I Can't Love You Right Now

After a year of anticipation, I had my hands on Pokemon Heart-Gold. Unlike everyone else however, I did not have fond memories of the old-school versions.

Having played every iteration of the series since red and blue, gold and silver always seemed like the worst installment. The Pokemon were just weird, unimaginative and as a result, stupid. Don’t believe me? I’m going to prove my point in what is possibly the most irrefutable argument on the face of the planet, and I’m going to do it in a single word. Brace yourself, because I don’t think you’re ready. Really, you’re not.

Okay. Okay okay. You’re going to need to sit down.


Honestly, all I can say is ‘what the christ?’. No, I don’t care it has a crazy good stat. Shuckle is stupid and you know it.


Sure, there were nifty new mechanics which came into play for the G/S generation. Overall it did not make the same impression on me as it did to friends who still hold on to their Gameboys to play G/S.. Of course, we won’t go into the detail that most of my peers never tried anything after that installment, because they fell prey to “growing up” and “growing out of” Pokemon.

Its impossible to cater to people who have crystallized Pokemon in a specific part of their lives. It will forever remain that thing they played when they were kids. The flurry of 500+ Pokemon, double-battles, IVs and EVs all become strange and unwelcome changes. Whatever happened to hyper-beam being ownage and my Charizard being able to clear the elite four by itself? Rationalizing is difficult when you’re dealing with a desire to keep a part of childhood as sweet, innocent and simple as possible. The argument for a better game goes out the window: there is no room for strategy when you can overlevel your (insert favorite useless pokemon here) enough that it doesn’t matter that he’s at a type disadvantage. How this is fun, I’ll never know. But apparently it was that sort of mindless drivel which characterized childhood, mine included.

Nonetheless, improvements to the series which were now included in HG/SS made me excited. I booted up the game and picked Totodile, my tried and true starter pokemon who had accompanied me in my previous quest. And sure, the game was quite shiny. Pokemon follow you, isn’t that cute? The Pokewalker seems gimmicky but suddenly everyone found themselves taking more steps just to get extra watts. And the graphical update coupled with all the new mechanics and gameplay from the newer iterations made HG/SS seem like a perfect package….

Only I could not will myself to play it.

Lets take a few steps back. Yes, I too was victim to the mindless Pokemon play-style up until a few years ago. I learned about IV’s and EVs as well as the intricacies of natures about the time Diamond and Pearl came out. Determined to…well, be the very best, I consulted Bulbapedia and Smogon often, in the hopes of making an awesome team. Knowing about these hidden stats made revisiting my adventure worth it.

I could now concoct a bevvy of different Pokemon with original movesets, IV/EV spreads and natures. And that I did, spending hours choosing 6 complementary Pokemon. The ideal would be movesets which were conventional enough to get rid of the usual suspects in the metagame, while also having enough surprises up my sleeve that other players could not always guess my next move. Things went well…for the first couple of weeks. I found the whole ordeal became similar to that infinitude and nothingness you feel when you just can’t fall asleep. Or like getting the life-force sucked out of you and all that’s left is a dusty carcass bundled in a fetal position.

My friends are all acquainted with what I called the ‘Great Ghastly Massacre’ in which I would routinely hatch the same Ghastly egg over and over again, literally, thousands of times, all in the hopes of getting that absolutely perfect one. If even a single stat was not perfect, even by one point, the Ghastly would not be good enough to perform competitively. Obvious disturbing analogies could be made here.

Of course, my friends also routinely reminded me that I was playing the game wrong when there was actually a difference in what we want out of a game. I don’t want to just beat a game. Sometimes, I want to beat it in the most flawless manner possible. I want to flex my brain. I’m not a completionist or a perfectionist per say; I won’t go out of my way to get achievements or get every possible ending. But if a game allows me the option to master it, sometimes I will rise up to the challenge.

Why even go through the trouble of making these stats hidden? Clearly they want you to take advantage of them if even the Pokemon Company’s guides devote a good hundred pages to the subject. Is it not reasonable that, as a player, you will try to figure out the mechanics of the game? So how could I possibly be playing this game ‘wrong’?

While Pokemon provided me with many opportunities to master the game, the way in which it does so isn’t the best. It requires player to engage with ungratifying repetitive actions to make the most out of the resources they have. Its one thing to make mastering a game a difficult undertaking. I don’t mind working hard to achieve something; this is the whole appeal attached to games like Demon Souls. Its another to make a chore of mastering the game. You could be getting paid minimum wage somewhere to do demeaning and demoralizing repetitive actions.

And so it dawned on me–this is just one pokemon, and its taking me months. What about the other five? And the EV training required to take advantage of those perfect stats required more of that mindless drivel! I began to realize just how much mind-numbing work would be required to make a team that would get sweeped by stupid Scizor anyway. Let me take this opportunity to say that Scizor, you were cool up until you became the metagame’s bitch. I hope you burn in a fire (and you will, oh yes, you willllllll).

I made a very hard decision about six months ago. I would !hatch! that imperfect Ghastly. And he’d be just fine the way he is. And I’d like it. It was cathartic, in a weird sort of way. At least as much as Pokemon can be cathartic.

Then I moved on. Now I’m trying to master Battlefield Bad Company 2.

One Comment

  1. curly

    classic brida 😛

    but really, i feel this is probably in the same vein as snaking in mariokart. yes, it’s in the game, yes, it’s a legitimate technique, yes, it’s (allegedly) fun to master…

    but in the end, the level of mastery and intensity focused on the game eventually disconnects completely from the vast majority of design choices.

    what’s really puzzling is why family-friendly nintendo games seem to attract these diehards. arguably they’d find a better competitive experience in a game that’s more supportive of their playstyle.