This is an updated article originally published at GameGulp.ph as part of celebrating 20 years of Pokemon. This was written by a friend of mine, who prefers to be called “Dave Hoffman.”
Blue is such a strange color. It’s a depressing shade of isolation. It’s the color when someone is feeling down or when you’re choking (with a mix of purple). It’s also the color of your corpse after you’ve drowned. Blue, like the ocean, stretches on, far across the world, much like the sky. Only it goes down, down, deep—deep down, where some really fucked up shit are found – frilled sharks, giant tube worms, seapigs, Bigfin squids (seriously Google that last one) and all other monstrosities that were meant to be found in distant planets, imagined to reality by movies.
And marine biologists say that we have only explored less than 5% of the entire ocean. That makes the knowledge of the surface ocean so depressing, so claustrophobic in this vast blue wasteland of water.
So when I found out I can catch water Pokemon with a fishing rod, I was both deeply interested and scared what to find. I figured I’d find Pokemons based on a gold fish, a starfish, a sea lion, a walrus (has there ever been a walrus Pokemon?), and the ever-should-be-famous, the hentai Pokemon (I’m looking at you, Tentacruel).
When I was five, my family took us on a vacation to some distant beach, where the sands were dark and almost mud-like. I threw on a life jacket and swam into the ocean, as far as I could go. I remember stepping into soft sand, exploding between my toes. The sense of it was oddly therapeutic.
I stepped into the water, walking on shells, some seaweed, and sand that dissolved on my every step. I trudged along as far as I could go until I was kicking in the water. I felt the lifejacket rising above me, holding me afloat. I had drifted afar, the waves still high and smashing against my face. I tasted salt and the water stung my eyes. I used the seawater to wash it off, such ridiculous notions. But for some psychologically insane reason, it worked. I thought I could see better, the grains of salt washed from my eyes. And from where I floated I saw the beach, all the adults looked so small, as they gathered and talked, the older ones children built sandcastles. I don’t think I have gone terribly that far, or else the adults would have panicked.
I spun around, facing the sun, a bright golden disc that burned the sky red and orange. It looked like a painting I saw in a museum once. There was a sense of ease while drifting there. Something I didn’t understand. It felt like home, away from all the madness that tried to rip me apart. I wanted to go underwater, understand its depths, and catch whatever fish I could find. My naiveté found no bounds. All I could think of then, was the blue under the water.
These are things I remember whenever I played “Pokemon Blue.” I skipped a few of the games, jumping back into Sapphire, White, and then Omega Ruby—all through my brother’s game saves. I have to be honest here, anything or mostly anything beyond Blue were shit. The sense of wonder and exploration was gone. The isolation of wandering alone, to discover animals in the tall grasses and the sea to be turned into slave-gladiators for children’s selfish amusements, were gone. Graphics meant so little to me. It was the experience itself, or the lack of thereof, that bothered me about the new games, feeling stupid to have thrown away money, which could had contributed instead on my college funds – maybe then, I wouldn’t had needed a part time job, mopping floors in Burger King.
That’s not to say the new Pokemon games are bad. They weren’t just fit for my taste. I never played Red, or Yellow, or Green—though I’ve had people tell me that all of them are practically the same. But no matter what people will say, Blue had held that magic ball and captured me with it.
Mind you, I didn’t start out with a Squirtle. I had a Bulbasaur, which I nicknamed Logan. With him, I was able to take out the first three gym leaders with the least amount of resistance. I guess you could say I’ve made a special bond with this guy, like a pet, or a friend that I could talk to while kicking asses of random, often creepy, digital kids. Alone in my room, I’d walk around the grass, letting Logan be the annex predator of town. I’d tell him my secret problems that I’m so afraid to share with other people.
In time in the game I obtained a Lapras, taught it how to Surf, and spent time circling around the waters, be it in the lake or along the sea, island hopping to reach my seventh gym badge, where a combination of bad luck and overconfidence had sent Logan to the nearest Pokemon Center after getting Fire Blasted. Got my revenge later, the Volcano Badge felt like a small reward for a supposed achievement. It wasn’t even a reward. It was a key I needed to progress through the game, a chore I needed to accomplish. The real reward, was taking out Lapras, surfing with it northward from Cinnabar Island, navigating through the water, fighting off perverts in the sea, and somehow, ended up back at Pallet Town.
A journey spent on a full circle.
I spent a lot of time Surfing in the game. Mostly because I liked the music and seeing my tiny trainer sprite turned into a monochrome pixilated Lapras. I spent time exploring the water even though there really wasn’t much to it. I never caught much of the water-based Pokemons – I never collected them, actually, which sounds like the anti-thesis of the game – but I did throw my ball for a Magicarp and joked about raising it to a competitive level. I had no idea then that hitting at level 20 would garner me a freaking water dragon.
Look, I never read guides, never bothered to watch the show, or talk to people about it. People in my peers then never expected I’d be playing a silly game like Pokemon. And truth be told, I was fucking embarrassed about it. I was the kind of guy that liked hanging out with kids trying to act cool, squatting in the corners, taking a drag of shared cigarettes. We’d talk about our hot biology teacher and how everyone had a serious hard on by just looking at her. Just kids being kids, we talked about girls, boobs, sex, exchanged basketball cards, more boobs and sex, nudie mags, smoked, constant hand solo-loving, and other vulgarities that made me a typical delinquent to the public eyes, all of this before hitting my sophomore year in high school. I didn’t do well in school, though my parents kept their frustrations quiet, talking to me, encouraging me and all that stuff. Neither of them raised their fist or yelled, just soothing conversations, sweet talks, and the barest hints of disappointments, which always stung the most.
By then I had sold my Game Boy that was a present to me by my late aunt, before she passed away from some illness. I sold a few other things too and used the money to buy cigarettes and condoms. The people I hang out with, we had no real spot, we drifted from one spot to the next, often in some abandoned home, chilling out, square dance fucking, sometimes if we were lucky someone would have snuck out some booze, get wasted and fuck around more.
This was the life I wanted to live forever. Or I thought I did. My own personal circular journey. I’d lie on the roof at night, sometimes with a girl, and we’d try things up there. Mostly we’d just talk and learned there are other ways to be intimate with someone other than sticking your tongue down their throat. She liked cars and taking pictures and she’d been saving money to buy her own camera.
I wanted to share about my secret love for Star Wars, Pokemon, and some other anime bullshit. Oh, my then-friends liked some of those stuff, but never gorged into it as much as I did on my own. None of them would stay up late, binge-watching the first 70 episodes of “One Piece” (which at that time, had only 90+ episodes, seriously, and I remember a forum pointing out that it will only have 150 episodes, now they’ve got more than 700, talk about wild).
I never had the nerve to tell the girl I was with about those. She talked about how her family is going through rough times. It felt superficial to bring up random blabbering. I figured she was just hanging out just to talk, mess around a little, and mostly to vent off. We’d fool around once in a while, sometimes in front of a friend just to weird them out, or, just mess with their head. The next few weeks she and her family moved out of town without a goodbye. And there was a sinking feeling in my chest, a regret that maybe, a few random blabbering could have eased off her burdens, could have made her feel she had a friend.
My usually delinquencies never went out of style, and until one of my friends became a young and unexpected father. He and the girl kept the kid and things changed for them. The parents wouldn’t support them, believing if they had made adult choices then they should be prepared for being an adult.
The young couple developed deep bags under their eyes, they yelled at each other even while in public, and they weren’t always around to hang out with. They got jobs. That was good, but they were vocal how they hated their lives. On the surface, they were the same people I shared a cigarette and square danced with but deep down, they’re different people. And they look terrible. I felt sorry for them. I felt sorry for myself, sorry for my ever patient parents. No freaking way I’d end up like this. I had to play it smart, look forward, and change.
And somehow I made it to college, trying to make it as a nurse; requirements were bat-shit crazy. I was glad to be far away from my old friends. None of them changed soon enough. And as much as that carved out a hole in my heart, that was cool because I was regaining my parents’ confidence and somehow that felt better, more fulfilling than getting solid bone crushing fucks.
I spent vacations away at home, on beaches with new friends. I learned how to surf. I knew how to skate so balancing was no issue at all. A female friend and I paddled around, going farther into the ocean, waiting for the tides to rise and fall, as if Poseidon himself was breathing through the waves.
We talked a lot about the ocean, how wonderful it was, how terrifying, full of mysteries yet to discovered or if they will ever be discovered. On land, we spent time chatting over AIM, talked about books, music, and just basically anything not about sex, drugs, and alcohol. She talked about building a future – though not necessarily with me, just she wanted to build something for herself. There was no romance between us. Did I try to sleep with her? Damn right I did. All efforts failed and she’d laughed about it, telling me it won’t happen.
This led me to aggressive solo beats each night, furious and ever hungry. After it was done, I’d lie down, ashamed and afraid of what I’ve just did, feeling disrespectful and dirty. Of course, the next night was the same story.
I talked to her about Pokemon too, a little. I remember her smile when she said she didn’t get video games. Her brother spent most days alone inside his room, playing non-stop.
“It’s like he’s not living his life anymore,” she said.
Of course we remained friends for a long time. Eventually, she got a boyfriend, moved in together, and they spent more time together. I phased out of her life. That was what I was to her, a phase, just she might have had been to me and to those who I once called friends. It hurts to think about that and I keep thinking if there was any point or lesson to learn from it.
That summer we went to the beach again. Swam, surf, a few drinks, good clean fun. Many years before that day, I’d be somewhere dark and dank, holding a bottle and wasted, and square dancing. I thought about it, how it all seemed “fun” and how it became so was strange.
Being on that beach, at that time, with those people, was what I’d happily call fun. The water still scared me a little, its expanse and the endless horizon.
“I think you’re just afraid to explore the world,” a friend told me, while reading some shit ass philosophy-or-psychology book. I didn’t retort, though I wanted to punch him in the face.
A few years later, my mother and I traveled to the Philippines for my cousin’s wedding. I met some relatives there. I got to make some new friends. On our last five days, we went to Boracay, a tourist spot that people all over the world seemed to gather. The white sand caked beneath my feet like powder. It was nothing like the sands in South Mission Beach in San Diego – or was it? I can’t remember. But all I know, it was an awesome place. The beach was bombarded with the usual shit though – McDonalds and Starbucks (of course).
I heard the days before in Boracay were quieter and had fewer tourists. These days, it’s like the cultural melting pot of every nation in the world, a grand gathering of sorts, though most of its foreigners are white folk from US and Europe, lots of Asians: Koreans and Chinese. I heard stories about people fucking in the shallow waters of the beach. With Filipino cousins and friends we went scuba diving. I got to see the rock edges, the corrals around the islands. I also wandered a bit too far underwater. I remembered thinking often, blue is such a strange color. But as the farther I got, I found myself staring into an abyss. Nothing was blue about it. It was darkness. It called out to me, demanding my attention, to become fish food. Fuck no, no, just no. I swam back up. And never went back.
That night after some drinks I walked into the room I shared with my brother, quietly as possible not to wake him, the smell of alcohol still fresh on my breath. Hours passed, sleep didn’t come, I thought about going out again and find someone I could fuck with. Instead, I rummaged through my brother’s pack, took out his 3DS and popped in his Omega Ruby game. Perhaps it was being tipsy and feeling stupid in a way, that I did on a random whim, decided to delete his save and start a new game. I hated his starter, a fire breathing chicken. Boring! I just had to choose Mudkip and named him Brad, cause it looked like a Brad. And it reminded me of that deep sea creature called axoltotl. The similarity is fucking uncanny!
I played most of the night until I fell asleep, the 3DS still powered on, emitting light radiation on my face. I remember my brother being upset at me, though held no grudge over something as petty as a save game. I still think anything beyond Blue is a shit game. But I had fun with Omega Ruby. Even as we traveled back home, my brother and I took turns with the 3DS. I’d let him kill the gym leaders, it was his game anyway. I was more than happy to grind for him – though for some reason, it wasn’t all that hard in this game, has the new Pokemon games turning little trainers too soft or was I just that good? Either way, there was a sense of a happy ending in getting back into Pokemon. Some may call it an addiction, but a healthy one, I suppose. He walked me through everything new about the world, opening up new discoveries that intrigued him so much. I’d gotten updates on some of the newer features: “Mega Evolutions.” It was one of my biggest what the fuck moments. Last time I checked this was Pokemon, not fucking Digimon. My brother wouldn’t stop yapping as if this were the first time we actually got to talk about something without getting on each other’s nerves.
I also got a chance to talk to my mom about the water. About how much of it scares me. And practically, anything blue makes me think of something weird. I thought she’d shun me, or feed me bullshit. Instead she said: “The sky and the ocean are two things that scares and amazes me both.”
I am afraid not of the exploration itself as my bitch ass friend said, but it is more because I fear the freedom of the sky and the pressure and the unknown in the sea. Both responsibility and freedom can be daunting, overwhelming, and soul-crushing. I had been relying on too many people for too long that being left alone scared me. I guess that’s the most accepted answer, if not a cheesy one.
Back home, whenever I couldn’t surf, I skated and gamed. I snowboarded when we took a vacation in the Blue Mountain in Pennsylvania, hated skiing. I broke an arm, nothing I haven’t been through. But it was all good. My life’s still a mess, just a little, my parents are just a phone call away, and they’ve been helping me rebuild. I’ve shared cigarettes with my father, him finding my new sudden interest in fixing cars an anomaly. And joked who the fuck am I. I didn’t like cars, I just wanted to get to know my father more since he was always away more than my mother.
I bought a new 3DS, bought some games with it, played with my brother through Wi-Fi, traded and battled Pokemon. We played Smash and Tri-Force. I wished I hadn’t bought a 3DS though, not yet. There’s a new version coming this week, one with the original Red and Blue Pokemon designs. Of course I’d get the Blue, I hate Blastoise design though. I wanted a Venusaur one. But it’ll do. My brother has never played the first gen Pokemon games and I’m looking forward for the original versions to become available in the Nintendo eShop. I don’t know if my brother will appreciate them as much as I did. Maybe he’ll hate it. I don’t blame him, I hate everything not gen one anyway.
I’ve given up on trying to become a nurse. I wanted someplace even where the pay isn’t too grand but at the same time allows me to continue what I love doing. I heard being a coastguard isn’t too bad. Or a lifeguard. I can just imagine myself running across the coastline with a six-packed abs. Maybe from there I’d be smart enough to study the ocean again.