It wasn’t long before I was a genuine insect addict. The unease of the woods had left me, replaced by a fascination with their great variety (I was, and always will be, partial to beetles). Armed with our “bug houses,” wooden boxes with screened-over windows, me and my friends scoured the biomes of our neighborhood. From the bizarre nymphs of Froghoppers that coat themselves in a froth of plant sap (bearing an uncanny resemblance to saliva, earning them the nickname “spittlebugs”) to the emerald elytra of the Japanese Rose Beetles in the garden next door, I began to understand the richness of their oft-unnoticed world. Sharing these moments of discovery strengthened both the bonds of friendship and our connection to the planet.
Like our beloved Gramps, Satoshi Tajiri is a man who understands the importance of these experiences. Growing up in a rural section of Machida (a small city in the western side of Tokyo), Satoshi was a young boy much like myself, enchanted by the diminutive creatures crawling through the grass in his back-yard. As he grew up, the urbanization of the countryside encroached upon his home, and that of the insects he loved. To his dismay, the number of children collecting and learning about insects decreased each year, leaving the streets and fields of Machida a pale imitation of the city he knew.
He never lost interest in entomology, but grew passionate about arcade games in his late teens. After taking several computer science classes, he started a self-published magazine called Game Freak to discuss the current state of the gaming industry. It was in this phase of his life that he first envisioned Pokémon, after seeing two of Nintendo’s Game Boy consoles linked together with a cable. The thought of giving back the camaraderie and excitement of insect collecting and trading (albeit in a digital form) to a younger generation drove him to create what would become a globally recognized, multi-billion dollar franchise.
Pokémon first released in North America in the fall of 1998, when I was seven years old. I had just begun 2nd grade when the red and blue cartridges swarmed across the WonderWorks playground like a horde of locusts. The phenomenon caught both students and teachers off-guard; the former suddenly neglecting the slides and swings to sit in orderly lines, while the latter looked on with caution and confusion. What were these Pokémon, and how did they enthrall the minds of energetic children with such ease? I’ll do my best to explain.
My first gaming console was a black Game Boy Pocket that changed how I thought of entertainment. It was my gateway into electronic games, and Pokémon was my introduction to RPGs. My active imagination quickly adjusted to the idea of seeing a pixelated version of myself on the screen. In retrospect, this concept seems like it should have been strange or even disturbing, but Tajiri made the transition easy for children; he designed a nonviolent world inhabited by a host of colorful creatures to collect, journey with, and most importantly, befriend. I’ll never forget exploring the borders of the starting zone, Pallet Town (based on Tajiri’s hometown of Machida), or my first Pokémon, Squirtle, the adorable blue turtle that followed me into the tall grass and a lifetime of memories.