When people think "video games" they tend to focus on the single-player side of things. Gamers have been categorized as reclusive loners for years now, people who dwell in dark rooms ensconced in blankets and bathed in the bright, blue glow of the TV screen. That's been the picture painted by the popular media for many years now, but as anyone who actually plays video games knows, that's barely a sliver of the whole picture. We're friends and family, we're students and professionals, we're the everyday person on the street. Gamers are the true melting pot in this country, with countless walks of life and varying mindsets all converging into this wonderful pastime of high scores and combos.
By Robert Marrujo:: A couple of people who were well aware of this truth back in 1981 were Satoshi Tajiri and Ken Sugimori. The duo had come together through Tajiri's fanzine Game Freak. The small, homemade magazine had caught the eye of Sugimori, who sought out its creator and formed a quick friendship. The two turned their attention to game development, eventually drawing the notice of upper management at Nintendo. After getting a few projects under their belts, Tajiri and Sugimori began brainstorming something different that they'd dubbed "Pocket Monsters."
Fans in the West know the series as Pokémon. When the games finally dropped in Japan back in 1997, they came towards the backend of Game Boy's lifecycle and with a lot of hype surrounding them. Much to everyone's surprise, not only did the quirky RPGs Pokémon Red and Green Version do well, they turned into a massive hit. Nintendo's brass knew that what was wildfire in Japan could undoubtedly be fanned into an inferno abroad, and sure enough the international release of Pokémon saw the new series become an unmitigated global phenomenon. Much like it still is today in 2017.
Pokémon GO continues to see a user base that sits around the 60 million mark, while Pokémon Sun and Moon both became some of the fastest selling installments in series' history. It's been over 20 years since the launch of Pokémon and there doesn't appear to be any slowing of the franchise's momentum. It shouldn't be all that surprising though; after all, as I mentioned above, Tajiri and Sugimori knew that gamers were more than shut-ins and they capitalized on this knowledge when making Pokémon.
What those two developers realized was that the playing of video games didn't have to be an insular experience. While there are plenty of people who play games in order to tune out the world around them, to escape to somewhere that isn't the reality they're steeped in, there are also those who play in order to connect with others. What Pocket Monsters represented to Tajiri and Sugimori was an opportunity to unite players in a way that no other game had done before. There had been multiplayer titles in the past, but no other title had ever made collaboration and cooperation the focal point before like it was in Pokémon.
This is a big part of the reason why Game Boy and all of Nintendo's portable consoles have been the home of the core Pokémon series since day one—the mobile nature of the systems allows players to meet face-to-face. With Pokémon, the core tenet of each entry is to collect the nominal creatures that inhabit the game's world and trade them with others. "Catch 'em all" wasn't just an ingenious slogan for the series, it was also a challenge, and one that players eagerly took on.
Suddenly, folks who might not normally have ever crossed paths in real life were comparing their rosters of creatures and making trades. It was not unlike the baseball card craze of the 1950s, which saw countless children across America's playgrounds swapping cards to complete their sets. Pokémon tapped into that same mindset. What's more, it broke the stereotype of gamers as introverts. It also served to broaden the demographics of gamers, pulling in more women and people of different ages that normally weren't part of the gaming scene.
Flash forward to now, and we're looking at a legitimately generational force in Pokémon. Like Disney and all of its different movie franchises, Pokémon is something that people are passing from themselves down to their children. I had a college class a couple of years back where the professor declared that she and her children played Pokémon together in the evenings. Talk about a far cry from the antisocial gremlins that pundits like to paint gamers to be. So here's a cheers to Tajiri and Sugimori for bringing those original 151 Pocket Monsters to the masses and helping to revolutionize the video game industry. The gaming landscape probably wouldn't look quite the way it does now without them.
About Robert Marrujo: A Senior Editor for Nintendojo.com and an Editor for San Leandro News. A lifelong Bay Area resident, you can usually find him puttering around writing, drawing, or playing video games. Check him out on Instagram @robert_marrujo!