Same as it ever was
April 05, 2010
You may find yourself living in a Pokémon preserve
And you may find yourself in another part of Johto
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a small Pokéwalker
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house with a beautiful Mom
And you my ask yourself - well...how did I get here?**
If there is one constant loop in the video game universe, it is this: Nintendo releases a Pokémon title; game sites make jokes about Nintendo's license to print money; reviewers rate the game 80+ but insist the next edition must offer something more/different/better; Nintendo releases another Pokémon game; the cycle repeats.
And so we arrive at Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver - essentially a remake and largely the same game we've been playing since 1998 - ranked as the highest-rated Pokémon title ever released. How does this happen?
It happens because we like chocolate ice cream. Once we discover we like chocolate ice cream (probably as kids), we can't be talked out of it. We like it, and that's all there is to it. Sure, we enjoy trying other flavors, and we know we can't live on ice cream alone. But when it comes to putting food in our mouths, we'd rather eat a delectable dish of chocolate ice cream than just about anything else available. Try to convince us we shouldn't like it so much, and we think you sound like a yammering killjoy.
Pokémon developer Game Freak is in the chocolate ice cream business, and years ago they discovered a foolproof way to keep us happy: preserve the basic recipe, but every 18 months or so, stir in a new ingredient to surprise us and subtly enhance the flavor. No overhauls; no substituting chocolate for butter brickle; no willy nilly dumping in M&Ms, cocoanut, gummi bears, and rainbow sprinkles. Just a little stir-in to help us pay attention to the difference; to savor the enhancement rather that sort through a mouthful of colliding new flavors.
Importantly, the chocolate ice cream always remains the allure, even when they ever-so-subtly improve the recipe with better ingredients, and even when they move it from a dish to a fancy new DS cone (DS meaning 'double scoop,' of course).
We don't simply enjoy Pokémon. We're attached to its universe, and that process begins from the moment we press our noses against the glass of the locked game cabinet at Target. Our first moment with a new Pokémon game is defined by a choice. 'Which one will be mine?' We know there's precious little difference between Gold and Silver, Diamond and Pearl, or Red and Blue - and yet we deliberate. As evidence that this choice is, in fact, substantive for plenty of gamers, consider that as of this writing, Pokémon HeartGold is currently #3 on Amazon's Video Game bestseller list, and Pokémon SoulSilver is #16.
From there our engagement grows, as almost everything we see and do in a Pokémon game tracks to a system of attachment. We learn to nurture these quirky creatures. When we capture them (and some are tricky to snare), we're offered the chance to give each a nickname. We protect them; we teach them; we help them grow; we give them gifts; and we keep a close eye on their health and happiness - all over the course of many hours, many hard-won battles, and many transformative maturations.
Is it possible we're teaching our kids useful lessons in reasoning, math, and reading when we let them play Pokémon? Is it possible we might even learn a few lessons in parenting?
And now, with Pokémon HeartGold & SoulSilver, we can stroll with these pocket monsters...in our pockets. We've always enjoyed the portability of Pokémon games, but the new Pokéwalker gadget adds a clever new dimension that feels much more purposeful. We extract a single creature out of the game, board him on a little red and white disc, and take him with us wherever we go. Why? Because it's good for him. Because it makes him happy.
Today I will teach my classes certain in the knowledge that I'm the only member of the Wabash College faculty with a Quilava happily leveling up in my pocket. It'll be our little secret. At the end of the day I plan to sit down and enjoy another big tasty scoop of chocolate ice cream.
**Sorry Mr. Byrne. I won't let this happen again.