Hangnails are annoying. They don’t really hurt — unless you’re a pro athlete. It’s minor but nagging — tedious stuff. You worry at the nail and the cuticle in your quest to deal with it, and once finished, you don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything.
Pokémon is my hangnail.
Pokémon’s long been an irritant
Yet I had never played Pokémon until Y. My first encounter with the franchise wasn’t through actually playing the games but my first job as a — believe it or not — sports editor at a community newspaper. I was already 25 at this point, but up until then, I hadn’t had any real exposure to Pokémon other than ads for the show and first movie.
One of my coworkers was an older woman, and her son was obsessed with Pokémon — the card game, the TV series, the movies, and the video games. As a single mother who cared deeply about her children and their interests, she naturally tried to follow his card-collecting as best as she could. I don’t fault that.
But she kept bringing the cards into work so she could organize them in a massive binder for her son, and she kept talk about them in the newsroom. Right. Next. To. My. Desk.
A paper’s newsroom isn’t like many work environments. You stay alert, ready to take a phone call and keeping an ear on the police scanner for crimes and other incidents. So putting on some headphones and blocking out what was at the time my life’s greatest annoyance was not an option.
So every time even the idea of playing Pokémon came up, I just recalled how many hours I spent that year at work picturing her kid’s giant folder of cards serving as the kindling for a weenie roast.
My secret shame: I’m a Monster Rancher guy
Pokémon is geared to children. Nothing’s wrong with that — but when I came across it in my adulthood, the idea of running around as a child in a video game turned me off. (I had similar issues with Chrono Trigger and a host of others at the time as well.)
But one day, at my local game store (back in the “before time” when we had more independent video game shops than chains), I saw a box with a round, one-eyed monster on it. This immediately appealed to my love of Dungeons & Dragons. (The Beholder is among my favorite D&D monsters of all time.)
Yes, I realize that Monster Rancher is every bit as childlike as Pokémon, and as a game, it’s inferior. But I loved its hook — birthing monsters from CDs. I actually spent quite a bit of time putting random music CDs in my PlayStation to see what I could get. I would then fight these creatures, train them, take them exploring, or breed them with others. I eventually checked out every CD I could from my local library system in my pursuit for more monsters. I had a problem.
It’s also the hook that’s missing from Pokémon. You find your monsters by fighting. You don’t do anything else. And when the combat is as basic and straight-forward as in Pokémon, it’s hard to plow through to the point where you’re dealing with Evolutions and other, cooler aspects of these latest games.
My first time
Two weeks ago, I walked alone into a local GameStop. I never walk into GameStops (or saunter, waltz, or anything other verb you wish to use instead of “walk”). As primarily a PC player, I have no need to, and most of the console games I am interested in I get either from Amazon or the PSN and Nintendo online stores.
So it felt weird walking in and asking the clerk if he had any copies of Pokémon in.
I turned 39 a month ago.
My discomfort increased the first time I played it. It was the next morning on my commute into downtown San Francisco. I ride the train, and its first S.F. stop is in the Financial District, so it draws well-heeled, well-dressed professionals. I happened to be sitting next to one of them.
Normally, I never feel weird about my gaming in public. I play either my PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS during every commute, and even sometimes, I’ll get someone who looks over and digs what I’m playing. But that Monday, I did not.
I could feel the sneer on the man’s face. I heard the “Harumph” that followed, even through my headphones.
“Aren’t you a little old for Pokémon” he said — it was clearly a statement of dismissal, not a question.
At this point, I would normally answer such a challenge with an even greater one, puffing myself up to look even larger than I already am. But instead, I just shrugged my shoulders, said “It’s for work,” and carried on with what I was doing.
It was the first time — maybe ever — I felt weird about playing a game in public. And I don’t even feel weird about playing Atlus games on the train.
My first experience inside Pokémon Y wasn’t much better.