Pokémon 20

As I booted up Pokemon Red yesterday on my 3DS, the intro animation started playing and I was struck by a wave of emotion. I was suddenly reminded of everything Pokemon had meant to me throughout my life.

I remember going to school as a kindergartener, seeing a huge group of older kids all trying to pawn off their unwanted cards on their friends. I remember exploding with jubilation when I opened a gift from my grandmother and it was my own copy of Pokemon Gold, which actually tops my list of my all-time favorite games. I remember the Ruby and Sapphire era of Pokemon, when I had to put on a face and pretend that I didn’t like it anymore to keep up appearances at school, when deep down I wanted nothing more than to go home and play.

And I remember, after truly falling away from Pokemon for a few years, I went with a group of friends in high school to buy Pokemon White and Black and remembering why we all loved it so much.

It’s weird to sit back and look on our lives and see things that had major impacts on us. It could be a book, a movie, a comic, but for me the biggest thing was Pokemon. There was something about the fantasy of leaving everything behind and going off on my own with just a creature to protect me that I will always love. And as I sit here, a day after Pokemon celebrated its 20th anniversary, and I am currently staring down the homestretch of my senior year of college, it brings a tear to my eye (a happy one, of course) thinking about how much Pokemon has meant to my life.

A lot of kids are bribed to do things as a child, that is nothing out of the ordinary. The incentives range from parent to parent, but mine pegged me down quick. On top of our fridge when I was little sat a basket full of Pokemon cards. The only way I got one was if I did something good at school, did my chores, or something of that nature. My parents knew that I had an obsession, and they were nothing but supportive of it. And bless their hearts, they still are now. As a 21 year old, when I stop at Target in the card aisle and pull about $50 worth of cards off the shelf my mother does nothing but smile.

One of the best birthday presents I ever received was my first Pokemon card deck, which my uncle and cousin put together. I still have it, untampered, with the custom box and all, on my shelf at home.

When my cousin Carter and I would go to Park City with our families, I distinctly remember sitting in our room with big wooden bunk beds doing nothing for hours but playing through our Pokemon adventures. But it didn’t stop there. We would act the games out as well. It had that big of an impact on us. It did nothing but bring us closer together.

My best friends and I have spent hours just talking about Pokemon. When we were in Orlando last summer (a group of 21 year-olds mind you), we stayed up until 3:00 a.m. playing a Pokemon drawing challenge game. This probably isn’t normal behavior for people our age, but we couldn’t have cared less.

There were also times during the early years of my college experience that were hard. I had a hard time adjusting to living without my parents, sisters, and grandma, and no matter how many phone calls I made it just wasn’t the same. That being said, when I was able to pull out my DS and play a Pokemon game, it would calm me down for a little bit.

And it may sound a little bit cruel, but on every first date, I always make sure the poor girl in my company knows who the original three starters are, and if she doesn’t, the likelihood of a second date is not very high. Real talk.

But more than anything, Pokemon gives me the chance everyday to feel like a child again. I’m not going to lie, knowing that April 30th will be the last day of my senior year of college terrifies me. I don’t know what is in store for me after that. For the first time in my life, I don’t have something in front of me that is already planned out, and I lose sleep over it consistently. But yesterday, when I started up Pokemon Red for the first time in years and Professor Oak said, “Welcome to the world of Pokemon,” suddenly everything felt okay. All the stress of the day melted away, everything that had been bugging me suddenly felt less significant, and I felt like I was back home with my mom and dad starting up my old, yellow Gameboy Color, and going on an adventure for the first time. That’s what Pokemon means to me.

So cheers, Pokemon. Happy 20th birthday. Here’s to many, many more to come. And, most importantly, thank you.

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