My First 12 Hours in Galar

I was so on the fence about the game. From the start, the marketing for Pokemon Sword/Shield did so much for me but also, there was this tinge of anxiety. I remembered all the feelings I had towards Pokemon Sun/Moon and Ultra Sun/Moon and I felt a knot in my stomach. I was afraid to love again.

That changed of course when we saw more of Galar (a UK inspired region) and the fashion that would come with it.

Those that know me, know that Pokemon X/Y is one of my favorite games because of how unique Kalos looked and felt. They wanted France and we got France. I also loved being able to have a character that looked, and ergo, dressed like me.

The information we got about Sword/Shield felt so sparse; we’d get a new release or a new form (which greatly preyed on nostalgia mostly or just the shock factor of how this Pokemon looks) and when the starters were really shown off: I felt mostly nothing. It wasn’t like Sun/Moon when I looked at Rowlet and immediately bonded with what is my best Poke-Son. I looked at the starters and felt something but not a special something. I wanted this game to make me feel like a child again. To make me feel like I was going on a grand journey with my friends even though we’re all adults with full-time jobs and we’re all pushing 30.

Then the backlash started. I won’t go into all of it but people got angry with this game. Some of it, I do feel, is deserved (but need I remind you all again that being angry with a thing is never an excuse to be utter rubbish). A lot of it, though, did feel like this game was going to be a nightmare. From the level caps to the making sure that you had a type advantage Pokemon before entering a gym: it all felt like this was going to be a disaster.

I didn’t even pre-order this game. I just walked in and purchased on day one. I waited until nearly the end to pick a starter (I chose Sobble because Carlos pointed out that its middle evo looked a lot like my son: Kuji Toi) and I came home and booted up the game hoping and praying I would like this game.

That was 12 hours ago.

Two fateful things happened that have dramatically changed how I view and see this game. First one may be obvious but changed a lot for me which is I’m playing this game on my television. I usually use my Switch as a handheld but I had let my system lose charge as I waited for this game to come out. My joycons had died, too, so I simply had to dock my Switch and let the poor thing charge. Playing this game on the big screen was absolutely how this game is meant to be played. Not that it can’t be enjoyed at all in handheld, but it shines on a bigger screen. Second is that I had zero expectations. I let Carlos spoil some things and in the places where this game feels dumb to others: it reminds me of another beloved franchise favorite Black/White. Many claim Unova was a terrible region for its dumb Pokemon like a literal pile of trash but I quite love my Trubbish. I went in with an expectation that this may be a trash fire but it was going to be a trash fire I liked.

Galar has changed a few things in the lore and canon. Firstly is that the gym challenge feels more like a soccer challenge. There are jerseys and teams and crowds: really how you’d image a Pokemon Gym Battle is. And there’s also Dynamax, a dumber version of Mega Evolution. I was initially resistant to Dynamax but I calmed down when I realized it was just my lizard brain hating change.

I started the game when I got home from work and immediately from the musical design to the story, I was hooked. Galar is calming, beautiful and wondrous. I think playing it on the big screen really gives you a chance to take it all in. I’m not very far into the story, but this is already a more compelling and curious tale and Alola ever had to offer. The character design is just amazing and having a mom that finally matches my skin tone is brilliant. Representation does matter and to see a world full of characters with skin tones like mine and even darker does really make this feel like the most fleshed out of all the main franchise games.

Some of the new game features are really something. The ability to camp in various areas and cook a delicious meal of curry for your team is something that reminds me of Poffin making in earlier games (something I excelled in). The ability to visit other people’s camps is also fun and play games with your Pokemon (the next step up from playing with your Pokemon in Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu). The wild areas are like a safari zone with more danger. Large Pokemon do chase you (a fear I didn’t know I had) and you can find all kinds of Pokemon in the wild areas including the Dynamax raids that encourage you to work together with others (much like the raids in Pokemon Go). The Pokedex was a point of contention for many as the Dex was not released much before game and many of the now over 1,000 Pokemon we know and love were excluded from Galar. I’ll say this, sure it sucks that some of my favorites are missing but I am not feeling too much loss here. I’m having fun with the team I’m building and enjoying catching new Pokemon.

I did learn something about myself playing this game. I have been accused (rightfully) blitzing these games. I get so goal oriented and as these games increasingly hold your hand, I lose a lot of curiosity. I don’t explore houses or caves like I used to. I am focused on the goal and the linear story. The wild area seems to be made for me because I absolutely could just pitch my tent, make curry and vanish into the woods. I had to force myself to get back into the main game.

I got back on my journey and the badges began to become easier and easier to get. I started to ignore some of the wild areas only because as mentioned, I would stay there forever. Each new town I visit, new city I see, new gym leader I meet: it all just makes me feel, more so than most, that I am truly in this marvelous world.

Galar is a stunning region, the story is one of the strongest since Black and White and each Pokemon I find is a charming mix of fun with lots of thought put into each name and ability. Sure, there are some stupid ones, but they’re my kind of stupid: I find them quite charming.

This game is not perfect. Nothing is. But for what I wanted, to feel like a kid again, this game wins. It helps that I have my squad playing with me, and we’re all enjoying this game rather than us complaining as we did with Sun/Moon.

We’re working on getting our League Cards just right. We talk about what we’re wearing, what gyms we’re in, what Pokemon we need or are missing. It honestly makes it feel like we’re all on this journey together, just visiting each other’s camps and talking. Galar became another sandbox for us all to play in despite us being separated by hundreds of miles.

And that’s where I believe Pokemon has always been as its best. As one of the most popular game franchises of all time, its ability to connect people regardless of age and race and nationality.

I’m still getting some light ribbing from the lads over my ability to blitz a game. I am working on slowing down and taking in the scenery. But Pokemon Sword/Shield has been a charming, stunning jaunt into a mythological and fictional not-England-England that makes me feel more connected to Pokemon than I’ve felt in nearly a decade.

I’m going to take more time to play this game. I want to stay lost in this world a little longer. I want to keep playing this game. I’ll let you all know what the next 12 hours looks like and what the rest of my gameplay looks like, if you want.

Thanks for reading.

On Completing the Kanto Dex

When I got Pokemon: Let’s Go Eevee last year, I wrote that it was everything I’ve ever wanted in a Pokemon game. It allowed me to pick a non-traditional starter (in this case an Eevee) and allowed me to dress it up like a pet and let me dress up a character that got to be a younger version of myself as I was doing the Kanto run. Longtime readers will know that I have played almost every Pokemon game that has come out except for a few of the fighting tournament ones and the one weirder JRPG one that I don’t think any American played. And if you have been reading the blog for a while, you also know that I am an avid Pokemon Go player and one of the things I’ve especially loved about Let’s Go is its integration with Pokemon Go. That integration comes in the form of a very clever little feature that allows you to transfer Pokemon over from the mobile game to the console game. And since I’ve logged too many damn hours in playing Pokemon Go and a nearly questionable amount of hours playing Let’s Go, I’m about to hit a milestone. I am one Pokemon away from finishing up the original Kanto Pokedex.

Now, I’m giving myself a pass on two Pokemon since Let’s Go comes out during a strange time in Pokemon History with well over 800 Pokemon and that pass I’m giving myself is Meltan and Melmetal. I don’t need them for the Pokedex and they take too much effort to evolve. I’ll get there just not today.

Let’s back up for those who have not managed to sink two decades into the Pokemon franchise. The PokeDex or Pokemon Index keeps a tally of all the Pokemon you’ve seen and/or captured during your journey. Each new region in the Pokemon world has their own Dex and completing the Dex is one of the ultimate goals of the franchise. It’s given to you early in your Pokemon journey and shows you how far you’ve come or how far you still have to go on your quest.

I’m competitive. Most people who know me know that. But on a first glance, I don’t come off as a very competitive person. This is mostly mitigated because I play a lot of games by myself. It’s hard to be outwardly competitive when it’s about beating your personal best and the few games that I do play with others tend to be more friendly. It’s one of the reasons why the boys (Ricky and Carlos) and I like Pokemon so much. Even though there is a bit of friendly competition, of course there is, it’s more about helping each other, supporting each other and talking about the game with each other. That was especially true during our run of Pokemon X/Y and Carlos’ fervor to complete the Pokedex had its benefits, I got Pokemon I wanted while still playing the game at my pace. Here’s a funny thing about me. I tend to rush. I am very goal-oriented. My goal when I play Pokemon is to be the very best and that means completing the main story. During my Kalos run, I beat the main story in less than 24 hours and I missed a lot of side quests and caught only the Pokemon I wanted and that I thought were cute and/or useful to me. But I didn’t mind that because it wasn’t like I’d never return to the game again. Since then I’ve logged over 200 hours in the Kalos region and have explored many small homes, trash cans and skated around not-France France while flirting with a very hot regional professor.

Carlos was determined to complete the Kalos Dex as he had not played a Pokemon game since Hoenn but I was content to spoil my Fennekin and enjoy all the clothes I could buy. We just play the game differently and there’s no wrong way to play. One of the benefits of Carlos’ desire to be the very best was the occasional message where he’d offer up a legendary or a shiny because through extensive trades he had a surplus of legendaries for some reason.

But it’s just never been my primary concern to finish the PokeDex especially as the number of Pokemon ballooned from a daunting 150/151 to now well over 800. I’m content to collect the Pokemon I want and keep the ones I like and the rest of the Dex be damned. Especially because most of the games now have many game-locked types of Pokemon from game specific legendaries to different types of Pokemon entirely based on which one of the game you get. Fortunately, between me and the boys, we typically have each variant game covered so if someone really wants a particular Pokemon, there is a friend who likely has it.

But with all the hours I have logged in Pokemon Go I have amassed quite the collection of Pokemon and the ability to transfer from the app to the game I was able to fill in many of the gaps I have in the PokeDex from my race to be the Pokemon League Champion.

It actually took me a while to sync up my app to my console version of the game. I was having fun running around playing with my Eevee and exploring the very familiar nostalgic region that is Kanto: where many of us started our Pokemon journey decades ago.

It was when I finally did start to sync some Pokemon in that I realized that I was very close to finishing up the coveted Kanto Pokedex. Something I have not done, well, to be honest: ever. I for sure didn’t care about catching them all when I was 6 and by the time I was more serious about the games around the time Crystal and Ruby/Sapphire came out, a Dex of a few hundred seemed daunting and like a challenge. It took a few transfers to really make me understand that I was very close to doing something that was quite a challenge.

So by the time you’re reading this post, I’m likely tormenting a Goldeen because Seaking is the last one I need after I move one Mew over (that’s why it doesn’t count in the tally: I already have the Mew).

And that eagerness to finish the Dex, finish the list, be the best has been thrilling. I feel like it’s an accomplishment. At the end, you get a little certificate for finishing the Dex and the thought of having a little set of pixels that said I did something is a pretty powerful motivator.

I’m not delusion. I know this is a game made for children but I’m genuinely excited. Every time this dumb fish Pokemon gains a level, I’m one step closer to my goal. One step closer to a goal 20 years in the making and a bond decades old with Pokemon and me.

I’m on my way to being the very best like no one ever was and I couldn’t be happier about it.

A Direct Hit to Nostalgia: Intertextuality in Pokemon Sun and Moon

“Nostalgia is an illness for those who haven't realized that todayis tomorrow's nostalgia.” ― Zeena Schreck.png

Intertextuality is a zeigeisty kind of word. It essentially means a call back in a current piece of media to a further piece of media in that franchise history. It’s been used a lot by video essayists and it’s a fine word but one I don’t use a lot in day to day speech because I find it pretentious. But it’s appropriate for my point. So minor spoilers for games. Sit back and relax. We’re going to talk about a firm grip on the nostalgia and when a callback is not genuine.

I’ve been playing Pokemon for 20 years now. I remember getting Pokemon Red in 1996-7 and enjoyed the game as much as a 6 or 7 year old could. It wasn’t until Pokemon Crystal or really even Pokemon Ruby that I decided to sell my soul to Nintendo and to the franchise. I have since played every game that has come out. Well, the mainstream ones. Never did play that weird JRPG one. But after 20 years of Pokemon, I’ve seen the games reach epic highs like Pokemon Ruby and Pokemon X/Y and I’ve seen it hit some lows like Pokemon Sun/Moon and Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby.

I’ve gone on record that Sun/Moon were not my favorites. Despite giving me my favorite round owl son I had serious issues with the game. I didn’t like that the game was hand-holding and too easy. I hated the Rotom-dex. I thought the story was lacking and overall, I just didn’t enjoy the game. But the game had a troubling side since the start: it was aggressively pandering towards us older 20-somethings while also making a game that was built clearly for Japanese children. Each ad for the game made callbacks to the older games and that it’s been 20 years. The game brought back all sorts of things we knew and loved. A new tan Professor Oak. A new surfing Raichu (which Carlos hates). New forms of old Pokemon. Sun/Moon was nostalgia: the game.

And while I bit on the nostalgia, I slogged through the game. And in my key attention to detail as I begrudgingly played through a game I bought with my own money, I noticed a few things. The first was Grimsley. Grimsley is one of the Elite 4 in Black/White and in Black/White 2 (close friends will notice that this is actually one of my favorite games). And there Grimsley was. On the beach. Dressed like Byakuya from Bleach. Ranting on and on about love and loss. I was floored! What was my darling Elite 4 trainer doing? Why was he in a kimono on the beach? Why is he giving me items? What is this nonsense? You do get some clues once you’ve dug deep into the lore but what was the point of adding Grimsley to the game? To give hope to people like me who had given up on the game up until that point?

Another instance was with Colress. Now, this one has a funny story. Carlos and I were playing Sun/Moon around the same time but he was way ahead of me because he liked the game more than I did. He mentioned meeting a man with strange hair and a Nintendo power glove in the game that gave him an item and he thought the man was really interesting. This was the same day Nintendo released a short centered in the Black/White universe of Unova where Colress is shown icing a bunch of people in a city to literal death. The game glosses over some of the violence but the short does not skip on the detail that people likely died as Colress and Team Plasma tried to find a way to better control Kyurem.

I immediately recognized Colress once I met him in game and went back to Carlos barking about how he shouldn’t trust a literal murderer. And sure enough, Colress gives you an item, babbles about research and leaves like he isn’t a snow killer.

What was the point of adding Colress? Was it just a cool callback? Were there no other scientists in game that weren’t evil that the writers couldn’t think of? No, it was just a cool callback to an earlier and much more loved part of the franchise.=

And this isn’t the first time Nintendo has weaponized nostalgia. Pokemon Alpha Sapphire/Omega Ruby was absolutely a giant direct hit to the nostalgia of adults like me who cut their teeth on Ruby/Sapphire and the additions made in the new game involved riding the mythical Latias/Latios and the brilliant Delta Episode which almost almost turned the game around for me. AS/OR was essentially just a retread of Ruby/Sapphire with updated graphics like Pokemon Emerald was. And those games do have value but when they’re done to just redo a game for a cash grab, it’s frustrating. Emerald at least added things to those first generation games that were rough around the edges and did not always age well.

The best parts of the newer games were the times they added to the foundations of the older games like X/Y. I loved being able to have a character with my skin tone and that could dress very fashionably. I loved being able to sit on benches and pet my Pokemon. I loved being able to roller skate around and be given Pokemon from games that I adored like Lucario and adding to its mythos rather than just dropping a Pokemon off and saying “Here, young adult. I hear you like nostalgia. Here’s a Pikachu with a hat. Enjoy your nostalgia and your half-baked game.”

We see intertexuality at work in a lot of video game and comic book movies. Many will be a comic book saga in name only like Captain America: Civil War which had very little actual Civil War and was mostly just Tony and Steve have a lover’s quarrel. We see Star Wars movies that essentially just redo the original trilogy with better graphics. Stranger Things is literally a show based on callbacks but Stranger Things does so with love and reverence while Star Wars: The Force Awakens is done to help hide some of the less than ideal storytelling.

Remember, nostalgia is only as good as the thing it’s based on and while I love Pokemon, my love is not enough to keep me motivated when a game’s only interest is reminding me of how great the 1990s were.


This was different and timely! I don’t do this very often. I mostly just wanted to rant. I am not enjoying Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon like I thought I would. Motivate me to make my owl son proud.

621.4 Miles Later

I downloaded Pokemon Go because it was popular and I sold my soul to Pokemon many years ago with Pokemon Ruby. I added the app to my phone because I was sold on a trailer that promised me Pikachu in my apartment. The early parts of the game were…buggy. And I admit, I stopped playing for a while. But then, after being laid off, the game became a way to reconnect with friends and gave me tangible goals that helps me deal with some of the darkest moments of the depression that followed my unemployed stint.

I’ve given this game plenty of time, none of my reason money (as of now) and it’s caused conversations, arguments and rivalries both friendly and less than. I’ve taken the long way around to find a Pokemon not in my Dex yet. I’ve ducked out of places early or late to find something new and I’ll stop to take over a gym or to get more items.

So as I get my “Jogger” badge: which is claiming over 1000 km, I wanted to talk about Pokemon GO and being committed to a game.

 

Let’s go over a few basics first:

Team: MYSTIC.

Favorite Pokemon: In the current gens available for the game probably Eevee.

Most Worthwhile Catch: Girafarig probably.

Favorite Event: Halloween Ghost Event!

Favorite Starter: In the current gens available is probably Squirtle.

Pokemon That You Want the Most: I want another Lapras.

Best Egg Hatch: FUDGING LAPRAS.

 

But my feelings around the game have not been all positive. I struggle with how disconnected I feel from the rest of the world. I admit I think it’s rude when people play in front of others and I feel rude when I play in front of others. I don’t like the divisions people created by the team designations. I dislike how I’m now sort of tied to the game and hit a bit of a pay wall. I’m now an advanced enough level that getting items and things is actually sort of hard without putting money into a game I didn’t initially pay for and there is a lot of opinion in the gaming world about paying for free games.

But a year and a half on and 622-ish miles, I’m still playing Pokemon Go. Despite flaws, arguments and catcalling and turf battles: I’m still playing and still racking up steps, gym battles and eggs.

Here’s to many more gym takeovers and more raids. Here’s to questionable night time catches and going out of your way to hit a PokeStop.

 

Catch on, my friends.

 

At Least I’m a Pokemon Master Now

its-not-stress-that-kills-us-it-is-our-reaction-to-it-hans-selye-1

[UPDATE: This post was written before I started a new position. I’m happily with a company now and I couldn’t be more thrilled! That doesn’t mean I don’t want to share this post with you, my loyal readership.]

I’m not a mental health expert. I’m not a guru. I haven’t found enlightenment. But this is the story of how Pokémon Go helped me combat my anxiety. 

I recently found myself out of work, worried and anxious. Painfully anxious. In the West, we have a terrible problem: we assume that our entire worth is tied to work. And since I wasn’t working…who was I? It didn’t matter that I was Amanda the Cosplayer or Amanda the Bon Viveur; what mattered was that I was out of work. I obsessed. I put in countless applications in a day. I sat by the phone and waited for it to ring. I sat and I sunk into sadness and melancholy. I fell to the call of Acedia and Tristia and I felt awful.

In my other periods of unemployment I had denied myself of any pleasures of the flesh. I shied away from games, friends, food. My task and goal were only to get back to work and that perseverance kept me usually unemployed for very brief periods of time. But in denying myself the things that help me cope and deal with stress I rather quickly found myself frazzled and stressed out.

I am fortunate enough to have a loving support system around me and a common remedy was put forward to help get me out of the house and hopefully feeling a little better: walking.

Now, for those of you who are fortunate enough to know me in real life or to have met me at a convention or during a panel this may come as a shock to you but…I am not the bastion of physical health. I’m short, chubby and an asthmatic. I wilt in high heat and shudder in the cold. My flat feet mean that great distances wear on me heavily but I am absolutely one to find brief moments of Runner’s High. Brief. Very very brief. It may also be a surprise for you to know that until owning a car, my main modes of transportation were my own two feet and the local bus system. I walked miles in a day and didn’t think anything of it. I had good shoes and a sturdy disposition so that was all that mattered. As soon as I got a car, though, I found that I was walking very little.

So I decided to take on walking. It got me out of the house, didn’t cost much and it would help me avoid rickets but walking on my own with my sad music on my sad mp3 player wouldn’t do me any good. I needed incentive.

Pokemon Go is an AR (Augmented Reality) game that was released earlier this year. It’s an app that can be downloaded onto your phone and with it you can enter the world of Pokemon easily. I love Pokemon. I’m a dedicated Nintendo girl and the idea of catching Pokemon in real life was fantastic. However, schedules and resources made it difficult to play the game during its halcyon days. I also didn’t like a lot of the tension between teams: as a Slytherin, I am very sensitive to the idea of houses or teams being opposed to each other. That being said: Team Mystic forever.

Pokemon Go ended up being a huge deal. People mentioned constantly how it was helping them deal with depression and anxiety and to be honest, I found those stories to be a little silly at first. Depression, anxiety…those are serious illnesses. How can a game help anyone realistically cope with those issues?

One day, I decided that I’d go for a walk. Well, I was told I’d go for a walk after my friends admitted some concern about my lack of sunlight: jobless or not. I opened up the game, just to take advantage of one of the PokeStops that was just too far away from my apartment to normally enjoy its bounty. I collected the items from the stop and went on my day. I did this over a few days and steadily increased my step count and eggs. I walked about a block a day for close to a week. I was running out of Pokemon in my home territory so I decided to venture out just a little farther.

Woodlawn Lake isn’t far from my apartment. It’s a short drive and somewhat short bus trip. It’s spacious, lush and full of hungry birds and lights. In my first walk at Woodlawn Lake I chased down an Onix, tried to get an Electabuzz and walked just under a mile. I complained the entire time. I hated the heat, the ducks that chased me for my bread and was angry I didn’t get the Pokemon I wanted.

The next few times I walked for longer periods of time and caught better Pokemon. I took screenshots and shared my success with my friends and hearing them cheer me on was amazing. When I crossed over a mile and a half, I was praised by my friends and showing off the rare Pokemon I had caught gave us something to talk about other than the misery of our current situations. I was happy when my eggs hatched into beneficial or beloved Pokemon. I was happy to find something new. I was happy to keep walking, feel the sun and not feel too sore. It gave me something to look forward to. It gave me something to do. It made me feel happy, even if it was for a fleeting moment.

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Here are a few of the Pokemon I’ve captured on my adventures recently and some of the eggs I’ve hatched, too. [UPDATE: And these are the super early ones! I’m STILL playing Pokemon Go, I’m like level 23 now, so I’ll probably add more images later on!]

I’m a gamer by nature so I do feel the same endorphin release and feeling of accomplishment when playing a game (fun study on that here). It felt like a real achievement and was a solid reward after putting in between 5-15 applications daily during the week. I walked over a mile a few times and I was eager to keep walking. I planned my walks better, brought water with me and continued to share the photos with friends.

I struggled with the feeling  at first because it did feel like I was running away, well walking away, from my problems. I felt like I was languishing in excess and distraction. But it did remind me a lot of The Oatmeal’s lovely comic on why he runs. I walked away from the concerns of the world. I walked to distract myself. I walked away and turned my back to the issues and problems of the day and it is glorious.

And even though it’s intangible, even though it’s not real, even though it’s just a game…for a while, Pokemon Go kept me going. And I’ll be grateful for a long time to the game that helped me find my sanity once more.