I last put my Poké balls on the line with Pokémon Diamond, a game I simultaneously criticized for its unethical game design while cuddling it affectionately in the corner. Almost two years have passed since I made my attempt at catching them all, or at least a sizable chunk. I told myself I was clean, that I would not subject any more pokémon the horrors of confinement and myself to the horrors of slow and tedious gameplay - no matter how much I enjoyed it. Alas, my defenses have weakened. I am increasingly gravitating towards Pokémon Black and White. To be clear, the game is less to blame than its army of players.
My primary inspiration for playing Pokémon Diamond stemmed from the joyful chatter my two housemates shared while playing through their own copies. Once again, their current chatter about both versions of the latest Pokémon fills me with a sense of longing. Their love for Pokémon is infectious. One even ordered the official guide, which is really more of a tome, mapping the game’s story elements and incorporating the Pokédex, a massive encyclopedia of available specimens. Passing up the opportunity to play Pokémon with friends, particularly those who so rarely play games to begin with, would be too regrettable. Even though most of the time I will be playing Pokémon alone, the sense of solitary play is absent.
The feeling of connectivity through play is a universal to some extent. One of the reasons I find the gaming community so interesting is precisely because I feel such an affinity for those who enjoy the medium as much as I. Playing any game, single-player or otherwise, can feel like a communal act. Yet the experience of playing Pokémon is different.
Case in point: Like any good nerd, I was recently browsing Reddit when I stumbled on two relevant stories that caught my eye. First, a man picking his daughter up from school was killing time playing an old copy of Pokémon Gold. His daughter’s classmates spotted the gameboy in hand and were thrilled to hear he was playing Pokémon. In the span of a few seconds, he went from a stranger to the cool dad. The second story is similar: a young man procrastinates at work by playing on his DS. A child walking by with his mother suddenly stops, dragging his mother to a halt. “What are you playing?” he asks the man. “Pokémon,” he says. “Wait. But why?” responds the child. The young man states simply, “Because Pokémon is awesome.” The child answers back, “Yea it is,” turns to his Mom and says “See Mom! I told you!”
Pokémon seems omnipresent right now, like someone called a universal huddle and we all agreed to play the game. Of course the reality is less exagerated - plenty of people are too busy shooting invaders in Homefront to think about Drifloon or any other imaginary creature. Rather, in my mind, Pokémon still holds so much cultural relevance that to play the latest iteration now, on the heels of its release, is akin to playing a MMO. To play Pokémon is to be part of something huge. In some ways, I am drawn to the game as though it were offering a chance to be part of history. As in the stories mentioned above, the game can transcend age gaps, it can bridge disparate players together. The allure of the latest Pokémon resides in its cultural relevancy. No matter how much I like or dislike the game, it can be an honor to play.