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In the colony of Old Portsmouth, there lived a toe-headed child of great and sincere piety. One evening as the sun fell between the hills of the Pennsaquant valley, he was startled by the appearance of a druzy golden dog. It stared a measure from his stoop before disappearing into the thick brush that made the boundary of his father's property. The boy decided there was enough light to chase down the animal and so took after it, into the wood.

True night was leaking up the shadows of the trees when he stopped to catch his breath. The boy sat, panting, between the heavy boughs and roots of an unfamiliar elm. The day had shrugged off evening's costume. The boy was cold, and suddenly lonely. He'd forgotten his sense, and every attempt to reclaim it seemed only to invent some new fatherly recrimination instead. Lost in the woods at night! A folly straight out of a children's romance. What's more, the dog was nowhere to be found, except in the occasional howls that kept shaking the boy's nerves.

Nightfall in those woods was said to bring the witches’ sabbath, and the boy had sometimes seen tongues of sea-green fire dancing behind the trunks of trees when he descended the hill from church after evening Mass. His mother never failed to remind him of the danger of that flame, since that night at his bedside where they spoke of its dark luster. The thought of it made him shiver, and the dark woods making lighter thoughts impossible, the boy groped his way towards what he took for town. No matter which way he turned, the woods seemed to pull him deeper, the trunks around him growing taller and closer together. Even as the howling grew louder and closer by, the boy found himself groping towards a dim brilliance.

He knew it was not the light of his father's house, nor the lamps of the Winsocket Bridge, which together should have shewn his path. It called him forward, irresistibly, until its emerald color was revealed – the light of the witch's sabbath. The air about the bonfire smelled of burning unguent; ash and snapdragons. One of the women, hot, white, and nude, had the little lost dog bundled in her arms, her faced contorted by delight. Noticing the child's eyes, the young witch dropped the dog, and ran upon the boy with the infinite mercy of her sex.

In the fire-light he noticed that the dog he'd come for was not a dog at all, but a giant yellow rat. Instantly the boy's religion dissolved, along with his manhood. He felt his meanest doubts, his frustrations with God, exchanged with a profound and inverse faith: the backwards world of Lucifer rushed like white-water behind his eyes. And so the witch fondled his balls, and he was lost.


1.

The original Pokemon was a role-playing game in the loosest sense possible. It took many key features from the genre and integrated into them a system for collecting, cataloging, and managing hundreds of “characters,” whereas most RPGs give you a small handful. The difference between an animal and a human in this context is minimal; in Final Fantasy 7, for instance, your party may consist of a human, a cyborg, a robot, and an animal, and this does not affect their function. Pokemon are animals, rather than humans, so personality can be implanted on them without having to write dialogue. A human in a game is never human enough, especially with most game writing being what it is (irredeemably awful),  but put a fucking animal in a game and tell the player it likes raspberries and dislikes radiology, and our idiot child-at-any-age brains will be give this malformed bitch a life of its own.  The slimes from Dragonquest have their own fanclubs – and why not? They smile and bounce!

The quirks of the Pokemon characters were fired mercilessly at the pre-adolescent Pokemon audience through advertising, cartoons, and the games themselves. Pokemon, remember, was split into two cartridges, and was designed to turn us into salesmen on their behalf. Red kids begged for blue pokemon and vice-versa. In this way the game forced its players into society with each other, but did so on its own shaky terms.

Pokemon's gameplay consisted primarily of travel and Pokemon battling. Important story beats came few and far between, leaving the impression that there was no story apart from our personal journeys towards the Four Noble Brutes and a full Pokedex. To accomplish this, we had to plow through countless battles with little variation. The game was as tactical as it could have been, given that almost every character had their choice of two possible attacks: “kill your enemy instantly” or “splash.” Professional players, thirty years later, have finally managed to turn it into a game by applying a series of rules and limitations, so, you know, good for them. As it was first released, even by the standards of its day, I can only describe it as tedious and lame.

So what did the essential Pokemon have, if there was no role-playing, no engaging system, and no story? What did Pokemon offer? Whatever your answer to that question, keep in mind that it better be good enough to justify decades of re-releases. At first, these offered the pretense of a new region and new characters to collect, but Nintendo recently realized even this mild effort was unwelcome. I myself played four Pokemon games before GO, and beat all of them. At first all I wanted was a team of specific Pokemon, chosen carefully. I'd bought in, but the game punished me for that. Upon reaching the Elite Four, the final challenge of the game, my team was too weak and my motivation fizzled as, against my better judgment, I sought out more powerful characters.

I did not enjoy that first experience, Dukkha. I lacked the energy to train these new, powerful Pokemon to a high enough level, and used cheat codes to finish Red. I did not enjoy the second experience, Samudya. Picking the strongest Pokemon from the beginning and leveling them over the course of the game, I finished Silver honestly. I did not enjoy the third experience, Nirodha. I tried to complete the Black pokedex, but by then there were almost a thousand Pokemon, and none of them seemed to serve any purpose other than ticking themselves off my list. I did not enjoy the fourth experience, Magga. The raw desire instilled in my poor heart by X, instead of being sated, simply dissolved. I realized the games had been teaching me principles I'd heard espoused since I was a child, but could never quite grasp. Desire is the cause of all suffering. I have no objective self, I do not even have an ideal self – I am the movement of a cycle within a cycle within a cycle. I will end, and I will never end. The pokemon trainer that can be named is not the eternal pokemon trainer.

2.

It was a pleasantly cool Summer evening in 2016, and after a hard day's work I was riding my single-speed hipster accessory across the fastest-growing city in America. I knew my neighborhood well, and was a little shocked when I pulled onto a nearby avenue and saw a large crowd outside the iron gates of “Miguel's Gallery and Garden.” The shop was nondescript, selling mainly terracotta pots, but it had been open for as long as I could remember on a street where other businesses closed their doors weekly. I thought little of the fact that the large crowd was doing nothing but studying their phones. I even thought little of the group itself, although its meeting place was strange and their purpose indeterminate. I did make a note to investigate on Google when I got home – a minor commitment I ultimately forgot about because, fuck it, I was off work and illegally downloaded daytime TV doesn't watch itself.

In the next couple days I connected the dots. I found out Pokemon GO had been released, and remembered the magical air and pure dazzling appeal of its early commercials. I remembered the sweeping feeling of freedom and adventure those spots evoked, perfectly integrating a children's romance into profound, joyless reality. It was a cynical attempt to take money from children and adults with crude, obsequious minds. I wanted it to work, and it was working. I downloaded the app that afternoon, hoping it would work on me. I kept it to one side as we went together through the complicated process of installation, character and account creation, and basic tutorials. I watched my character twitch, a giant turning randomly, stomping on the coordinates where I knew my house would be if the program could render it. I caught a Pidgey, turned it off, and went to sleep.

The first time I really played the game, it was around ten at night and I rode my bike through the streets, finding whatever Pokemon I could. I approached my first Pokecenter on the corner of 40th and Speedway -- marked on my phone by a small circle and in the real world by the spire of Hyde Park Baptist Church. It showered me with minor gifts that seemed to serve no purpose. On the surface this game had nothing in common with the others of its franchise, aside from the obvious iconography. The platonic ideal of Pokemon did, however, survive these changes, and perhaps found its zenith in GO. It actually provided the integration it had promised, and I felt myself become the trainer of the Austin region, a pilgrim on the path of conquest, exploration, and tedium.

Once I got into GO, my world had acquired a new strand of context, a new form of imaginary, expertly branded life. It had become a home to metaphysical creatures, impulses of electricity moving through the nodes of oozing brains, both human and machine. The church was home to purple rats, the nearby school a haven for strange humanoids and fish which the game claimed had psychic powers. In this city, whose darkest corners I'd practiced navigating since I was a child, there were suddenly new surprises. The most pronounced of these seemed to be a pink glow showing over the edge of the map, a glow that shone as if it were on the real horizon, promising supernatural benevolence, forever frozen in a moment of arrival.

When I finally arrived at the small park that was its source, there were over one hundred people there, a virtual theophany. Most were my age or close to it, cordoned into groups of two to four. Everyone was staring at their phones and pronouncing strange, alien strings of syllables, like "Dude, Slowbro! Slow! Bro!" I, too, had come in search of Slowbro, and the repetition of those wide, expansive vowels become a kind of mantra. At that moment the craving that has always sat inside me, yearning for some immaterial, impossible thing, was given a name. Slowbro, dude, slowbro, dude, slowbro. I didn't desire the creature, but I was under its spell.

We all captured the single entity in its entirety, as if it were not a character to collect, but a psalm we each heard. Like a congregation being shown a single piece of the inconceivable divine, we felt both heavier and lighter as we walked home with our keepsakes. It was at that moment that I realized how retarded all of it was. Literally retarded.

I never enjoyed it when my grandparents had forced me to go to church in my infancy, and I didn't enjoy it when Nintendo tricked me into going there as an adult. I don't think I've ever felt more alienated in my life. I stood alone in a forest of bodies, engaged in a grim pantomime that seemed to mock the very essence of my humanity. I had come miles from my home, towards a promise of fulfillment just over the horizon. When I arrived, all I discovered was how little it takes to fulfill my people, and how small their joys can be. My body slunk slightly, ultimately unhindered by the addition of a Slowbro into the library of its phone's app's Pokedex.

Pokemon GO is a free app but I'm afraid I can't tell you whether or not it represents good value for the price. I'm not even sure that anything is capable of being valuable anymore. Pokemon GO was riddled with bugs on release. It was almost unplayable, yet everyone I knew was playing it, trying to catch the elusive mascot, Pikachu. The second time I opened the app a yellow rat lay gyrating at the feet of my avatar, begging to be caught. I obliged, and Pikachu revealed itself to me.

Everyone told me how lucky I was. Yeah, lucky, I started to say, “Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Professors Oak and Willow of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Nintendo with those who for reasons unknown,” but stopped when it was clear that nobody understood my references. The game is ancient now, but many still play it. The little rat smiles; Ignorant of everything, he keeps shouting his own name forever.

The Witch's name was Miranda, but Miranda is not important. Nintendo is not important. Buddha is not important. GOd is not important. I am not important. 


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