Pokémon Retrospective, Part 4: My Life As A Fan

From its very inception, Pokemon was designed for building a community. Satoshi Tajiri desired to convey his love for catching bugs to a new generation that grew up in a concrete-laden city. When he saw the Game Boy’s link cable, he imagined creatures crawling across it. He wanted players to share the bugs they caught with each other. Pokemon is not just a personal journey, but a social one as well.

Getting kids to socialize and connect with each other was built into Pokemon’s DNA.

Pokemon suddenly transformed the zeitgeist of the late ’90s. My entire generation at least knows what a Pokemon is, can identify Pikachu, and remembers when schools banned Pokemon cards. Schoolyard discussion revolved around how to find rare Pokemon and who had the best team. The social landscape was ablaze with wildfire rumors. I never believed the kids who said you could get infinite Rare Candies in Pokemon Red and Blue until they showed it to me. At that point, you could’ve invented whatever secret and I would’ve fallen for it.

I drew this to commemorate Pokemon’s 20th anniversary back in 2016.

In the ’90s, video games had regressed into being a “boys club” where advertisements and even game design elements tried to appeal to masculine stereotypes. That doesn’t mean that some girls still liked these games, but it did create a barrier for others. However, when Poke-Mania arrived, people that normally weren’t part of that “boy’s club” bought into the craze. One of my favorite babysitters would sometimes bring over her binder of Pokemon cards, and she was a hip teenager! At one point she even let us play her copy of Pokemon Stadium. Because of its universal appeal, people of any race or gender could relate to it. Pokemon created one of the first gaming fandoms that truly welcomed everyone.

Some of my favorite Pokemon.

My enthusiasm for Pokemon soon boiled over from just playing and talking. Using the Nintendo Power Player’s Guide as a blueprint, I started drawing my own Pokemon sprites and stat sheets. I liked drawing the sprites in mid-action. It was my attempt at encapsulating the Pokemon’s personality in one static image, like Sandshrew spinning in a ball. I also tried to improve the movesets of weak Pokemon, like inventing actual Bug-type moves for Pinsir and Scyther to try and counter the overpowered Psychic type. I’d like to claim that I invented the move Bug Bite, but it seems Game Freak was already on my wavelength. Eventually I created my own Pokemon region north of Johto and Kanto. I imagined the player would need to hike over a mountainous route in order to access the region, and it would house even more of the Unknown ruin sites first spotted in Johto. I guess you can also thank me for inventing the Sinnoh region? Sadly my drawings have been lost to time, at least from the time of this blog post.

As an adult, I found that Pokemon fans all across the world came together to share their love for the series. Thankfully that social experience that began at recess has never stopped. These people gave me renewed vigor for Pokemon, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without their amazing work.

RIP The National Dex – you were my favorite YouTube channel ever. This screenshot is from their first episode, featuring Kabutops.

First of all, I have to credit Pokemon YouTubers for creating all sorts of inspiring content. My absolute favorite YouTube channel of all time is The National Dex. Every week they would air an episode detailing not only the design inspiration for a specific Pokemon, but also a brief summary of competitive battle strategies. I never knew Pokemon designs had so much thought put into them. Mr. Buddy’s “What If” Region videos are also impressive presentations that vibe with eleven-year-old me.

It was never finished, but I adored Alerity’s Nuzlocke comic of Pokemon Emerald.

Second, Nuzlocke web comics. I went on a year-long binge of Nuzlocke comics in grad school, consuming all I could come across. For those who don’t know, a Nuzlocke is a self-imposed challenge that makes you limit the Pokemon you catch and any fainted Pokemon is considered “dead,” unable to be used again. People make webcomics of their runs, and I was addicted to them for a while. I found the Nuzlocke challenge fascinating and highly rewarding. Myths of Unova is one of my favorites if you’re looking for a quick recommendation. I credit Nuzlockes for teaching me about the several complex layers of Pokemon’s battle system. I don’t think I can review a Pokemon game now without doing a Nuzlocke run first. I can’t go back to playing Pokemon without the tension, drama, and emotional investment that Nuzlockes offer.

Isn’t AlviaAlcado’s drawing of Mew incredible? DeviantArt is full of magnificent works just like this.

Third, fan art. Pokemon fans are so dang talented. Whether it’s new pixel sprites, music remixes, fan games, or just plain old visual art, I am overwhelmed by the quality work people put out for free. Some of my favorite works tend to be Fakemon (aka made-up Pokemon), particularly the hypothetical evolutions for starter Pokemon. It’s a time-honored tradition every time a new Generation is announced. Every single fan-made evolution for Sobble is better than the actual thing. My poor Sobble…

Aren’t Lanmana’s Eeveelution concepts the cutest?!

There are so many parts to the Pokemon fandom that I could make it its own series. There’s competitive Pokemon, where the players are so smart they can run laps around me in the mind games department. There’s the romhacks, so so many romhacks. I could dedicate this blog entirely to fan-made Pokemon games and I’d probably never run out of content. From YouTube retrospectives to Reddit memes, the Pokemon community has offered many delightful things to me. I had to take a break from 2018 to 2022, just because the divisiveness was too much for me, but I’m glad to give Pokemon fans their due.

Thank you, Pokemon fans.

Sources / Further Reading:

  1. http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2040095,00.html
  2. https://tcrf.net/Pok%C3%A9mon_Red_and_Blue
  3. https://www.gameinformer.com/b/features/archive/2017/08/09/game-freaks-origins-and-non-pokemon-games.aspx
  4. https://youtu.be/VwCkDeT5VL4
  5. https://alteritynuzlocke.tumblr.com/
  6. https://www.deviantart.com/alviaalcedo/art/Pokemon-Mew-621824706
  7. https://www.deviantart.com/lanmana/art/Eeveelution-Designs-827571779

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