Pokemon’s ultimate prize
Sixth grade was hard for me. It the first time my peers were dating, which meant I wanted a girlfriend. But I made sure that didn’t happen by loving something else: Pokemon.
It started with mere curiosity. I saw a kid in Spanish class playing Pokemon on his GameBoy, and I asked him if there were any monkey Pokemon — because I loved monkeys. He said yes. So the next days I asked my mom if I could buy Pokemon.
Back then, there were two versions: red and blue. And I chose blue because it was manly. But, damnit, it was the wrong color because the blue versions didn’t have the monkey Pokemon.
If you’re newbie, let me explain the game: You are a boy in a world full of wild creatures called Pokemon. You can capture these creatures by throwing pocket-sized balls at them. Once you’ve captured some of them, you travel through the world by fighting your way past other Pokemon trainers. One goal of the game is to beat all the best Pokemon trainers in the world. The other goal is to catch all 150 species of Pokemon, because it helps complete a Pokemon encyclopedia called a PokeDex.
It’s kind of like dog fighting. Except you have to catch 150 different species — for science. And you won’t go to jail for it.
Anyway, one interesting feature was that the creators of Pokemon programmed themselves into game. Their characters sat in a room in Celadon City, and at the front of the room was the game designer. He said that if I caught all 150 Pokemon, I should go back and see him; he would give me a reward.
I wanted that reward. I had no idea what it was. But there was speculation that it was a secret Pokemon — the 151st Pokemon, Mew.
For months, I played through the levels. I remember one Sunday, a faith healer had visited our church and purported to miraculously fix people’s legs with prayer. But as people gasped in amazement at the front pew, I was in the back trying to catch Articuno, the legendary ice Pokemon.
Then, after 122 hours and 22 minutes of gameplay, I caught the 150th Pokemon. I was ready for my prize.
I got on my bird Pokemon and flew to Celadon City. I walked into the building where the game designer worked. I asked for my prize.
The game designer said, “Wow! Excellent! You completed your PokeDex! Congratulations!”
Then he gave me a diploma.
A freaking piece of paper.
That was it.
You can watch the moment on YouTube. Almost 15 years after the release of the game, hundreds of people are still angry. One commenters writes:
Hey! Professor i spent my whole life getting all 150 pokemon! What’s That Super DUPER AWESOME PRIZE?
Umm, Well uh, *Scribbles down on a piece of paper with a crayon* Here!
It says “Ur the Best!”…….
For the next 13 years, I didn’t play Pokemon.
Yesterday I found Pokemon again. I was able to load it onto my computer, so I spent a while fooling around. I remembered why it was so addicting — why I had to catch them all. And eventually I worked my way back to Celadon City, where the game designer was. And, again, he offered me a prize for catching all 150 Pokemon.
I should’ve been pissed. If it wasn’t for him, maybe I would’ve have a sixth grade girlfriend (though probably not). And he was trying to ruin my love life again.
But, as a 24-year-old playing Pokemon, this made me want to track down the the game designer in real life and ask him, “Why is the culmination of all my Pokemon hunting so… meaningless? Why is the end so empty?”
And at that moment — as I pondered these questions about Pokemon, life and the universe — I understood the brilliance of it all.