Pokémon turning 25 has made me realise how the franchise has helped shape me | Matt Mohan-Hickson

I always find starting my columns to be the hardest part about writing them.

Monday, 1st March 2021, 5:14 pm
An iPhone showing Pokemon Go - the game everyone was playing in 2016

Coming up with the idea is simple, but actually putting pen to paper (metaphorically speaking) often leaves me lost for words.

Take this week for example, I knew early on that I wanted to write something about Pokémon as the franchise prepared to mark its 25th anniversary and the impact it has had on my life over the years.

But finding a way to actually express that sentiment has left me stumped, staring at the blank page in frustration.

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I could have started with some grandiose claim about Pokémon being the most important franchise of the last quarter century – but how could you even begin to quantify that, in an era that has also spawned Harry Potter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

All I can say with any real certainty is that knowing Charmander, Bulbasaur and Squirtle have turned 25 makes me feel ancient.

I can still remember holding the original Game Boy in my hand and feeling as though I had actually been transported to the Kanto region.

It was the first time that I can remember feeling the magic of playing video games as well as the community that comes with gaming.

In the ’90s and early ’00s, everyone I knew my age played the games. I remember being at a summer camp with Cubs and hooking my Game Boy Advance up to my friend’s ones and trading Pokémon with each other.

And then again in the summer of 2016 when Pokémon Go burst onto the scene, it felt as if the whole world was playing it. I would go on walks with my friends just to have an excuse to venture out to the nearest gyms.

It was an unprecedented moment – and a couple of my housemates still play it religiously. Especially during the lockdowns.

In case it wasn’t obvious from this column, I have been thinking a lot about Pokémon this week and reflecting on the huge role it has played in my life.

If I had not spent all those hours of my childhood training Pikachu and co, learning the language of video games – like managing stats, grinding and turn-based battles – perhaps they wouldn’t have become such a key part of my daily life as an adult.

So happy birthday Pokémon and thank you.

The week Pokemon cards nearly destroyed my school

Hell hath no fury like a small child who feels cheated by a Pokémon card trade.

At least that was the way it felt back in my primary school days.

Because memory is a fuzzy beast, I am not quite sure whether the aforementioned Pokémon cards arrived when I was in Reception or Year 1.

Whichever it was, it unleashed a wave of chaos akin to opening Pandora’s Box.

For three days these trading cards took over my primary school completely, it was all we cared about in class, at lunch time and on the playground.

But while it started peacefully enough, with more trades being made per minute than on the stock exchange, it soon took a dark turn.

Classmate turned against classmate and fights broke out, as buyer’s remorse set in for those who had traded away their prized cards. Or had realised they were prized once they had relinquished ownership.

And by Thursday of that week, Pokémon cards had been banned from the school grounds.

The spectre of the incident would haunt the playground however and a few months later the same fights broke out again following the arrival of football stickers.

How Pokémon taught me about weekly television

I can still remember watching the first episode of the Pokémon anime.

Sitting in my living room with my mum after school, as the rain hammered down outside, and hearing that theme song for the first time.

In the years that followed I became a religious watcher of the cartoon. Taping mid-afternoon episodes on the VCR alongside Power Rangers to watch when I got back home.

My desire to watch more Pokémon was the reason I ended up discovering YouTube, after my childhood best friend told me he had watched the most recent movie on it.

It was also around this time that Fox Kids began airing the new series of Pokémon, with episodes coming out every Wednesday evening, and it was my first taste of having to wait for TV.

I was so used to reruns being aired every day, meaning there were always episodes waiting for me, that it took me a while to wrap my mind around having to spend a week anticipating an episode.

Counting down the days until Wednesday rolled around, before getting the next 30 minute instalment.