I will never forget my first Pokemon game.
It was Christmas, 1999, and Pokemon had been airing in the US for a little over a year. My best friend and I had spent our 3rd grade days walking around the playground reenacting episodes (I still have VIVID memories of pretending to be Officer Jenny as her Growlithe were trying to fight her) and all I wanted for months on months was a Gameboy and one of the Pokemon games.
While going through the gifts, my parents were trying to get me to save this one specific gift for the end. I was curious, but as I was only 8 I did not have any expectations.
But man… oh when I opened that gift… you would have thought the world was ending. It was Pokemon Yellow (YELLOW, with a Pikachu that followed you!) and a limited edition Pokemon themed Gameboy. I felt like time had stopped and nothing else mattered. From that moment, every waking moment was Pokemon, and I’m not lying.
My sister recently uncovered an old home video from that Christmas and it starts with her and my other sister are playing dress up, strutting around and being overall active. After a pause, my mom goes, “And here’s Kathryn. She’s been here all day.”
You can hear the music in the background, faintly. I excitedly exclaim that I found a Caterpie and wanted to catch it. The video goes back to my sisters but the sounds of Viridian Forest are still in the background, my gasps of excitement popping up from time to time.
I spent so much time on that game that if I were to revisit my old cartridge I wouldn’t even be shocked by the hours put in. But Pokemon was so much more than a game, and I will never forget the lessons that it taught me.
The first lesson is actually pretty simple, “Kindness is important.” I will admit I probably took everything in Pokemon a little too much to heart as a child, but that intense need to care translates into real life so seamlessly. I always wanted to make sure my Pokemon were okay, that they were happy, and that Pikachu was going to smile whenever I turned around to talk to it.
When you are a trainer, you have to put your Pokemon before yourself and your ego to truly succeed. Isn’t that how you were able to beat your rival all those times? But being kind in a game makes it easier to be kind outside of it, and to always be there if someone needs you.
“Great things comes to those who wait,” might sound cliche and overused, but in terms of Pokemon, nothing is more true. While it was so tempting to just stock up on Rare Candies so your Pokemon would level up, that wasn’t the strongest way to train a Pokemon.
It takes time to build a strong team, to figure out your weaknesses and how to make up for them. Even if things get tough and it appears that this might be the end or that you won’t reach your goal, it was always possible to step back, say, “I’m not ready,” and go back to the drawing board until you feel prepared to take on whatever challenge you face, whether it’s an important job offer or the Elite Four.
But finally, the most important lesson that I learned from Pokemon is simple, “Your friends are always there to help you succeed.” The friend I had previously mentioned had Pokemon Blue, but even more importantly, a trade cable. Back before wireless/ wonder trading you had to sit down with your friend, plug in your cable, go to the Cable Club, and do your business from there.
I don’t remember what we traded, but I remember the countless hours we spent playing together, coming up with ways to beat that one trainer either of us was having trouble with, cheering when we won a badge, and just talking about how we were going to be Pokemon masters. She’s still one of my good friends to this day.
But here I am, February 2016, and nothing has changed. Nintendo released Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow on the e-shop and the first thing I did Saturday morning when I woke up was download Pokemon Yellow. My boyfriend woke up, walked out, saw me on the couch, 3DS in hand and the first words out of his mouth were, “I knew it!”
Thank you Satoshi Tajiri, thank you Nintendo, and frankly, thank you mom and dad for allowing me to immerse myself in one of the most important pieces of media in my life. I still will always strive to be the very best, like no one ever was, no matter where life takes me!