Did you grow up with Pokémon? And are you playing Pokémon Go?
Well, no I didn't. No, I'm not. Just like I'm neither interested in nor excited by news of yet another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Transformers movie, the mere invocation of the Pokemon brand presses none of my buttons. Well, none of the appropriate ones.
You might assume that was an age thing, what with the fairly imminent approach of my sixtieth birthday, and to some extent it is. I was, after all, nearing forty years old when the first Pokemon appeared in 1995. There's more to it than that, though.
Not only does the franchise form no part of my personal lexicon of childhood or adolescent experiences but I can honestly say I barely even noticed it at the time. Yet it's not as though I wasn't culturally exposed, open even, to such things as they were happening.
|Not a Pokemon|
For a long time I had it filed away in the back of my mind as something associated with Tamagochis, which were a big thing in our house for a while. And Furbys. We had both of those and I played with them and understood them. Pokemon - nothing.
I would have pretty much forgotten Pokemon even existed if it hadn't been for Wilhelm. Over the last few years reading TAGN has told me more about about Pokemon than I ever imagined I'd know. In the same way that reading countless reports on Minecraft has left me feeling I must have played the game in some other life, I have a ghostly, vestigial pseudo-memory of catching brightly colored cartoon creatures and setting them against others in fights that come freighted with queasily uncomfortable socio-historic subtext.
Mulling this over it seems to me that, while age has something to do with the extent and the specifics of involvement, which cultural phenomenon gets to sink its hooks into which person depends a lot more on personal experience than the number of candles on a birthday cake. My childhood was mainly in the 1960s and my adolescence in the 1970s but for some reason, although many of the cultural shibboleths and touchstones of those decades resonate strongly still, in my late fifties the decade whose cultural artifacts affect me most sentimentally in recall is probably the 1980s, the time when I became an independent adult.
I say "probably" because these things drift. In the mid-90s, when Pokemon was new, my call-backs were all to the seventies. In that I was dead in tune with the zeitgeist. Pokemon arrived in the white-heat of Britpop, that final spin of the thirteen-year cycle, which sought to magpie the best from the '60s and '70s and mosaic something bright and new out of the scraps. Now, a couple of decades on, the '90s themselves are beginning to acquire a soft, rose-hued glow.
|Looks a bit more like one but still not a Pokemon.|
Perhaps the nodal point of nostalgia always trails a generation behind. Maybe it takes twenty years to acquire the distance needed for flaws to fade and warmth to grow. maybe it's not so much how old you were then as how many years have passed.
But to trigger a wave of nostalgia or even simple recognition you have to have been paying attention the first time round and Pokemon passed me by. Instead of warm fuzzies I have cool, hard intellectual curiosity. Pokemon Go does look like an enjoyable game. More importantly it appears to be developing into a fascinating and potentially influential cultural phenomena.
There's a chance it could mark a fork in the cultural road the way Twitter or Facebook did. In a year or two Augmented Reality gaming could be as much a part of everyday life as tweeting or updating your profile (two things that once again I know only from hearsay). Or it could be languishing wherever fads like Farmville go to die.
Obviously not the latter. The immense strength of the Pokemon brand will sustain when the fickle attention of the global horde moves on. Pokemon will be with us forever, like every other cultural phenomenon that passes a certain, hard to define, watershed. If the name of Pikachu (still the only Pokemon I can recall with certainty) isn't up there with Dracula and Sherlock Holmes quite yet, it soon will be.
|Okay, these could be Pokemon...|
I probably would be playing Pokemon Go along with everyone else right now, just to be part of the buzz, if it wasn't for one other thing: I don't own a mobile phone. Not just not a smart one, like Wilhelm. I don't even own a dumb one.
I have a blind spot about phones. I am fully and happily digitized. I have a houseful of PCs. I have old gaming systems from the 1980s tucked away in cupboards. I have an iPod and half a dozen tablets and use several of them daily but I have never owned a phone. I've never even had a landline in my own name.
And even if I did have a smartphone - and sooner or later I will almost certainly have to get one because in five or ten years it's going to be next to impossible to function as an adult without one - I would not allow it to track my whereabouts, which as far as I can tell would pretty much drop a rock on the chances of chasing down Pokemons.
I don't have a valid argument for that - it just feels completely wrong so I'm not going to do it. Not until I do, naturally. Consistency, hobgoblin, you know the drill.
So there it is. Another cultural milestone missed. Can't hit 'em all.
All images borrowed from The Internet. Any rights holders unhappy about that just let me know and they're gone.