The year was 1998. We had just been pulled out of class to take part in a focus group experiment. They walked us to the AV room, a small cupboard of a chamber, surrounded on all walls by curtains and Christian wall paintings. We were sat down on the floor when two rambunctious adults, a man and a woman (they were younger than my teacher, that’s all I knew – but she was pretty ancient in my eight-year-old eyes, so that’s not really saying much), who wanted to introduce us to a cartoon. I mean, that was pretty cool, right? We had been pulled out of lessons to watch cartoons.
I still remember the cartoon now. A ten-year-old kid was going around throwing little balls at strange monsters, hoping to catch them for his collection. Most of the kids were going on about the small yellow mouse who sparked electricity throughout, or a little red one with fire on his tail, but I was more of a fan of a grassy one. I believe I described it at the time, when back at home to my sister, as “the frog one with the cabbage on its back”. The cartoon was Pokémon, and instantly I was hooked.
That was it. Everything from that moment on was Pokémon. I was never one for following the crowd as a kid, but something about this series sparked my imagination. It also ignited the collector in me. Needless to say, I took the slogan “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” very seriously. It became my mantra. In my mind, my life goal was that of a Pokémon master.
I had the video games, the magazines, the miniatures, the toys, the bedding, the posters, even the curtains – one of my friends growing up was epileptic, and when he went through a patch of illness I drew him Pokémon. It was all I could talk about, all I could think about, and all I wanted to do with my spare time. Collect, play, and be immersed in this world of monsters.
The addiction, however, revolved around the cards. I had a pretty impressive collection growing up comprising of well over a thousand cards. I still remember my 10th Birthday as a stand out one. That year my sister gave me a booster pack for my birthday. Inside one of them, amongst the seven cards, was one shiny Charizard. It was beyond comprehension for me as a kid, I was lucky enough to find a shiny Charizard. It fuelled my addiction and made me more determined to collect them all.
So How Were Pokémon Cards So Clever?
Pokémon cards were such a clever idea. What they did was allow for players to live their dreams as a Pokémon master, connecting in with the other mediums Pokémon stretched across. Thorugh making the cards collectable, like with all collectable games in a way, they fit into the whole Pokemon mantra of “Gotta Catch ‘Em All” – so whilst Ash, Brock, and Misty were collecting them all in the TV series, players could collect them all in real life, building their own elite teams of Pokemon to battle with other players.
This meant that, like with all collectable card games, Pokémon had two factors – it had the collectable side, but it also had the game. This meant that, from a very basic perspective, the cards had a double meaning – giving them a playground trading value as well as a gaming value. There were essentially three types of people – the collectors, the players, and those who did both. A lot of that third category, myself included, are gamers to this day.
Pokémon cards fit into and fuelled a much wider world and marketing technique. Wizards of the Coast were quite a young company at the time, and making the Pokemon cards, which fit into the TV show, the games, the magazines (etc.) really helped launch the company into the giant it is today.
Of course, the cleverness of Pokémon went one step further than that. This is because, unlike other collectable card games like Magic the Gathering, Pokémon was aimed at children. It managed to get the pester-power that games like Magic missed, as in tying it in with the cartoon, the games, and the mythos of the show, Pokémon ensured it was the collectable game that every child wanted to play. It has so much exposure. This meant that, in a way, it was indoctrinating kids from a very early age into the collectable card game model.
Not only that but as a game, Pokémon was something radically different. It was before this great board game renaissance we are now in the middle of, and so it was a two-player family game the likes of which we hadn’t seen before. Chess, Monopoly, and roll/resolve board games were as far as our gaming had gone up to that point. Pokémon, a game that incorporated strategy but did not include an abstract theme (like Chess). It meant we could learn deck building in an easily accessible way.
This means that Pokémon got under the skin of an entire generation, and I know several millennial gamers who can trace their first love of gaming back to the Pokémon card game – myself included. We have fond memories of building our decks and playing against each other. Weedle vs Porygon, Chansey vs Gloom, Charizard vs Blastoise. We were the next generation of hardcore gamers who play games like Terra Mystica, Star Wars: Destiny, and Splendor.
What Is The Aftermath of Pokémon?
The guys who made Pokémon, especially in the early days, hit gold. They managed to create an addictive game that, to this day, still has a huge following of new and old fans. It triggers the imagination with new players, and then oldies like me still love it for the nostalgia. Pokémon acted as the ultimate gateway game into so many larger games. Even now we see a resurgence into the realm of classic Pokémon with Pokémon Go. It really proves how popular it was with millennials back in the day. Forget being defined by libertarianism and civic-minded-ness – we were the Pokémon generation!
As for me – well, unfortunately, when I was 14, I separated out my Pokémon cards, moving the shiny/holo cards to a safe location. In short, I lost them, like the idiot I was. Now I have to rebuild that collection again – good bye money – hello eBay.
So what about you – were you ever a Pokemon card addict? Whether you were or not, what are your memories of the game? Let me know in the comments below!