Friday, July 22, 2016

Pokemon is 20ish years old, and I'm 32... why am I still playing this game?: Explanation of my next project

Pokemon was first released in Japan in 1996 when I was 12 years old, by the time it was released in North America (September for the show and video game, December for the trading card game,) I was 14.  I was on the upper end of the target market age range when I began playing the game, but it was surprisingly engrossing. When the second generation of the Pokemon games came out in October of 2000 I was 16, a bit out of the target age group, but the fun of the earlier games was still fresh enough that I picked up those games as well. It was shortly before the 4th generation of games came out that I played the 3rd, then immediately after, I played the 4th generation. The seventh generation is releasing later this year, and at the age of 32, for some reason, I still have been off and on playing this video game that is most definitely still designed for children.

I have played all of the main series games, and have (without cheating) caught every single one of the 720 different Pokemon possible to have caught in the main series games as of the current date without cheating. I feel only slightly awkward that as a 32 year old man I feel somewhat proud of that 'accomplishment'. It is something that I have completed, and really, as someone who is constantly starting projects and hardly ever finishing them, that is something in of itself.

Now, Pokemon Go has been released, even though it is still a bit unstable from the tech side. It has revealed a huge population worldwide, and not just kids, who are still enamored with the world of Pokemon. Pokemon Go has, at least for the moment, provided an outlet for people, many of whom are other adults, to publicly acknowledge that they are still into this series. We are able to look at it and admit that even though it is for kids, doesn't mean that just kids can enjoy it.

The property is being given a new breath of fresh air by the ability to walk around the 'real world' catching these cartoon monsters. It is helping us motivate ourselves to exercise and interact with others outside. Few video games have been able to make that claim.

For a while I have had a shortage of solid inspiration for my writing, but a few months ago I had an idea. The idea was spawned by reading about the "Nuzlocke Challenge". The idea was to make a play-through of a Pokemon game more interesting by introducing self-imposed rules to make it harder. There are many discussions on the rules of the Nuzlocke Challenge and the thousands of variations people have imposed on themselves, so I won't go into too much detail here. If you want to know more, Google is your friend.

The points of the Nuzlocke Challenge that are important to this post are that it creates artificial scarcity of Pokemon, and also introduces the possibility of them permanently passing on from battle. The amazing thing about this was less the element of difficulty this adds to the game, but more the degree of emotional depth it adds to the game. Players found that in a version of the game where your Pokemon risk death and aren't as easily replaced, you value them more. You form much greater emotional attachments to them, and value abilities that would normally be viewed as so-so.

The other aspect of the stories people, especially the originator of the challenge, tell of their Pokemon journeys. They are legitimately interesting stories that tell real human stories of the writer's interaction with these virtual pets. There are many of these stories that are rather compelling, despite being technically fan-fiction. Fan-fiction has a bad reputation. In large part this bad reputation comes from the fact that it is done by amateur writers in the worlds, and with the characters, created by other artists. It tends to have the effect of having a new screenwriter taking a book and turning it into a movie, then you add the fact that it is often someone with little writing experience or talent doing it as a hobby, with a complete lack of a special effects budget, and little to no editing. There are some works of fan-fiction that are rather good though. A couple of them have actually been commercially successful once they brushed the intellectual property of their original inspiration and became their own thing.

These stories of these challenges though are rather riveting not just because they are in a world we love. They are also about the real player playing the game and the real attachment they form with their Pokemon. There is real risk at each cliffhanger, because the author is not just choosing who lives or dies, that is decided by the in game mechanics. The characters are always just a lucky critical hit away from disappearing forever.

This is what is drawing me into the possibility of a writing project that is technically fan-fiction. A few months ago I had an idea of writing an in character narrative of a single character going through the Pokemon journeys of all of the regions in the game so far. Each journey through each region would follow an actual playthrough of the relevant game that would follow certain self imposed rules. If a Pokemon faints in a situation where it would be unlikely that the enemy would stop attacking just because it is the fair thing to do, such as, an attack by a wild Pokemon or a battle with hardened criminals. In these cases, if a Pokemon faints, it is dead. Also, the protagonist will behave based on internal motivations, not just what I as a player believe is the most powerful choice. Also, the game events will be described in character by the protagonist who is from the fictional Pokemon world.

I will, however, be taking some degree of artistic licence. Certain details will be changed to fit the narrative and make sense. For instance, distances and the time necessary to travel them will have a bit more verisimilitude. Stops to be healed will take more than a few seconds. The protagonist and his Pokemon will need to eat. As Pokemon are the only type of animals in the setting, any meat eaten will come from a Pokemon, (this is an aspect that seems to be true in most versions of the Pokemon universe, however, rarely dwelled upon as Pokemon is marketed to children.) Also, as time passes, it will make sense to take artistic licence with a few other aspects. The protagonist will not stay ten years old forever, and as he ages it will be necessarily to recolor his later adventures to account for him being older than is assumed that the game protagonist is. Certain other characters will also have to be aged appropriately, or certain aspects could get weird.

This is all, of course, assuming that I make it far into this project before losing momentum. Anyways, that is a look into the new project that I'm working on and why.