Staff List: Pokememories

The Bureau Staff reminisces about the days when there were only 150 Pokemon.


I’ve talked about my very first website before, but my second site was the first with a real audience. And naturally, it was a Pokemon fansite.

Pokemon Online, as I had unimaginatively titled it, was made up entirely of static pages, managed with Microsoft FrontPage 98. This was about two or three years before platforms like Blogger would make dynamic sites a possibility for non-programmers and/or 11 year olds. And despite the technical hurdles of running a site in those days, I can’t help but admire the ambition of my fifth-grade self — the site covered the Gameboy games, N64 games, collectible card game, collectible toys, the television show based on the game, the films based on the television show based on the game, and so on. It was an era before reliable analytics, so I can’t say for sure just how successful the site was (not that I would have understood what a pageview was anyway). But I received a handful of emails daily with fan art and episode summaries, so I felt pretty confident that people were reading.

And yet, even at the height of Pokemon’s popularity, I was always sheepish about telling people about the site. Not even my friends knew I ran Pokemon Online after school. Which, actually, isn’t too different from today. Sure, in a crowd of techie, internet-y people I talk about The Bygone Bureau. But in most circles, I’m reluctant about declaring my authorship of a blog. The difference is that when I was in fifth grade, having a website was uncool — nobody did that; now it’s like “dude, everyone has a blog so shut up about it.”

But Pokemon Online taught me a lot about the web at a time when I was impressionable. Today, I work for the internet, so I have to thank Pokemon for that, and for inspiring two of the most popular things I’ve written. — Editor Kevin Nguyen

Illustration by young Hallie Bateman Illustration by young Hallie Bateman Illustration by young Hallie Bateman

Illustration by young Hallie Bateman
When I was probably eleven and my little brother was probably eight, we made a comic book. “Hallie’s Pokemon Adventures” is about twenty pages long and goes like this: Ash gets Pikachu from Professor Oak. Ash declares that they are “a match made in heaven” after they fart at the same time. They set off into the tall grass where Pikachu is immediately torn to shreds. Ash collects his scattered body parts and brings them to a Pokemon Center to be “fixed up.” Once he is better, they eat a celebratory dinner during which Ash chokes on a rat skull. He runs to a girl standing nearby (Misty) and sputters in her face, asking for help. She punches him in the stomach and he vomits on her face, then steals her bicycle. She catches up with him and calls him a “filthy jerk” and he throws her bike in the river. The rest of the story is basically about Misty’s violent quest for revenge, which ends abruptly when Ash captures her in a pokeball. — Art Director Hallie Bateman

I was, I have to admit, pretty into Pokemon, but by the grace of one year I was saved from full-blown, life-long Pokemania. I played the hell out of my copy of Red in sixth grade, and I sheepishly cop to watching the cartoon, though I knew even at the time it was pretty bad. But what pulled me in most strongly was the calculating, capitalist clutch of the Pokemon card game. Turning the game’s ethos, “gotta catch ‘em all,” into tangible products for parents to throw money at must surely be counted as one of the great business moves in modern history.

My interest in the childish fad grinded against growing concepts of adolescence as I entered middle school in seventh grade. By then I was in deep, to the point of having a regular Pokemon card haunt – a little nerd shop by the ice arena where I practiced hockey that sold Japanese cards, which were obviously cooler because obviously. Anyway, a rich friend at school had somehow procured a prized Charizard card, an extremely rare, ridiculously overpowered piece of cardboard that went for $25 at the time. He either gave it to me, I bought it from him, or I traded for it, I don’t remember, but somehow, I got it. I was the Pokemon master.

Then, in short order, I lost it. I was admiring the card in class when a teacher confiscated it. She turned it into a bit of a spectacle, reading the card’s text to all the students.

Now, these weren’t really mean, bullying, or judgemental kids. One of them turned to me and asked, earnestly, “was that a good card?”

“Yeah,” I said, “the best.”

I meant it as a boast, but soon after the words left my mouth, they felt silly. How could I take pride in owning something so trivial? Even though nobody teased me, for some reason I was ashamed, and I knew I needed to change. I got the card back at the end of the day, but by then it had already begun its slow fade from all-powerful monster to ink on cardboard. — Editor Nick Martens

At least once a day, I tell my teenage students to put away their cell phones. The school’s policy on phones prohibits the kids from using their devices until school gets out at 3:20. The threat of confiscation is usually enough to prevent abuse of the rule, but lately I have encountered a new enemy — Angry Birds.

Now, you’d think that as a child of the late 1990s, my experience with that era’s addictive handheld game, Pokemon, would soften my stance on the digital distractedness of today’s plugged-in youth. Sure, I remember the blue and red cartridges peeking out of the tops of Game Boy Colors (Game Boys Color? great name for a chillwave duo!) in the grips of my peers during break, lunch, and even class time. But, you see, I was a closet Pokemon player. In public I scolded my peers for playing such an inane game — why waste your time (and allowance) when Chrono Cross and Tony Hawk 2 were just coming out?! But curiosity got the best of me, and in the summer I discreetly bought Pokemon Blue and beat it during a family trip to Maine. I had to admit, it was a pretty awesome game, and I totally memorized all 150 Pokemon. Back at school, I nearly blew my cover when I let it slip that I had “caught ‘em all”. Luckily, no one noticed.

These days Angry Birds rules the roost, but the kids don’t seem as concerned over whether it is more or less cool than any other game. So they all play it. During school. When they’re not supposed to. I tell myself that when I rebuke them for playing video games, it’s in the service of maintaining a distraction-free learning environment. But I’m really just repeating my hypocrisy, over a decade later. What they don’t know is I already beat Angry Birds last year, before it even became popular. — Contributing Writer Daniel Adler

One year can be enough to open a generation gap. Consider this: Pokemon launched in the United States in September of 1998, when I was just starting high school. My class had seen the worst of the schoolyard bartering crackdowns—first Magic cards, then Pogs, then the great leap into digital with Tamagotchi in 1997. But as I left middle school and pre-adolescence behind (I officially became a teenager the summer before high school), my attention turned from the abstract competition of collectible card games and the metonymic violence of Pog-slamming to the much less figurative world of Quake, laser tag, and high school dating. At best, Pokemon was a punchline on The Simpsons (“Battling Seizure Robots”). Which means that, on some level, the cultural distance between me and someone that’s four months my junior is in some respects much larger than the cultural distance between me and my parents. Now that’s scary. — Assistant Editor Darryl Campbell

When the first Pokemon hatched in 1996 I was shacked up in Philadelphia with a frizzy-haired girl and a smooth-haired dachshund. I had facial hair and paid taxes and all that. So fuck you, Pokemon generation. From hell’s heart (a multiplex playing Clash of the Titans and Tron) I stab at thee. “Not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter but has its cunning duplicate in mind.” And so this curse: may all that made your childhood dear be puked up in technicolor and muddy 3-D on multiple platforms. What once fueled your imagination shall now dampen it. Pikachu shall be the name of an ugly rash only middle-aged men contract. And your precious Pokemon will be seen in cunning duplicate on a thousand screens, only lesser, sadder, and stripped of all vitality. Jeff Bridges will narrate. — Contributing Writer Jonathan Gourlay

Photo by winterwined