By Grant Stoner | The Duquesne Duke
My obsession began with a single trading card. A small, humanoid-like creature named Machop was staring back at my three-year-old self. He was lifting a massive boulder with a single hand, a feat that rivaled the strength of the mighty hero Hercules. Machop is just one of the 721 beasts known as Pokemon, and he, along with the other “Pocket Monsters,” are about to celebrate their birthday.
The massively popular franchise will be commemorating its 20th anniversary on Feb. 27. Spanning across multiple mediums, the Pokemon brand can be found in video games, trading cards, movies, television shows, toys and books. The video games themselves have sold over 270.8 million units.
In fact, more than 61 games featuring the unique and powerful creatures have been released. While many are familiar with the handheld entries, Pokemon characters can be found outside of Nintendo’s portable systems. New games such as the highly-anticipated mobile “Pokemon GO” and the fighting genre inspired “Pokken Tournament,” are scheduled to release this year, adding two more titles to the already impressive and ever-expanding list.
As a contributor toward those sales, I fully understand the appeal of the games. Ever since I chose Squirtle as my first starter in “Pokemon: Blue Version” on the Game Boy Color, I’ve been hooked.
For years I’ve traveled across the various regions that comprise the Pokemon universe, collecting numerous badges, defeating powerful trainers and capturing roughly 690 of the 721 available Pokemon. I’ve traded my prized fighters to close friends, watched 12-hour streams of various YouTube personalities playing the latest games and even acted as a personal tutor to an up-and-coming trainer on pokemonshowdown.com.
Yet for me, the games provide so much more than just entertainment.
That’s because at 13-months-old, I was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type II. Along with causing weakened muscles, my disability resulted in frequent hospitalizations, often lasting for several weeks. Being constantly poked and prodded by strangers in white coats was unnerving, so after they left my room, I would play “Pokemon” games. The familiarity of the routes and the iconic cries of the mythical creatures helped to alleviate the stress and physical pains that often accompanied my hospital stays. So much so that I can confidently, or embarrassingly state that I’ve beaten “Pokemon: Silver Version” a total of 37 times.
Each successful play-through signaled not only my accomplishments as a Pokemon trainer, but also proved that I survived yet another dreadful visit to the hospital’s ICU. Without my virtual companions, I doubt that I would’ve maintained any significant level of sanity after numerous sleepless nights.
I will never view the Pokemon franchise as just another fad. The emotional connection that I have with the games will no doubt continue to grow with each new title.
For me, the lands of the Pokemon series will always be my home-away-from-home. As the series continues to grow, I’ll be eagerly anticipating my newest character to throw the signature red and white ball, exclaiming to his latest companion, “I choose you!”