Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Fire Starting - Gold & Silver

Fire Starting 2 by T Oliver Prescott on Grooveshark We join our Pokémon heroes again in September of 2000. I'm a sophomore in college and I'm wondering if I'm too old to be watching and playing Pokémon. One fateful Saturday morning my best friend and I are eating Lucky Charms and watching Saturday morning cartoons in a refined, higher-educated, mature adult sort of way. At some unsuspecting moment that morning a commercial for the Pokémon TV series announces ceremoniously the return of Brock to the cast of main characters. Now, I love Brock and I truly disliked the character who replaced him - an animated nemesis of mine named Tracey - so this is a big deal to me. My eyes light up as if it were Christmas morning and I was ten years old again. I turn to look at my best friend to see if he notices how giddy this has made me (ready to be embarrassed about it) and find my expression mirrored on his face. The sudden realization that our emotions will be embraced rather than mocked allows us to exclaim in glee how much we love Brock and are excited for his return to the series. We were best friends, of course, and Japanese majors at that so this kind of reaction might have been expected of us by our peers.

The fateful return of Brock occurred in the episode that aired on October 7th, 2000. It was then that my nemesis and subject of much of my ridicule and general animosity, Tracey, retired from the main cast and Brock was welcomed back into the fold. Ash, Brock and Misty were then trusted with the task of taking the mysterious GS Ball to the new region of Johto. It was clear to me that I was not too old for Pokémon (and I would never question this again). The video games upon which the anime was basing itself, Pokémon Gold and Silver, were released a week later on October 14th. Once I had allocated the money on a poor college student's pitiful income, I bought a copy of Pokémon Silver. Though my best friend shared my love for Pokémon, he insisted he would rather focus on his studies, pursuit of Japanese girlfriends, and music than strive to be the very best like no one ever was with me. For the first time, I had no immediate rival. I was on my own.

Now, I bought Silver because I prefer silver to gold in terms of jewelry. I always have, and it's safe to say at this point that I always will. This selection presented some immediate problems, though. The Pokémon on the cover art is Lugia, and the Pokémon on the cover of Gold is Ho-Oh, which is clearly a Fire-themed Pokémon. It wasn't explicitly clear to me what type of Pokémon Lugia is, but it was clearly not a fire-type. So who was I going to pick as my companion on this journey? Previously, I'd used the box art to decide, and chosen the fire-type starter, Charmander. Would I stick to the box art and go with Totodile's water-type, or would I stick with fire-type and forsake the box art? It should be evident if you've been following this mini-series or noticed the name, I went with the fire-type starter, Cyndaquil. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Cyndaquil is perhaps the weakest fire-type starter in the entire franchise, but the decision had been made and the tradition was officially solidified. I would choose the fire-type starter without debate from here on out.

He may be weak, but I still think he's kinda cute.

Now, you may be shocked to read this, but while I was in college I spent a great deal of time playing tabletop role-playing games. I ran a rather successful Dungeons & Dragons (Advanced, 2nd edition) campaign which was loosely based on a novel that I never finished. News of this spread to friend of ours in our Japanese class and he invited me and my best friend to join him in a game called Call of Cthulhu. I had never heard of it, but he told me that it differed from Dungeons & Dragons in that it was set in a more modern, or Victorian, time and dealt with concepts of evil, chaos, insanity and general disturbing darkness. Thus I was introduced to the works of H.P. Lovecraft who would become a huge influence on my own writing, some personal philosophy and even video game preferences in the future.

This summarizes my sophomore year of college nicely.

My friend running the game expressed to me that one of the trends of his game was going to be the closer we (the players) got to the truth of the matters (regarding Cthulhu) the closer our characters would struggle with their sanity. This theme was the bud of many philosophic ponderings I've had over the years about the true nature of the insane and mentally deranged. Are crazy people actually crazy, or do they see the world in a way we so-called sane people can't begin to comprehend? Do they have some unwanted key to a knowledge that is beyond the grasp of everyone else? Do the voices they hear whisper the maddening truths of the universe to them? Does this process mark them as undesirable to those of us living in the world of light and ignorance? It's probably just chemical imbalances in the brain, but these thoughts are interesting to me nonetheless.

Do I absolutely love this moment or is it a chemical imbalance in my brain?

I mention all of this because October and November of 2000, while I was busy playing Pokémon Silver by myself, busy playing Call of Cthulhu with my friends, and occasionally studying Japanese when the mood struck me, I was unknowingly in a transitional time of my life. I realized while working on this article that during the time in which I got to know Cthulhu (the malevolent god-like being) I was inviting into my life a period of darkness, chaos and suffering. I was courting my first wife at the time (an obvious agent of Cthulu in retrospect, a priestess of chaos and madness and anguish). I would go on to solidify my relationship with her the following semester and ultimately leave college to pursue that relationship in 2001.

My evolution from Boy to Man-butterfly illustrated
Pokémon Silver was the last game that I treasured as a creature of the light. It marks the end of a time when I was young, naive and (for the most part) innocent. It was in many ways the end of my childhood. I willingly left a life I felt had been mostly predetermined for me to forge my own way in the world. After these happy days playing Pokémon Silver, I would go on to make a slew of interesting, yet poor decisions that would transform me into a new, more cynical person. In Pokémon terms, I was evolving. The Caterpie inside me was growing cold and hard as it became a Metapod. It would be many years later that I finally emerged from those dark times as the beautiful (yet damaged) Butterfree I was yet to become.

We can talk more about that tomorrow!


PS: Long live Brock!

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