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Davis, California

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Celebrating Pokemon’s 23rd Birthday

Over two decades, 807 Pokémon later, Pocket Monster franchise still holds a special place in hearts of millions across globe

Just home from preschool, alongside an overall-clad gang of toddlers, I took to digging a hole in my family’s backyard. With shovels in hand and determination in our hearts, we went to work — strewing weeds and tulips all over my mother’s manicured lawn. Were we headed to the center of the earth? No, we aspired to greater heights. This hole was to be our portal into the Kanto region — the land where our friends Pikachu, Squirtle and Charizard awaited us. To the delight of my toothless compatriots and to the dismay of my mother, we dug with the vigor of a herd of Dugtrios to escape the confines of our suburban neighborhood and discover our true calling as Pokemon Masters. 

This was only one of countless childhood memories linked to the world of Pocket Monsters. In fact, I owe my own literacy to Pokemon. While collecting countless booklets of the Trading Cards, I picked up Pokemon speak — replacing words like “medicine” and “sunlight” in casual conversation with “Hyper Potion” and “Solarbeam.” To this day, I still get immense pleasure from the satisfying click of capturing a legendary on the billionth Pokeball or watching Jesse, James and Meowth of Team Rocket blast into oblivion. 

  This past week, on Feb. 27, my beloved franchise celebrated “Pokemon Day” in honor of its 23rd anniversary. Pokemon trainers across the globe participated in “raids” through Pokemon GO, the iOS gaming app, to catch limited-release Pokemon legends like Mewtwo. Over two decades after the initial release of Nintendo’s classic video games Pokemon Red and Blue, Pokemon’s success has only continued to skyrocket. This can be attributed, in part, to the community aspect of Pokemon, which has attracted all sorts of people across the spectrum. From preschoolers to elderly to nerds to jocks, Pokemon does not discriminate. In honor of the series’ anniversary, I sat down with fellow Pokemon trainers to reflect on their relationship with the franchise. 

People come to Pokemon in odd and mysterious ways, and for Harris Terovic, a diehard Lucario fan and a third-year neurology, physiology and biology major, his love affair began in the hospital.

“My love started with the TV show,” Harris said. “When I was in kindergarten, my mom sterilized a lot of my stuff, so I wasn’t used to bacteria from the outside world. I had a pretty weak immune system and ended up in the children’s hospital for a cool weekend. I remember they had a vast collection of Pokemon cassettes, and I just sat in my hospital bed all day just watching Pokemon.”

On July 6, 2016, the date of Pokemon GO’s release, Terovic and his friends who shared a bond over the series reconvened in a mission to fill their Pokedex through the augmented reality gaming platform. By the end of the day, an additional 10 million people downloaded the app to live out their dream as Pokemon trainers. Now, four years later, the app has amassed a whopping billion downloads in the race to catch them all. Terovic reminisced on that fateful day when his childhood dream came true.

“I remember when [Pokemon GO] first came out, there was a Reddit post saying, the first few days of Pokemon GO was the closest we’ve been to world peace,” Terovic recalled. “My friends and I left at like 10 a.m. and didn’t come back until around 8 p.m.”

Gyassi Pigopt, a proud Charizard father and recent graduate of Alameda Community College, had the opportunity to visit Pokemon World in 2016, a gathering of over 9,000 Pokemon players — the largest at the time — in San Francisco, where he witnessed the full breadth of the Pokemon community.

“It was so amazing to see so many people from so many cultures gather together in one spot all over a game,” Pigopt said. “It really transcends all social boundaries. It doesn’t matter who you are, it doesn’t matter where you are from. Just the fact that you can get into Pokemon and love Pokemon and that community.” 

When it comes to Pokemon, love truly knows no boundaries. Pigopt also touched on the unique enduring power of the franchise that lasts well into adulthood.

“I play with full grown adults who have nine-to-five jobs and a family with kids who can still take these themes from Pokemon and apply them to their lives,” Pigopt said. “They still have that care about the series, and I don’t think you can really get it anywhere else.”

The community of Pokemon devotees is extensive, with fans covering the globe — from Japan to Australia. Through the video game platform discord, Terovic has found fellow Pokemon trainers right here in Davis who gather to participate in special raids and proudly don their personal collections.   

“I see the way they communicate with each other,” Terovic said. “They’re smiling, and it’s people of all ages, like our students and even staff just having a great time doing it. Some of them look like they could be professors.”

The deep attachment to the universe is cultivated through interactions with vastly different mediums of the Pokemon universe. For Melissa Thayer, a Celebi devotee and a third-year environmental science major, it was Pokemon Leafgreen for the Gameboy Advanced that originally piqued her interest. Although Thayer has grown out of the handheld video games, she can still find her own niche in the comprehensive reach of the Pokemon universe.

“I don’t think [Pokemon GO] could have taken off how it has if it hadn’t had those 15 years or so [to] build up merch, shows, movies, games,” Thayer said. “But I think it has an overarching reach for a lot of people. I don’t play the DS game so much anymore, but there is still a cornerstone that I can connect myself to.”

A transformative factor between Pokemon and other games is the autonomy to choose your own path within the game and develop lasting bonds between trainer and Pokemon. The TV show and videogames reinforce each other to add emotional complexity to what might initially seem to be just a handful of pixels. Pigopt discussed how this intimate relationship transcends time.

“You create these narratives in your head where you are going to take care of them for the next round,” Pigopt said. “In other games, you don’t necessarily have any of that companionship. Most of them are purely independent, where it’s you against the world. But with Pokemon, it’s you and your Pokemon against the world.”

Hardcore Pokemon fans have become so engrossed by series that they find themselves imagining ways to manifest their passion and harness the powers of Pokemon in everyday life. 

“I recently broke my lamp and sometimes my room gets dark, so I think to myself, ‘What if I had a Charmander just chilling here with me?,’” Terovic said. “As long as he doesnt light my room on fire, then we’re good!”

Pigopt also mentioned that Pokemon can be adopted for day-to-day use, whether it be riding a pidgeotto to work or working alongside them to remedy some of the man-made environmental mess.

“Pokemon is something I think about everyday,” Pigopt said. “Pokemon can be so convenient and enhance the quality of life. It’s kind of a stretch, but I’ve had the brief idea that Pokemon could help environmental issues as well, if you think about Pokemon like Grimer who get rid of trash, or Pokemon like Rayquaza who could help preserve the O-Zone.” 

The people at Nintendo have deftly crafted a world and outside community that grows with you. This rings true in my own experience — 22 years into my life, I still have not been able to shake my itch. Pokemon provided me with an escape in times of turmoil and a loyal hobby to build lasting friendships. As I’ve moved from dirt-laden-kid-on-the-blacktop to nostalgic adult, I’ve learned a Pokemon Master will always be able to confide in the comfort of their Pokemon. So on behalf of myself and hundreds of millions of others around the globe, all I can say is: Thank you, Pokemon.

Written by: Andrew Williams — arts@theaggie.org


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