It was just about 20 years ago now that gamers were introduced to the world of Pokemon. It’s arrival at the time was probably just as exciting as any other new release, but little did we know that Pokemon would become so much more than a one-off adventure about a 10-year-old collecting strange monsters. Somehow, the Pokemon series has not only endured these past 20 years, but actually thrived! It’s grown from just a couple of games into a full franchise complete with 25 main series games, several tv series, movies, and merchandise for every category under the sun! Movies and merch aside though, why is it that the games have been able to persist while so many other, younger, series have quickly lost steam and faded into obscurity? I’m no expert, but I think it’s just as much our doing, as fans, as it is the games themselves.
If it was up to the games themselves, I don’t think Pokemon would have lasted as long as it has. Each new entry into the series has been met with more or less the same criticisms: “the formula is the same”, “the new features don’t really add anything”, “why no [insert name here] region”, “there’s no story”, and so on. They’re all fair criticisms to a degree. At their core, the Pokemon games have changed very little over the past 20 years. They still task you with traversing a region while collecting monsters, defeating gyms, and saving the world from the newest gang to crawl out of the woodwork. They still introduce a ton of new monsters each time, and they still don’t have much of anything resembling a plot. However, we Pokemon fans still continue to buy the games despite this, and I suspect that’s because we actually like Pokemon just the way it is.
While a series normally needs to continually evolve in order to stay relevant, I don’t believe that’s necessarily true for the Pokemon series. While us older fans have complained about the game’s static nature, that same apparent lack of growth has allowed Pokemon to become something of a fixed point in our gaming lives. We can leave and come back at any time without worrying about whether or not the game will leave us behind. For new players, it allows them to jump in secure in the knowledge that they haven’t missed anything. It’s created a series where every entry makes for a good jumping-on point, meaning that there’s almost no barrier standing between the games and new players. The new tweaks and additions they make with each iteration have always been welcome, but I for one am glad that Game Freak decided to stay away from making major changes so far. It’s not only allowed multiple generations to enjoy the same games, but it’s also enabled its fan base to elevate the franchise and make it into something more.
Pokemon has become a staple in gaming culture. It’s not simply because the series has been around for so long, though. Rather, it’s reached that lofty status because that’s what we’ve made of it. The games and the surrounding franchise elements provided the means, but we’re the ones who’ve made it into the pillar that it is. We’ve been essential to spreading it throughout gaming culture to the point that playing Pokemon has become common ground upon which a great many gamers can connect. Even if a gamer hasn’t played the games, they will at least have a passing familiarity with them. It’s become a means to connect with our fellows. It’s static gameplay allows new and old players to interact on the same level, while also allowing non-players into the conversation. Everyone knows what Pokemon is, and most gamers know how it works. In short, Pokemon has become a unique institution in gaming; something special that’s incredibly inclusive to anyone with an interest in playing video games.
While the 20th anniversary of Pokemon is certainly something worth celebrating for us gamers, the fact that it’s been successful for this long really shouldn’t be all that surprising. It’s oft-maligned static core has created an experience common to both new and old players, and in-turn that very common experience gave its fans the means to elevate Pokemon to its position as a pillar of gaming culture. Pokemon is something special shared by all gamers, players and non-players alike. In fact, I doubt it would be surprising to any of us if the series continued to thrive for another 20 years!
Happy #Pokemon20 everyone!
Why do you think Pokemon has thrived for so long? What is your favorite aspect of the Pokemon experience?