Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Fire Starting - Ruby & Sapphire

Fire Starting 3 by T Oliver Prescott on Grooveshark My adventures in Pokémon Ruby were short lived and dwarfed by other events in my life at the time. I mentioned in the post yesterday (Fire Starting - Gold & Silver) that I was headed into a dark time in my life around the end of 2000. I made a lot of decisions that led to unpleasant conclusions. When Pokémon Ruby hit shelves in March of 2003, things were all about to change again. The tumultuous relationship with my first wife was now two years strong, our marriage over a year old itself. Setting aside all the general insanity and violence that occurred, our wedding was on September 21st, 2001, in the shadow of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A month later while I was at the Air Force boot camp, the home we were married at burned to the ground. I'm telling you, readers, Cthulhu had his dark tentacles in this relationship from the start.

I spent the three years between Pokémon Silver and Pokémon Ruby feeling very isolated. I moved from Massachusetts to New Mexico in May of 2001.I joined the Air Force in October and moved to California in December. I was far away from everything I knew, and through her powers of manipulation and enhanced by my own insecurities, I completely cut myself off from my friends and family. Part of that situation was pride. I chose this life for myself and I didn't want anyone to know how unhappy my decisions had made me. I didn't want to admit I had been wrong. I wanted everyone at home to think I was well, but ultimately I was alone and tormented.

Video games were no longer a hobby of mine because they had evolved into an escape from reality. I've written about this in my first article of the year, but 2001-2003 was the first time in my life when I actually understood how much one can lose themselves in video games and how much the rest of the world will just cease to exist while you do it. So I'm saying that when Pokémon Ruby arrived in stores in 2003, I had no real love or interest in playing Pokémon. My passion for video games had turned into something darker. The games were a means to an end, and a lot of that time I spent (was allowed to) playing video games was closely monitored and harshly criticized. I mentioned all of this briefly in an article I wrote before about the music of Kingdom Hearts which also came out during that time. You can find it at "A Music Chain of Memories" if you're interested.

Actual picture of how alone and tormented I was in 2003.
Also in May 2003, I was finishing my language training and leaving California. So during those last few months, I was being over-worked and over-stressed about all the final exams that were on the horizon. So work (school) was stressful. My home life was more stressful. gaming had its moments of releasing me from all that stress, but in March, 2003, they were far and few between. I didn't start playing Pokémon Ruby until closer to May. It was then that we drove from California to Texas. It was in Texas that my life was about to undergo another paradigm shift.

Married life in Texas was intense. The demands of my job were immense. The nature of the work I was doing kept me from sharing it with my wife and as a result that secret life I had at work caused her to grow even more chaotic and jealous. Violence in our home escalated. It was also no longer a thing we kept behind closed doors, but sometimes even erupted in front of other people (scaring the hell out of them, to be sure). I realized at one point in this nightmare that I was quick to resort to violence in order to defend myself, or even sometimes preemptively lash out physically before I was physically threatened. I felt like I was becoming just as violent and unstable as she. I felt unable to control my actions and emotions as well as I had before. This realization was so jarring and upsetting that I had an immediate shutdown.

I went to work and did my job. When I came home at the first hint of trouble, I would get up and lock myself in the bathroom for the rest of the night. It was there I would play Pokémon Ruby until I was ready to fall asleep. Sitting in the bathroom quietly, meditatively at times, made me realize it wasn't my fault. Nothing I was doing was cause for her kinds of abrupt outbursts of jealousy or violence. I understood that I wasn't naturally a violent or "bad" person. As my first wife raged against the bathroom door, using everything in her arsenal to get me to emerge - violence, manipulating and soothing words, all the way to promises of sex - I realized I was back in control of myself (at the very least). I would no longer participate in her madness or her violence. I was more isolated than ever before, but my descent into her world had halted. It was then that I came to some upsetting conclusions.

Upsetting Conclusion #1:  I'd be stuck with this guy for 20-40 hours.

I truly believed our marriage was destined for "until death do us part." I thought the sheer notion of my desire to leave this relationship once and for all would send her into a murderous rampage and the only way I would survive was if I emerged the victor of our brutal conflict. That is not to imply I began plotting her death, but that the only logical conclusion I could foresee was an escalation of anger and violence until one of us killed the other. I have to say that as horrible as that sounded, I came to grips with it. I imagined that death, or prison, couldn't be much worse than living your life in a bathroom with a Gameboy Advance - especially with only a thin piece of wood separating me from a person who absolutely terrified me. I felt I had nothing to lose, so I prepared myself mentally. I came home from work one afternoon, made sure no knives were present for the proclamation, and said plainly that we needed to separate and that she needed to go home.

These agents of Cthulhu... I mean Kyogre... mock me!
Shockingly, no one died. Even more shockingly, she took this announcement at point blank range and calmly said "OK" as if she'd already come to similar conclusions on her own. There was no anger, no animosity that night. She asked that I go spend the night on base with one of my friends and that by the end of tomorrow's work day she would be gone. I naturally didn't trust her, or believe her. I imagined she would spend that time thinking of clever ways to manipulate me into staying, or maybe plotting my death. In truth, all that happened was I came home to an empty house the following night.

It was a mixture of joy, sadness and rage all balled up into one moment. There was joy because I was free (and alive)! There was sadness because I had failed at the one thing I left home to do. I had failed at this attempt at marriage and now I was truly alone and trapped in my contract with the Air Force. I would have to eventually admit this failure to everyone at home. Then there was the rage. When I said I came home to an empty house, I mean the house was completely empty. There wasn't a single belonging left behind except a handful of dirty dishes in the sink and the rest of my military uniforms. The fridge was empty. Within a few days the water and electricity were irritatingly shut off. I couldn't turn them on until I got paid again - and she stole my next three paychecks thanks to the Air Force blundering up my paperwork (twice). Life was interesting in Texas.

Did I mention the house was empty? That was the end of my unfinished adventure in Pokémon Ruby. It was also the end of a very dark time in my life. Losing progress in a game (in fact, losing every game I'd brought with me to Texas) was really a small price to pay to get out of that relationship. What followed was a lot of years of self-doubt and self-loathing, which lasted almost until the release of Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Eventually I reconnected with a lot of my old friends and with my family. I was no longer alone.

Slowly, I refilled my house with important things: Pokémon Dolls
Now, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are my least favorite games in the entire franchise. Hoenn is my least favorite Pokémon region. Torchic/Combusken/Blaziken is my least favorite fire-type starter. I can't really remember a damn thing about the plot (not that Pokémon plots are much to write home about). I don't even like the graphics in these games compared to the others in the franchise. Due to circumstances I just described, I didn't even get around to beating the Elite Four until just before Diamond and Pearl came out. I had wanted to make sure I could upload the older Pokémon to the new generation of games, so I bought the special edition of this generation (Emerald) to play through the entire game in the early months of 2007.

I have no idea if I dislike this generation because of its own faults, or because of everything that was happening to me at the time of its release. I could go either way on the argument, because I honestly feel it is the weakest in the franchise on all the ways I mentioned above, but I also realize that I have certain jaded bias due to real life events that may influence my perception and judgment. I'll let you all be the judge - let me know in the comments if you disagree and Ruby & Sapphire are your absolute favorite games in the series!

Who are you? Where's the real Champion: Red?

And worry not, faithful readers, for things will get better in tomorrow's post when I talk about the launch of Diamond & Pearl in 2007.


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