't understand Pokemon GO.

But I want to understand. I really want to.

Yet it truly is bewildering.

It's bewildering to wander into this strange dimension where knowledge on Pokemon GO isn't just required, it's taken for granted. A dimension where people are already tired of the universe I'm about to discover and explore.

Where do I even start?

I suppose it starts with the simplest of steps: downloading the app itself. A step which I've already taken.

All I need to do now is choose a team.

Hmm… who do I go with?

Red… blue… or yellow?


Comments

    Team Red!

    I can sympathise, I missed every iteration of Pokemon, only had the most vague idea of what it was, and I mean v-a-g-u-e to the point of knowing there was a red and white ball and it was short for pocket monsters, and, errm, that's about it really.

    My daughter started talking about Pokemon Go, I ignored it. She went to Brisbane for a week, just as it started, and kept sending me odd texts and pictures. A week later, I drove to Newcastle to get her from the airport. It is a 4 hour drive, and I ended up in Newcastle a few hours early. I used to live there, so I decided to take a walk down some old familiar streets.

    The streets were packed on a Sunday night, which isn't usual. People were walking, saying hello, in groups, and as it was night time, I could see the screens they were all staring at whilst walking, stopping, then laughing or groaning. It all appeared to be the same thing.
    I eventually asked, and of course it was Pokemon go.
    It was like the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, people out and about, friendly smiling, but I had no idea what was going on.

    I picked up my daughter an hour later, installed the app and we went for an hour walk whilst she introduced me to the game. We talked and laughed and bonded over our screens, which previously had been more a device of separation.

    The whole family is now involved in the game, it is actually social, and fun. I have no desire to catch them all, but I have seen my community change around me in a way I thought impossible with all the media fear and xenophoibia of late.

    It is baffling and amazing, and I'm glad I finally gave it a go.

    Last edited 25/07/16 11:13 am

    You're sitting in probably the best office in the country if you want to learn about Pokemon GO.

    Serrels honestly here's some advice from a Dad to a Dad:

    Let your child get you into it. Find a small area with a lot of poke-drops and walk around there with your kid. Doesn't matter if your kids 2 or 3 or 10 or 13. Fact is, if you walk around with your kid, sharing your phone, letting them get the drops and swipe the balls on screen to catch the pokemon, it's a fantastic experience as you're a.) outside, b.) sharing an experience together and learning and c.) bonding with an activity you can share that your kid will remember forever that you did with them :)

    My kid and I go for long walks at this point around the lake near our house, he loves when I let him carry my *expensive as fuck phone* (SIGH... yeah its on contract so I'm more nervous) I don't tell him I bought a tough as nails case just because of this reason lol. But he digs it and he loves the fact we're doing this together. So do I. So get on the bandwagon and pull your kid along with you, you won't regret it no matter how old they are :) Because you're never too old and they're never too young.

    Last edited 25/07/16 11:19 am

      And as a dad to a 13, 16 and 17 year old we are all out doing Pokemon together. Even lets me help the 17 year old get up his hours driving us around. (i do his phone too, whilst he drives).

        Good man :) It's one of those rare few games that truly does bring the family together isn't it?

          You have reminded me of my dad and how he used to play videogames with me and my two younger brothers when we were kids. He has even given Pokemon GO a shot and have been able to talk to him about it, amongst other videogames. I'm 24 and it's still great being able to talk videogames with my dad! Something that always will be part of our relationship.

    I've been doing some research to understand the reason why it's become such a cultural phenomenon so quickly, and it turns out it's actually a pretty simple game-design practice which has been utilised incredibly effectively in this case.

    You see, they've basically managed to distil "crack" into video-game form, and by basically, I mean quite literally. The crack is rapidly absorbed through touch when you flick Pokeballs, and then activated with colour and sound when you successfully catch another Pokemon. This is why even after catching your 500th Zubat, or hatching that 10k egg only to get a fucking Pidgey, you persist, because you need more of that sweet, sweet crack.

    edit: Team Blue, obvs

    Last edited 25/07/16 11:25 am

    I'm with you Serrels. Never got on the Pokemon bandwagon. I downloaded the game, tried it briefly and didn't know what the fuss was about.

    Fast forward a few days and lots of people at work are so in to it. I felt like I was missing out so decided to give it another go. It's starting to suck me in now lol.

    I too went through Uni hearing about pokemon, but never touching it. Pokemon was a kids thing, and I was into clubbing and partying and only played games like diablo and starcraft. I defined myself as a real gamer, but always turning a blind eye to the pokemon stuff. They were never games to me. Not sure if its gaming karma or whatever, but man has it come back to bite me in a$$.

    My partner started playing pokemon GO and just watching her miss her shots made me download the app to prove a point. Now a week later all i can say is... im on the same bus that everyone else is on. Not to mention the terrible theme song resonates through my household as she has chosen to watch the series from scratch on Netflix. What I have tried to avoid for so long has come full circle on me.

    Funnily enough this re-education is not that bad.

    ARRRGggghhh...

    Mystic! If nothing else it will piss off old mate yellow next to you.

    Step 2 isn't pick a team...you need to hit level 5 first ;)

    This game has made me discover that my 4yr old son likes walking outside, discovering our neighborhood, looking at bridges, gets excited when we find a new bridge and there's water under it! It's really become a great bonding activity, the night after our first walk he lay in bed telling his mother about all the things he'd seen and how I carried him up hills and said she should come next time too.

    I guess this is where nerdy dad becomes outdoor dad and also dad who spends more time with kids because kids love outdoors.

    Pokemon? What's that?

    Seriously though I've never been drawn to Pokemon even when I was a kid. Part of it might be because I grew up in India, in a house with no TV, so whatever the cool kids were doing with Pokemon made no sense to me.

    It still makes no sense to me. I mean, why should I catch 'em all?

    Last edited 25/07/16 12:02 pm

    Red if you're awesome, blue if you're unlovable, and yellow if you eat glue.

    Seriously though, pick a team that has a presence in your area but isn't the majority. It doesn't really matter too much. you just want to make sure it's not one sided so you can play properly.

      I'm a PAX enforcer so Yellow shirt = Team Yellow :P

    i used to like Pokemon as a kid but grew out of it. I do want to play Pokemon GO but... Windows phone.

    I was 17 in 1999, satyed up late when I shoud have been doing Year 12 homework playing Blue on emulator. The TV show was okay, but the game blew me away. I still feel the same - the games are still the finest JRPG's for me, the TV shows are decent for kids.

    My two year old insists on looking at all of the different Pokemon I have, turning them around and pressing on them so they make a noise. She also knows that there is a fire horse down at the park, and that we should go get it. She also likes to flick the Pokeballs at the Rattata and Pidgeys and Zubats that appear in our driveway, and for her it's a cute, colourful, loud distraction that she can mess with while we walk around.

    Given she barely sees my phone or what I do on it (against her ongoing protests mind you), I would say there's something pretty powerful about this process of building a menagerie of cute critters (even though you then viciously battle them into oblivion).

    I'm counting the days until I can sit down with her and play a co-op game like Mario Bros, but for now it's kind of cool seeing her interest peaked without the adult concerns filter of a crappy server system, or barebones mechanics.

    That is what drives Pokemon I think - quite literally catching them all is a vicarious and thrilling experience, and this new augmented reality version preserves that same thrill. Watching the jiggle and count of a Pokeball as you wonder if you've caught that 500CP Squirtle is a very fun experience in it's own right, and that's barely not even accounting for the hardcore nostalgia PokeGo is harnessing.

    It's the same counter argument as before - people wandering about glued to their screens, silly and pointless game loops but hey, whatever floats your boat. I'm going to take my girl to the park to catch a Ponyta and go on the slide.

    Life long Japanime fan and Pokemon had me hooked pretty much straight away with the start of the TV show then emulating the games, through to playing Black and White 1&2 on my DS =)

    I can wholeheartedly agree that Japan knows how to make very addicting and deep RPG's. I am very biased based on my experience with JRPG's and Anime haha

    It's never too late to join the Pokémon party :)
    Really enjoyed your article Mark. It was very well written and made me laugh.
    Hope you enjoy Pokémon this time around!

Join the discussion!