Now that I’m in my mid forties, my life has been taken over by Pokémon lately. After to fall down Pokemon GO gap in 2020and then describe the slow takeover of my free timeI have since found myself the primary one Pokemon GO correspondent for Kotaku. And now, as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve finally discovered TCM. RIP my bank balance. Today feels like a good day to have a conversation with you about the whole experience.
I was just the wrong age for it pokemon. In 1997 I had just failed the exams we Brits take to go to university, and had to retake the same courses that I couldn’t understand. In 1998, I embarked on a much less ambitious (and ultimately terrible) college education. I was a college student, just starting my writing career, kissing girls and playing pool instead of going to college. Pokémon was happening all around me, but I was completely unaware of it.
If I had been ten years younger or ten years older, I would have gotten it. But when I was 19, I fell through the gap between the pillows. I remember watching one of the main games a few years later, probably on GBA, and was just stunned by it. You were a random kid, and then you were sent off to a tall grass, and these birds and insects kept attacking you for no reason, and yes, I was done. I now had background, no foundation and certainly no idea of the lavish world from which it all sprang. And then I never caught up.
Two years ago I could almost tell you the name “Pikachu”. Since August 2020, I’ve been pursuing an education that has certainly surpassed that feeble attempt in college more than 20 years earlier. And while I certainly don’t have a fraction of the expertise needed to boast of solid knowledge of the subject (I say please, no exams), I’ve fallen deeply in love with the whole crazy thing. So much so that today my pretty the new Snorlax baseball cap has arrived, along with a few Mantine and Snorlax cards, and a pack of Vivid Voltage that I’m going to open before this article is finished. Um, and that’s after Friday when my boy and I spent over $200 on various TCG boxes and packets to celebrate a recent in-person event.
I’m frustrated with my younger self, but I don’t blame him. pokemon looks childish for an older teen no doubt, all cute cartoons and a tv anime that usually communicates through beeps. To me, from my brief glances, it was indistinguishable from, say, The Wuzzles, and really, that’s fair enough. But if only I’d stayed with the game I was trying to get past that first JRPG-ness that meant I’d also failed to find any love for Final Fantasy or something like that.
I’m trying to catch up now. I am currently playing Pokémon FireRed, thinking that a good compromise to experience the first game up close, without being too demanding, I tolerate too much anachronism. And I am absolutely fascinated by the trading card game, with the excellent timing of only discovering it the week after the World Championships took place an hour and a half from where I live.
The card business, like everything related to Pokémon in my life, started through my son. He’s almost eight now, but was five when this all started, and I’m so glad it came at such a perfect time in his life. Where he flutters through fads (Lego Ninjago for a hot minute, then a brief obsession with Minecraftand an extended flirtation with How to train your dragon…), pokemon has held up the whole time. His mayfly attention span is somehow avoided here, and he’s like a living encyclopedia for the franchise.
(Someone recently asked us both about Pokémon, and Toby told them, “I’ve been working on it for a while.” For real for a long time, most of my life,” and I said, “I’ve only been on it for the last couple of years,” before I realized we were both talking about the same span of time.)
I think the first cards entered our lives through the pokemon magazine, which often gives away a few packs of three cards taped to the front cover. These are, I’ve since learned, like the free heroin the drug dealer offers someone. We then discovered that a local supermarket very occasionally stocks the odd checklane blister packs (I know what these are called, surprise me), and even less often, a can. We have fed his habit.
Around the same time, YouTube Kids offered him some videos from the extremely wonderful team of (the very sadly ended) The Pokémon Evolutionaries. Their range of videos of packages being opened absolutely hypnotized him, initially causing my confusion and disdain, before the hypnosis worked on me too.
Then we discovered .’s beautifully positive and uplifting YouTube channel RealBreakingNatewith its kid-friendly collection of running gags, and frequent outbursts about the importance of valuing yourself, in between frankly talking about conversations with two huge Psyduck cuddles.
The only downside to these happy, festive videos is the sheer number of cards they come through, and in turn the inevitable devaluation of non-rare cards, even when they display beautiful artwork or even do extremely well as part of a combat game. No one who doesn’t get paid to open these cards or receive them as promotional material can keep up with that pace and volume. Don’t tell him, but I bought Toby his own booster box of Lost Origin cards for his birthday next month, an insane 36 packs of 10 cards each, and inevitably a handful of exciting pulls – but even this will, ridiculous, feel somewhat limited compared to the volumes plowed on YouTube every day.
A great friend of ours gave me a enormous container filled with previously opened Pokémon cards from his own childhood with the game. Stripped of all valuables, of course, and especially predating the era of Rainbow Rares and golden Secret Rares, I conveniently bundled these cards into stacks of 10, each with an inverted holo and a rare in each, and delivered them carefully too for my boy over the months. He is desperate to know where they are being kept. They are in the orange container on the top shelf in my study! He will never read this! hahahaha! But you know, it’s not as exciting as tearing open that foil wrapper yourself.
But then we found Pokemon TCG Online! The latest aspect of our ever-growing collection of ways Pokémon invades our lives, I finally realized what all those code cards were actually for. You get the app for tablet or PC (but strangely enough not for phone), then scan those QR codes and for each card you have a completely different digital package to open! It’s not the same, but, you know, it’s methadone.
The problem was, as excellently executed as: TCGO may be, it has the worst matchmaking. We had the starter cards it gives you, and the sparse code cards from the right packs we bought, but almost everyone we played was armed with decks made almost entirely of Vs or better. We were caught off guard almost every game, and even after I unlocked better cards by continuing the Trainer Challenge AI mode, it wasn’t a fun time for a seven-year-old who struggles with losses at the best of times. It’s beyond me why there isn’t a system that better matches an obviously very weak deck with someone else playing the same thing.
And then I remembered that orange container. There were also code cards in it! I honestly had no idea what they were when I first saw them, assuming they were just some sort of extra commercial, and I was about to throw them away. Fortunately, something had stopped me, and there were seventy code cards. 70! Oh my god, the difference it made. Of those, maybe 50 were for full packs, and it was as if he’d found the keys to the candy store. We’ve drawn epic card after epic card and now have a collection of card games that can easily hold their own in most situations (except against Tag-Teamsour constant curse).
My very first ever playmat arrives later this week. It is of course Snorlax themed. I drink my coffee from my huge Charizard mug every morning. There are Pokémon on my pillowcases. It’s been completely taken over. At 44 years old, some 25 years too late, I finally get it.
Oh, and that packet of Vivid Voltage. Let’s see. Grab trick, four to the bottom, and let’s go. Lightning, Krokorok, Excadrill, Bea, Seedot, Phanpy, Shuppet, Poochyena, Voltorb, inverted holo Dusknoir and… Whimsicott, non-holo rare. Oh well. Behind me are ten packs of other series in the bag.