I’m not sure where to even start with this. We’ve had quite the journey, you and me. It started when I was just a boy and I received Pokemon Red for my birthday. I was too young then to even read the text on the screen, and my earliest memory of you is huddling over my oldest brother’s shoulder as he played and explained what he was doing. I didn’t say anything then, but the truth was I didn’t need the narrative; I knew what you were. You were a whole new world for me to explore, one where I could break free from the restrictions of being a six year old boy and instead dive head first into your vast mysteries and adventures. Eventually I became familiar enough with Red Version that I began to play it on my own, even when I still couldn’t quite read everything on the screen. I logged hour after hour playing Red and its many sequels, I had many of the anime episodes on VHS, I read books, and I sat with baited breath as tears brought Ash back to life in the first movie. To many in the world you were just a craze, or a silly video game (my mom still calls you Poke-e-man) and that’s alright. They’re not wrong. But to me, your are so much more than that.
The main character Red starts off in the quaint Pallet Town. As a boy who grew up on a ranch and went to school in a town of less than six hundred people, I could relate to this background-- and in the end, I think that is where your most brilliant feature lays. Yes, the opportunity to explore grasslands, caves, forests and seas in the search for powerful creatures that you than use for organized battles is brilliant. And yes, being able to train these Pokemon as you take on bosses and slowly work your way up the ranks of the Pokemon League in pursuit of becoming the Pokemon Champion is wonderful. So too is the story the puts you against a rueful and villainous team known as Team Rocket. Add this with the ability to trade, battle, and socialize with my friends and it is obvious why you became a popular game, but all of these reasons fall short of being the reason I am writing this letter.
For that, we go back to Red, the character. He is a silent protagonist, capable of only stating yes or no when characters pose a question. This silence allowed me to put myself in the story, and suddenly the 15-bit graphics disappeared and I was in a fully realized world within my head. I was Red, and in the world of my imagination I wasn’t just a sprite stepping through pixelated grass or bumping aimlessly against the dark tunnels of a route. I was pushing through thickets, unsure of what new mystery lay before me. I was transported to the eerie caves, steeling my courage as me and my trusty Pokemon fought off swarms of Zubat and pushed onward through poison, confusion, and darkness. I was the only thing standing between Team Rocket and their cruel end game.
And I have to admit, part of the reason I was able to do this is because your plot is fairly basic. If a person is looking for a compelling character study they are going to want to swerve away from this one. But that lack of story just meant that I could fill in the gaps-- and boy did I. I gave my character new motivations by expounding on small threads or all together creating new and deeper reasons for me to push on. I upped the stakes, pretending either personal injuries or mental hurdles that I had to overcome, and always taking the threats of Team Rocket to their gravest possible implications. I was a child in game and in life, but in my head I was making friends, exploring new lands, and standing up for what was right against all odds-- and all from the safety of my living room.
And my imagination didn’t stop when the batteries died ( or my mom kicked me outside). I was fortunate enough to have a large pastoral setting to explore, and an imagination that could turn even a small fishing pond into a lakefront that held some rare and powerful mystery. Frankly your plot didn’t hold a candle to the one I created as me, my brother, and my best friend set off on our journeys. I trekked through vast deserts, survived bitter storms, set to the sea on a (docked) boat, snuck through a building over run with Team Rocket (the school), and caught powerful new allies to help me become not only the best trainer but more importantly, a hero.
The world you helped foster in my mind has become as much of a part of me as the heart that beats in my chest. And yes, the trappings change depending on what I am working on, but you were where it all started.
I am of course aware that all kids have some level of imagination. But somewhere along the way many children allow their fantasy worlds to shrivel up and wither away under the pressure of looking cool in front of their peers, or simply growing up and dealing with the unrelenting assault that adulthood can sometimes become. I’m not ignorant to that, nor did I go unaffected by it.
You and me both know I turned my back to you. I boxed you up, threw you in the back of my closet, and wrote you off as child’s play. I was a grown up now, and as I drew close to high school my concerns over what my friends might think if they knew I still played you outweighed anything you had to offer. But I could never cast you away-- not entirely-- as the imagination you instilled in me was too powerful. It might have flickered, but it never burnt out.
So while I was too mature for you, I still found myself unable to turn off the flood of creativity that you started. (You’ll have to excuse the mixed metaphor there. You didn’t teach me the mechanics, only the heart). So I still read-- though not as often as I used to-- and I turned towards writing to help cope. My writing was crude and cheesy and full of enough teenage angst to make a CW show turn it's nose, but it was passionate and in doing so I dove into new worlds, just like you had taught me.
And eventually I turned back to you. I had grown comfortable with myself and I realized that my friends already knew I was a nerd. I wasn’t fooling anyone. So I began to play you again. We picked up just where I left off, and while the graphics changed and the stories grew more complex, the heart of creativity and exploration hadn’t changed.
With this reintroduction came a new perspective. As a child I never understood anyone who didn’t list your games as the best of the medium. I’m not blind to your faults anymore. You’re not the perfect game for everyone. Plenty have lobbed criticism at your game play, and all of it is probably fair. The problem is, I don’t care. I’m incapable of looking at you critically. You’ve given me too much. I can’t bite the hand that feeds me.
Your worlds are not the ones I explore anymore in my imagination but your impact will stick with me forever. It was you that helped my find the imagination that lay inside of me, and it was you that made it burn so brightly that even as I abandoned it, it didn’t abandon me. So while my journeys through these new worlds might be far from the simple, kid-friendly adventures you gave me as a child, you will always be at the heart of everything I do.
I used to dream of becoming a Pokemon Master. Now I dream of becoming a master of my own dreams. Anyone who knows me can tell you that I stare off into space a little too much, and I spend half my nights awake, navigating my imagination for something I can put into a novel. The road of life has highs and lows and turns in every direction that I could never predict, but as I live and breathe I hope someday to write a novel that makes it on a bookshelf or two.
It doesn’t have to be a bestseller. I just hope it can light the way to a few readers imaginations the way you did for me.
And so, as we both grow well into our twenties, I write this to tell one simple thing.
I am sure we both have changes ahead of us and I can’t predict the future. Maybe we always stay close, or maybe we don’t. But like any best friends who grow apart, our story will always be intertwined. I’m rooting for you, and any success I manage to have couldn’t have happened without you.
LA is Editor-in-Chief and Head Writer at Lot 10 Underground. He is an avid Eagles fan and a weary Lakers one. He grew up sneaking through the halls of Hogwarts after dark with Harry and his more talented friends, stumbling along the dark walls of Rock Tunnel in Pokemon Red, storming through flood riddled ships with Master Chief, and questioning Goku's parenting techniques in DBZ. If you'd like to contact him, you can try an owl, but he prefers e-mail: