In the Morris house, Christmas started at 6 AM and not a minute later. I would excitedly jump out of bed, run down the hall, turn on the TV for the annual Yule Log on FOX, and begin rummaging through my stocking. On the top was usually filler: some chocolates, a few cookies, and a new action figure or two. On Christmas Day, 1998, something heavy sat at the bottom of my stocking: a brand new, purple Gameboy Color with Pokémon Blue! That was the only thing I asked for that year, and I almost couldn’t contain my excitement. I ripped open the boxes, smashed some batteries into the Gameboy and began what would become one of the greatest adventures in my video game career.
Twenty years later, Pokémon has come full circle. In mid-November of 2018, Nintendo released a remastered, console version of Pokémon Yellow called Pokémon: Let’s Go. When I heard the first announcement, I knew this was a game I was going to buy upon release (which has become a rare occasion for me nowadays). The more I saw of this game the more my hype intensified: Pokémon that follow you around, wild Pokémon show up on the map instead of hidden in the grass, full 3D models and attack animations, and a brand new catching mechanic. All of it finally coming to console; it was a dream come true. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
But I wasn’t just excited for me. I had a son at the end of October and the journey so far has been stellar. I play all my favorite game soundtracks, I have littered his nursery with Star Wars toys, and I play video games with one hand and hold him in the other. Each and every day, I can’t wait to open his eyes to the wonderful world of nerddom, and boy does he have a world to discover. But one of the things I am most excited for is the day we can sit down on the couch together and play Pokémon. I look ahead to that day and my heart is overwhelmed with excitement. What will his favorite Pokémon be? Will it be Charizard? Golduck? Farfetch’d? Perhaps Sandslash? Or maybe he’ll take after his old man and pick Gengar? That day is coming soon, and Pokémon: Let’s Go is going to make it that much easier.With a decent internet connection, I can continue to meet up with people around the world and take part in action-packed battles with the Pokémon I’ve collected over the years.
Pokémon: Let’s Go really focuses on bringing people together and creating bonds. It’s a theme that is apparent both in and out of the game. It’s no secret that the Pokémon games have pushed friendship in their previous installments. In fact, some pokemon require a high friendship level with the trainer to evolve. I started with the baby pokemon like Togepi, Elekid, and Pichu. In the early days, attaining friendship simply meant walking around with the Pokémon in your party, using them in battle, and healing them when they were hurt. Over the years, the mechanic has evolved, adding things like feeding the Pokémon poffins (a Pokémon muffin) to enhance a special appearance stats to perform better in the Pokémon Super Contest. Outside of evolving and collecting the occasional Technical Machine (TM), striving for friendship didn’t mean much; but that has changed in Pokémon: Let’s Go. The emphasis to befriend your Pokémon has moved from a background mechanic to a vital component in battle. As you travel alongside your Pokémon, winning battles, giving them candies, or even petting them, that bond they form with you begins to show. While in battle, your Pokémon will start to dodge different attacks, hold out from fainting after taking a heavy blow, or even land critical hits more often. This changes the way we see our Pokémon, not merely as things to catch and train, but, instead, partners.
In 2016, Niantic worked with Nintendo to bring the world closer together with their mobile AR game, Pokémon GO. A smash hit with a roller coaster of highs and lows, Niantic gave us our first real taste of what it might be like if we could actually be Pokémon Trainers. I spent countless hours and walked hundreds of kilometers looking far and wide with thousands of other people to find all the Pokémon possible. I battled in gyms, I partnered up with groups to take part in legendary Pokémon Raids, and I made a few friends along the way. I’ve met hundreds of people, young and old, fans and non-fans, African-American, Asian, Caucasian, Middle-eastern, Native American. I’ve played in my living room and on a different continent. Pokémon GO successfully connected all kinds of people through our mobile devices, all in hopes of becoming Pokémon Masters. Nowadays, my time for walking around is limited, but that has never stopped me. In Pokémon: Let’s Go, I can continue that journey. With a decent internet connection, I can continue to meet up with people around the world and take part in action-packed battles with the Pokémon I’ve collected over the years.
I’m not the only one with stories of how Pokémon created a connection with other people. I took to the streets to hear other people’s experiences and how their life was impacted.
Jonathan Reedy: My first Pokémon story is just how I found out about it. It was my first day of Kindergarten, and sure enough, the kid I sat next [to] on the first day started telling me about Pokémon. I had no idea what it was but [the] other boys in my class started talking about it, too. I remember one of the kids had a Pokémon branded Lunchables and my mind was blown. We cut out the pictures from the back of the Lunchables box and played with the cardboard Pokémon all through recess in the sandbox. I didn’t have a Game Boy then, but I began watching the anime on Kids’ WB and I would go back to school and ask my new friends what the Pokémon in the intro were and asked whether or not this Pokémon evolved or not. It was these conversations that led to some friendships that lasted throughout elementary school and even through high school.
A couple of years ago, my brother visited home for a Christmas gathering and brought his girlfriend and her 8-year-old daughter with him. He wanted the family to make a good impression. When we went out to dinner, I sat across from Arianna, the daughter, and me being awkward and not really used to being around children searched desperately for something to talk about and lo and behold she was holding the Pokémon Ultimate Handbook in her hand. BINGO. I started to chat about pokemon with her and discussed what her favorites were. Now, and my brother is engaged to his girlfriend and Ari is going to be my first niece! We’ve already exchanged multiple Pokémon gifts for Christmas and birthdays and she has already declared me the “Cool Uncle.”
Joe Monzo: Because of the phenomenon that Pokémon GO was at its incarnation, I see Pokémon GO breaking down more barriers than I do other games. I’ve become friends with people I would have never meant to if I hadn’t met them during a raid or something else concerning Pokémon GO. This past summer, I was invited to a birthday party of someone in my raid group. It was his 69th birthday. And I at 30 years old was one of the youngest people there. Despite our differences in age and the generational gap that is so prevalent nowadays, we were able to sit around a campfire and shoot the breeze about our successes with Pokémon.
Nintendo has created something truly special. It is impossible to find someone that doesn’t recognize at least one Pokémon (even if it might be Pikachu). The twenty-year path they have forged had spanned multiple generations across the world. I like to think that every pokemon fan has a story about a person they’ve met or something that has changed in their life because of the series. Regardless of our background, our age, our disabilities, our race or gender, Pokémon has taught us all one thing…
…to be the very best, like no one ever was.