“Mauville City only looks grander in your dreams, now pass the incubator”

This article is about Pokémon.

It’s not okay. You can’t just walk from the center of the street into the depths of the heartland and stare into simulated wilderness, expecting to find meaning. My childhood notions have become the mindless acquisition of online capital. Everything about the past has been warped into a low-intensity game of wandering around boulevards, searching for something distinctly human in a world that is ready to convince you that the world is actually flat and empty. Just look at the overworld map. There’s your proof.

When I was a child and I played, there was a sense of fear that permeated every pixel and every microscopic footstep that traveled into the cartridge. I was unsure of my work, unsure if whether anything I could say, or do or imagine was even worth putting on the line after Victory Road. I failed the first time. I spent weeks getting ready to try again. There was a sense of something real that has recently evaporated into a steady stream of mass-market consumerism. What you have, the game notes, is not what you are stuck with. This future, this long list of friends/pocket monsters you have acquired and pasted onto your digital spaces, can be transferred away with no consequences, even a guaranteed reward.

The following analogy is flawed. The following analogy probably doesn’t make logical sense. However, what I am trying to say is that the original games are to the mobile phone app such as real life is to our 21st-century, high-tech world. There is a fluidity and utility to all aspects of this analogy, but it’s what I’ve noticed.

I mean, yes, there will always be something missing from the old to the new, whether we choose to admit it or not. And I don’t fear the present because I am a Pokemon-Center, not Stop, loving stalagmite of nostalgia and Luddism. I fear the present because I have felt its shortcomings-and not the classic “you need to get outside” shortcomings, but little things like people you love disappearing into thickets of code and never reappearing, never even stopping to recognize the forest fires of doubt that ignite behind them. There are feelings, like wishing someone would respond to a message, or waiting to find the perfect CP Eevee, that destroy the old fabric and give something hollow in its place. In the old days, the first Eevee you caught was yours. In the new age, the thought of disappearing from someone’s life, or even unexpectedly reappearing into someone’s life, is ever-present, and terrifying.

Also, there was always a sense that you could shut the game off. When you saved and hit the power button, a world evaporated into thin air and could not reappear until you summoned it. You can never turn Pokémon Go off. You can never, ever turn yourself off. A retreat into nothingness is a cause for concern, so much so that we warn our friends that we will be away from our devices. In a way, the app can escape death, because it is always there. Unlike the old games, in which we played our old video games for the last time and passed them into the incinerator, the new shall live forever. Our posts will live forever. If we die tomorrow, there will be posts on our Facebook wall. The digital perpetuates itself. Pokemon Go perpetuates itself.

Maybe that’s why I can’t stand Internet postmortems anymore. Grief is real, virtual posts are not, they’re just not. Just go to the funeral. Just send some flowers. Grieve like all our ancestors grieved, not with words plastered onto the Internet but with tangible objects. Words are like Pokemon attacks that only reduce your opponent’s base stats. They’re important, they can swing the course of a whole battle, but in the end, actions mean everything. Imagine if Holden Caufield had grieved for his brother by posting on Instagram. No, he punched things. He felt the pathos of living. And while he’s a whiny asshole, at least he was able to express something.

But this has nothing to do with Pokémon. Real life has nothing to do with the games we play and consume. It’s not like we spend large quantities of our precious hours trying to forget our own mortality through amusements. Those amusements can’t be important. Our careers, now those are important.

On most days, I feel like Mauville City was grander in my dreams. My nostalgia for the past makes me believe the past is inherently better. But on some nights, I wake up and the world outside is devoid of characters to interact with. The map is blank. The only thing you can interface with is the store.


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