Gotta catch ’em all

I reflect on my long-lasting love for the Pokémon franchise

Zara Iqbal, Copy editor

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When I was 10 years old, I had a crush on Ash Ketchum from Pokémon.

… Alright, that was just to soften the blow so when you read the rest of this, you’ll think, “okay, understandable,” because what can get worse than having a crush on someone who took two whole decades to win the Pokémon League, right? 

I wish I could have a rational explanation for why Pokémon has been a part of most of my life. But I really don’t. I’m just borderline obsessed and it’s embarrassing that I’m exposing myself like this, but here we are. 

From what I remember, the first encounter I had with Pokémon was watching the show after I came home from elementary school, and playing with the cards that my brother and I collected. In 2009, my parents bought us Nintendo DSis and I played my first ever Pokémon game, Pokémon HeartGold. I was hooked instantly. Being able to catch my own Pokémon, battle and explore different regions just like how I saw it on TV blew my mind. 

But then, a couple of years later, I underwent a momentous tragedy: I lost my DSi alongside all of my games (please … don’t ask). If you’re a Pokémon fanatic like me, you’re probably internally screaming right now, and I get it. For those of you who don’t know, Pokémon HeartGold is arguably the best game of the series (your Pokémon can walk alongside your character on screen, for goodness sake), and over the years, the existing cartridges have become rarer and thus more expensive. Pokémon games usually cost around $40 when they first come out — after a quick Amazon search, HeartGold is being sold for over $300 right now because, clearly, I’m not the only one who garnered a strong emotional attachment to the game. 

After that, I was too traumatized to bring myself to associate myself with Pokémon … but thinking I could last long without it was almost laughable. On a whim, I binged the show (“Oh my god, this is so bad,” I thought as I clicked “next” to the 700th episode) — yes, probably embarrassing for a kid about to enter middle school, but I had long accepted that in general, being obsessed with the franchise raises many eyebrows — and found myself yearning to play the Nintendo games again.

I sported Pokémon-related graphic tees in middle school and drew Pokémon on the backs of notebooks. I watched an unhealthy amount of “Let’s Play” videos after discovering the Pokémon gaming community on YouTube and got into competitive online battling. I got a new 3DS and whenever another game came out, I would tag along with my mom on trips to Target, so I could stop by the (now nonexistent) GameStop next door to buy the most recent release with whatever money I had scraped together.

What I thought would just be a hyperfixation or a phase turned into something bigger. Thankfully, I quickly ditched the Pokémon-related fashion and stopped watching the show, but I realized I was actually passionate about Pokémon. This was kind of a big deal for me because my largely apathetic personality doesn’t make a lot of room for honing passions. It makes me genuinely happy, and I don’t have many things I could fall back on to give me the same excitement that playing Pokémon does.

Zara Iqbal
Pokémon HearGold was the first Pokémon game I played on the DSi.

Which is why in middle school, I connected with a group of online friends on Instagram for the sole purpose of battling competitively together online on Pokémon Showdown. And why I jailbroke my 3DS a couple of months ago so I could play as many Pokémon games as I can for free (if someone at Nintendo is reading this right now, please don’t sue me, because suing me after reading about my love for Pokémon is just mean). When PopSockets first came out, I thought the invention was pointless — I immediately changed my mind when I first saw a Pokéball PopSocket on Amazon and bought it on impulse. 

Sept. 12 was the 10 year anniversary of the release of Pokémon HeartGold, which means it’s been 10 years since I’ve played my first Pokémon game. And on Sept. 15, Ash won a Pokémon League for the first time after I spent the entirety of my childhood watching him lose. It’s hard to describe how I felt when I heard about these two things, but I was overwhelmed with a mixture of pride, nostalgia and disbelief. It really doesn’t feel like 10 years, as I can vividly remember struggling to catch legendary Pokémon Ho-Oh when I was seven and Googling whether or not having crushes on fictional characters was normal. And I wasn’t the only one freaking out — people who have even deeper connections to Pokémon and people who simply watched the show as kids bonded over Ash’s feat on social media.

I can’t name the 800+ Pokémon off the top of my head, I don’t invest time in competitive battling anymore and I definitely am not still in love with Ash Ketchum, but Pokémon has been with me throughout most of my life as a means of escape. The Pokémon world is exciting — it brings people together and provides challenges. Because it’s always growing and changing, I can always look forward and anticipate what’s next. It’s something that was introduced to me in my childhood, but I can’t see myself devoid of it even when I’m an adult simply because I can’t name many things that make me happier.