For many years, I kept a part of my identity a secret. It festered in my mind, excreting anxiety that solidified into a thick shell of shame. But everyone longs to live life as their true selves, so it was bound to crack. And one day, I let the Cubone out of the closet: I love Pokémon.
OK, so as far as a coming out goes, that’s pretty anticlimactic. No one gets discriminated against or disowned for letting their Game Freak flag fly. But I’ve heard plenty of people deride pocket monsters as stupid and childish, so when I hit adulthood, I kept my lifestyle under wraps.
Nowadays, Poké-pride is widely tolerated. You can see groups of people openly playing Pokémon Go. In public. In daylight! My people! On a recent Sunday, I saw crowds walking around my local park, tapping at phone screens and occasionally stopping to jump and hoot over a successful catch. I overheard one full-grown man brag to another: “Six fuckin’ shinies!” I had to suppress a squeal of delight and the urge to hug him.
The popularity of the Poké-phenomenon culminated this month in the release of the franchise’s first live-action/CG feature film, “Detective Pikachu.” The reviews I read were written by people who made a point of noting they had never played the games. They praised Ryan Reynolds’ voice acting but panned the mediocre story and dialogue. What they failed to mention was the exquisite stab of giddiness at seeing a realistic herd of Bouffalant running through a fenced-in field not unlike those you might pass while driving through rural Boulder County.
As a teenager playing Pokémon Red for the first time, I was enchanted by the idea of searching for exotic creatures, catching them in high-tech devices and training them to become a fellow adventurer. I imagined prairie dog colonies filled with Sandshrew, hiking trails populated with Vulpix and Oddish, and Venomoth flapping around porch lights in the evening.
As I got older, I became more interested in the games’ mechanics: stats, encounter rates, effort values. I bred a Moon Ball Nidoking with five perfect IVs, a hidden ability and a couple egg moves. And if you understood all that, you get a gold Nugget.
“Detective Pikachu” may have had some corny lines, but it succeeded in evoking that feeling of stepping into a magical world where you can befriend a pathetic-looking fish and raise it to become a mighty sea serpent.
When I left the theater, I saw a young family: a cute couple dressed in Pikachu and Charmander onesies exiting with their toddler. I felt like I was witnessing the wonder passing to the next generation. I smiled until my face hurt.
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