This is what the PokeWalker reminds me of

When I was quite small, I was obsessed with Pokemon. I couldn’t actually play Pokemon, since I didn’t have a Gameboy and the party line in my household was that Gameboys would rot your brains. But I was obsessed nevertheless. I was obsessed because it was a thing I couldn’t have.

So I watched the show religiously. I had a bajillion cards organized in two three-inch D-ring binders. I also had a Pokemon Pikachu II, the silvery-glittery Pokemon pedometer meant to connect with the Gold and Silver games. I didn’t have the games, but the pedometer worked kind of like a Pikachu-themed Tamagotchi even without the games, so it wasn’t a huge problem. By accumulating steps, you’d earn Watts, and these watts could then be used in a betting game to accumulate more watts. If you had the Gameboy game, they could be sent there; where, I assumed, they served some perplexing and unknowable brain-rotting service. Alternately, you could give them to the Pikachu. The Pikachu would be so pleased by the gift that he/she/it would perform some wild trick. The more Watts, the crazier the trick. If you were a cheapass, the Pikachu would just stick its face real close to the screen and make a happy face. There was another trick, I think, where it would give you an acorn or some other shitty seed you certainly weren’t ever going to need, in the same way a cat offers its owners dead mice. And then there was the top trick—Pikachu would leap into the air and fireworks would explode around it. I don’t know whether the fireworks were incidental or the Pikachu was supposed to be a licensed pyrotechnican, but that’s what would happen.

I adored my Pikachu. I first received it just before a summer trip to Yellowstone National Park, as a way to entertain me in the car, I think. It worked. See, I had an epiphany in the first few moments after unwrapping it and turning it on: sitting in my mother’s minivan, I lifted the Pikachu up to the cabin light to get a better look at the screen, heard the clicking and rattling of its internal components, and realized that I could shake it with my hands to accumulate Watts.

This, of course, immediately became the main objective of my waking life. I would get up in the morning and run around the house while shaking it in my hand, because I reasoned that this combination of violent movements would cause the footstep meter to rise the fastest. I quit playing computer games entirely during that summer. Any time spent seated was wasted time. I set myself ludicrous benchmarks: 10,000 steps before lunch was the normal one, and one, in fact, that I regularly met. I developed an idiosyncratic way of shaking the device; I’d hold my upper arm out rigidly, angled up above my shoulder, and shake the Pikachu up and down as fast as possible at cheek height. I could do more reps more quickly that way, I learned.

At the swimming pool my sister and I swam at, we were suddenly the cool kids. However, this lasted for only about half a week before my devotion to the Pikachu began to bore my friends. My good friend Elizabeth particularly hated it. It kept me from swimming with her.

“I need to get to ten thousand,” I’d tell her. “Uh, you just get in the pool, and I’ll jump in when I get there.” I’d stand and shake it on the side of the pool, staring off crosseyed into the distance, while she did flips in the deep end and gave me resentful glances. I actually got tennis elbow from shaking the Pikachu that summer—a huge knot of muscles gathered at the base of my forearm, just above my elbow. It ached whenever I pressed it.

The Pikachu was an infinite well of mysteries. I don’t think I ever found all of Pikachu’s tricks; the first time I discovered the fireworks one was on the Fourth of July, and I was so baffled by it that I assumed it was some kind of holiday event. Because I had no Gameboy game to worry about, I could use the Watts for whatever I pleased; chiefly, I used them to play the card game with Pikachu. Though it was only a guessing game, I developed the belief that I was an expert at it. I played constantly. Waiting in line for a seat at Applebees; at the doctor’s office; in the car; I even once played it in an airplane during takeoff, chancing (I thought) a bloody death for the entire crew. Such was my adoration for Pikachu: capricious, unwise, in defiance of sense and safety. Pikachu and I were closer than Ash and his Pikachu. We were business partners. My obsession was clinical and calculating; my methods were tested, double-checked, analyzed, and finally, rigorously scheduled. We were in the business of collecting footsteps. We were in the business of collecting Watts. We maxed out the Watts once, my Pikachu and I. I gave it 999 Watts in celebration, and the Pikachu adored me for it. It had max happiness. I had max happiness.

Posers.

That was a good summer. During the following school year, because Tamagotchis and Tamagotchi-likes had been banned the previous fall, I carried the Pikachu secretly in my pocket. I would jiggle my leg and tap my toes on the floor to keep the footstep meter running. But we had lean times, Pikachu and I; without the ability to shake for benchmarks, the store of Watts was slowly depleted. I stopped giving it gifts. I had to play the card game in the bathroom, in secret. Life was tough. When the next summer began, I had almost kept my Pikachu running for an entire year. The hoary old thing was scratched, half-broken, and weak on battery power, but I kept it clipped to my waistband anyway. The clip had been bent, though, and it gripped my clothes with less surety now.

This is key to my story.

See, I would frequently go kayaking or canoeing with my sister and my father on a lake near our house. We’d bring our own canoe, or rent the kayaks they had there for a dollar an hour. I forgot to take the Pikachu off one day while kayaking, and when we got home, I realized it was gone. It was hard not to cry. I assumed that the little thing was dead at the middle of the lake, Pikachu’s ghost drifting sadly among the catfish. We called the lake office; they said they couldn’t find it anywhere on the beach. We drove back to the lake. When we arrived, however, they’d already discovered it exactly where I’d bent to pull the kayak back up onto the beach, knocked off by the edge of my life-vest and drowned under a foot of water. The lifeguard gave it back to me I pretended to be very thankful.

“I had it for almost a whole year,” I told my mother in the car on the way home. “That’s a long time for one of those toys to last,” she said. Unhelpfully. That the Pikachu had been such a magnificent survivor only made its death worse. I felt emptied. I felt as if a real creature had died.

Wielding a glasses repair kit, I disassembled its corpse on a sheet of Kleenex on the floor of my room. I soaked the water up off the tiny green chip with a stack of q-tips. I rolled a slice of keenex into a tiny rope and threaded it down around the screen area, soaking up hidden drops. I let both halves of the toy dry in a sunny spot for two weeks.

When I turned it back on, the memory had been wiped. All the footsteps and watts and max happiness meters were gone.

I totally lost the drive to play with Pikachu after that. He/she/it was dead.

So: my new PokeWalker is a sorrowful, sorrowful thing. I can hardly use it. It feels false and deadening. Also, they figured out a way to make it immune to most kinds of shaking. There’s no point to it anymore.

If it can’t be like the old times, I don’t want it at all. Which, of course, says a lot about me. And about gamers. We want what we want, of course, because we can’t have it.

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16 Comments

  1. God, not having a Pokemon game back in elementary school made you an instant outcast. I had to beg my parents to get me a Gameboy for a solid year before they caved in, by which time Red and Blue had become old news. When Yellow came out, my friends and I waited ’til midnight (with a parent, of course) in line at the local game store, not wanting to spend any more time apart from the tiny plastic cartridge we had been feverishly discussing for months.

    I rushed home from school the next day, itching to finally explore the world I’d heard so much about, and discovered almost immediately that I have exactly zero interest in the the mechanics or fiction of Pokemon. The actual experience the game presented could not possibly live up to the one I had cobbled together in my head, one built entirely from wild stories and furtive glances over the shoulder of Gameboy-owning friends. I forced myself to play through the whole thing anyways, desperately hoping that I would find whatever this thing was that had so completely ensnared the minds of every kid I knew. I never did, of course, as I was looking for something that simply wasn’t there.

    I imagine you’re right about our tendency as gamers to want things we can’t have (or which never existed in the first place).

    Reply
    • I kind of feel the same way. As you said, Pokemon was all the rage back in primary school, so I got the gameboy and a few cards, but I just didn’t find the interest in its fiction or its systems. The TV show was entertaining enough, though. In an incredibly stupid kind of way.

      Some of my friends still go on about Pokemon; people who have played a hell of a lot less games than I have, and rave about it. I just nod and fudge conversation. Ah, who knows.

      Reply
      • lauramichet

         /  June 23, 2010

        I guess I’m lucky I didn’t get a chance to disappoint myself until FireRed and LeafGreen came out. I ended up playing them on the DS; by that point I’d already started addressing games critically, and I found them interesting for a variety of reasons beyond simple dedication to the gameworld itself. Also, I’d indoctrinated myself enough as a child that I was willing to enjoy the plot and the mechanics. I was one of those kids who bought the guidebook to Gold and Silver even though I didn’t own the game itself– I’d sit around and crunch stats on paper to determine the best possible six-pokemon party to tackle the Elite Four with. I still have that notebook somewhere.

  2. Fantastic piece. Reminded me of my own love for Pokemon back then and the attachment I have with my old toys, video games, and consoles.

    Reply
  3. That…it…you…wow.

    On the subject of wanting what you can’t have, I think I had a fairly unusual upbringing. My parents refused to get me anything Pokemon- or videogame-related for Christmas or birthdays, but I was welcome to spend my allowance on anything (age-appropriate) I wanted. So technically I could have had anything, it’s just…that’s an awful lot of money for a kid to be spending. And with everything theoretically within my reach, I found myself somewhat less obsessed with a lot of the stuff that was out there.

    I eventually did get a gameboy with Pokemon (blue), but then I was broke for a year. And now I’m a well-adjusted PC gamer. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

    If I may veer off topic for a bit: I wonder if Nintendo actually knew what they were doing, giving such a grind-centric “game” to an audience of children? I can’t decide whether it’s misguided or outright diabolical, but…yeah.

    Reply
  4. What a great article. I never had anything pokemon related, but I had a Tetris watch as a kid (I sent away cereal box-tops for it and waited 4-6 weeks, it was very Calvin & Hobbes) that similarly obsessed me. I lost it eventually, which I still feel bad about.

    Reply
  5. When I like the Pokemon games (my brother and I found a ROM of Gold in Japanese before it hit America) I only cared about evolving them and winning. Then when I “grew up” and started trying to act cool, I’d dismiss ALL Pokemon players as people who didn’t know what a good RPG was. Glad I grew up.

    Granted, I’m still not huge on Pokemon’s one-on-one turn-based style, but I’m much less of an adolescent boy about cutesy things. My friends are into first-generation Pokemon- it’s nice.

    Reply
    • Saludos desde Latinoamerica, especificamente Chile. Vi el video de la Flauta Titanic y el de Matrix. Jajaja Muy Bueno. Ahora sobre este video, qiueisra saber porque el piano toca otras notas que no ordenas con tus manos? 1:39 a 1:40 es un 2do piano de fondo?Sorry but my english is very bad i must write in spanish You Rocks Man !!! FUCK YEEAAHH !!!

      Reply
  6. When I was younger, I had the first edition of that–the one that I think came with just Red or Blue? I don’t remember it sparkling anyway, maybe it was that one just a different case. I took it to Disneyland with me, and I got my Great Aunt one. Seeing my 60 year old aunt shake it like crazy in the back of our big caddie on the way to various California locations made my experience (well that and the rides, I was after all 11).

    I remember how ecstatic I was when I got him to do special tricks, how I’d show EVERYONE in my family what trick he was performing.

    I really have no idea where it even went. I doubt I threw it out. But I moved back home, and while I found my old gameboys, there’s no Pikachu…

    Reply
  7. Jameson Morrissey

     /  June 29, 2010

    This actually reminded me of a Digimon D-Walker or something/another that I used to have. It was one of Veemon, and I remember so little of it, but it worked based on steps as well. Every once in a while, as in every few thousand steps, an event of some sort would happen–some mock battle, a temporary digivolution, et cetera. I really wish I remembered more of it, but I sadly do not. I spent most of this time in Destin, Florida on family vacation, and the little D-Walker was my constant companion in the van there and back and all around.

    Fun memories. I always wanted a Tamagotchi but never had one. I missed Pokemon Red/Blue and hit Silver immediately when it came out. By that point, I had mostly circumvented Pokemon and was a die-hard Dragon Warrior Monsters fan. I still am.

    Reply
  8. Oh, and this is me (Jameson) from now on. Using my online alias as well. I’ve been inspired, and I’ll be posting an essay of some sort concerning my old Pokemon Crystal days.

    It’s funny, how little things like a Pokemon Pikachu 2, or a certain Game Boy Colour game can evoke such powerful feelings and make these attachments to us. I look forward to taking my own little spin on this article later today.

    Reply
  9. Evangelina Buendia

     /  October 20, 2010

    Your story made me cry a little at the end because I too once had a Pikachu 2 whom I had loved very much ;-;
    Had it for two years until one day while riding my bike home from school, it had fallen off my pants pocket without my knowing and it disappeared forever. That Pikachu was my world. I like to think some kid found it and took care of it to the very end, but life’s not fair like that…
    I recently bought a used one off eBay and even though I like it very much, I can’t help but wonder what my original Pikachu’s fate was like. It’s funny how attached some people can get with simple gadgets like this.
    Maybe the future generation of kids will talk about and miss their pokewalkers like our generation of kids talk about and miss our Pikachu’s :D

    Reply
  10. Hey there, You’ve done an incredible job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends.
    I am confident they will be benefited from this website.

    Reply
  11. If anyone has that pikachu gold that is VERY active, AND it still works ( gold one ) could I get a quote to buy it from you and I would give you a yeah or neah on it!

    Reply
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