Me, Myself and Pokémon

By Tanner Mondok

Throughout my life I’ve played a ton of video games, and during that time I’ve built deep connections with particular series and their characters, stories and gameplay.

When I look back at the highlights, “Halo” and “Mass Effect” immediately come to mind. Both series taught me a lot about video games while “Mass Effect” taught me more about myself than I expected it to.

More than both of those iconic series, there is one that has been with me my entire life. I can’t even remember what my life was like before it — Pokémon.

I find myself feeling nostalgic about Pokémon right now because of “Pokémon Sword” and “Pokémon Shield” just recently being announced for the Switch. I do this every time a new game is announced.

For me, Pokémon runs deep.

The first video game I ever played in my life was “Pokémon Red Version,” and looking back, it appalls me how much it has shaped my life.

“Hello there! Welcome to the world of Pokémon!”

Ever since I read those words from Professor Oak on that tiny Game Boy screen, my life has never been the same.

That feeling I had as I walked up to Professor Oak alongside my rival, Blue, waiting to select my first Pokémon, is still one of the most profound moments I’ve experienced in a video game.

In Pokémon games today, that classic moment of picking your starter  Pokémon still carries a lot of weight, but back then having never played a video game before and being faced with a decision between Charmander, Squirtle and Bulbasaur and knowing they’d accompany me on my journey through the Kanto region really captured my imagination.

I remember knowing how important that decision was but not being aware of the stats and types of Pokémon I’d be catching in a few minutes. The first gym battle being rock type, I went with my gut and chose Charmander, the one I was hoping would evolve into the cool dragon on the cover of the game, Charizard.

From that point on, the rest was history. Pokémon was going to be a part of me for the next two decades of my life.

I quickly obsessed over all things Pokémon. The anime, movies, cards, action figures, clothing and every mainline game.

From the time I went to see “Pokémon: The First Movie” in theaters with my grandma and brother so I could get the Pikachu promo card, and then doing the same for “Pokémon: The Movie 2000” for the ancient Mew card it was clear I was already incredibly dedicated at such a young age.

Yes, I was Pikachu for Halloween one year as a kid and yes, I frequently clipped Poké balls to the belt loops on my pants. I was a cool kid.

I even distinctly remember crying when Misty left the show. My mom was yelling at me to get outside because we were going to the mall but I was glued to the screen. Misty was saying goodbye to Ash, Brock and Pikachu. I couldn’t just leave. Oh, and then Brock decides he’s leaving too?

Finally once it was over and I got outside my mother was a little confused as to why I was crying. She had no idea what I just went through.

I recently spent a couple days in Columbus with some friends and apparently while I was gone my parents decided to do some cleaning.

Sitting on my desk when I got back were a few things from my past that I had completely forgotten about: an old framed photo of Ash with the three original starters and Pikachu, a Pokémon Emerald poster and two guide books.

One of the guide books, a Pokémon Emerald guide book, is the perfect item from my past to show just how big Pokémon has always been in my life.

I was flipping through the guide book and noticed there were some papers stuffed in between two of the pages: a rubric for a middle school English project and a piece of notebook paper with some poorly written notes on it.

I had completely forgotten about this, but it made me remember that not even school could get in the way of Pokémon. I managed to do both at the same time apparently.

While all other aspects of Pokémon have remained constant for me since I played Red for the first time, collecting the trading cards has been on and off.

During the Ruby and Sapphire days, and then Diamond and Pearl as well, I was basically blindly collecting the cards.

I would open packs, not even rearranging them to put the rare on the back, and then have no context as to whether the cards I pulled were viable competitively or worth anything. I just enjoyed the process of opening the packs, seeing what I would get and appreciating the artwork.

I was obsessed with collecting them but I wasn’t necessarily looking for rares. I didn’t even battle other people with them either.

My grandparents would frequently go to Rogers Flea Market and I would always tag along because I loved looking through the cards that one of the vendors were always selling.

I would pick through them and spend at least $10 every time and in relation to the value of Pokémon cards, they definitely weren’t rare and they probably weren’t competitive cards either.

After awhile I stopped collecting and even had all of my cards up for sale at one point. But, almost like I was looking out for my future self, I pulled the listing off of eBay.

Starting early last year, I got way back into collecting the cards and I started going hard.

I would buy multiple packs a week, obsessively research values of the cards, play the trading card game online. I made a mural on the wall behind my desk of all my rarest cards that I add to as I pull what I consider to be worthy.  

I’m still collecting now but not as hard as I was when I started again. I still can’t go to Walmart without walking out with at least two packs, but I’m not obsessing over them.

The movies, the anime and the cards have and always will be a big passion of mine but of course they wouldn’t be there for me if it weren’t for the games.

I’ve probably played every Pokémon game for at least 50 hours or more with some games probably reaching 200 hours.

Good or bad, I’ve enjoyed them. I’ve just always been attracted to the standard Pokémon RPG formula that has yet to change significantly.

Sword and Shield look to be more of the same, but it is the first of its kind to be released on a console and not a handheld, so that could mean for some interesting changes to what these games have been since the beginning.

Many people have been vocal about how they’re tired of getting the same game every year, but I’m okay with it. Sure, it’d be nice to get some changes and I appreciated the changes made to “Pokémon Sun” and “Pokémon Moon” in 2017 but I’m just excited for a new game with new Pokémon and a new region.

I’m definitely biased and that’s okay. I’ll always love Pokémon just for being Pokémon.