Keep calm and use flamethrower

char

This is an updated article, written by Karen Benitez, originally published at GameGulp.ph as part of celebrating Pokemon for over 20 years.

Flamethrower.

Oh lord, I hate that move. It’s so overpowered. I had blazed through most trainers with it. Even water and rock types can be knocked out with a solid, critical flamethrower. Sometimes I end up using Fire Blast, in the cases of Brock and Misty in Pokemon Silver. Yes, I used my Typlosion, a fire type against gym leaders that use rock and water type Pokemons, and it was glorious.

Every “Pokemon” game I’ve played I have chosen a fire type. It had nothing to do with fire types being cool, or red as my favorite color, often dyeing my hair red, it was just sheer coincidence that I liked the fire type starters. It almost seemed that Nintendo, Game Freak, the Pokemon Company, in general, give priority in designing the better fire type starters. Take a look at them, Charizard, Typlosion, Blaziken, Emboar, Infernape, Greninja — uh, yeah. I skipped the fire type in X/Y because it looked like shit. No offense to any users.

For the newer Sun and Moon, naturally I picked Rowlet. I’ve never been a cat person and the final evolution of the fire type.

Oh, flamethrower, right. So, my friend and I often experimented on different hairsprays, body sprays, whatever-sprays, and spray them on a lighted candle. The flamethrower effect that came was really cool. I remember my friend Jon toasting marshmallows with it — at least tried to — we never ate it though, at least, I know I didn’t.

Wait, we’re straying too far.

In my first ever playthrough in “Pokemon Red,” I hit the League with my team’s average level around mid-40s. My Charizard was in early 50s and had been the muscling through most of the battles. I’ve stocked up in shit loads of Hyper Potions, Full Restores, and Revives. Every fight against Lorelei, the next dude, Agatha, had been serious struggles, diminishing my supplies until I finally got to Lance. And he was the worst. I pushed through and when that failed, I switched tactics, I got a grass type and hoped to the Pokemon god, Arceus, would be merciful enough to let my Pokemon paralyze Dragonite with my Gloom’s Paralyzing Powder. Then I switched to my Vaporeon and used Blizzard — which wasn’t enough, and Lance OHKO’d my water Pokemon with Thunder.

It was a terrible run. But I did eventually knocked out Lance’s Dragonite using Charizard’s flamethrower. It was out of pure luck. I had run out of items and I’m almost out of money from constant defeat against the Elite Four. So, when I learned I still had to fight the Pokemon Champion, I flipped. I started a fresh playthrough. And this time, captured all legendaries (I killed all of them on my first run), and took my revenge against the Elite Four with wisely spent TMs and a better team all throughout. On an average mid-50 level range, the Elite Four didn’t stand a chance.

The next set of Elite Fours in other games were pushovers.

That was over twenty years ago. These days I still get to play with some of my old friends, across seas, sometimes even against their own kids. I don’t know if that’s sad playing against children over ten years younger than I am. But it’s still fun.

The meta game has changed a lot. At that time, I had no idea or even care things about IV stats and while children maxed out those hidden stats to breed the ultimate Pokemon, I have to procure a steady income to pay monthly rent and, you know, survive with decent living. I don’t get to game as much and I end up hanging out more with other people after work, having a drink or two with friends, take the bus home. In the morning it’s the same routine. If I’m feeling a little bit energized, I’d take my bike to work and back.

That’s my meta game. Though I never let that ruin my gaming lifestyle. And while looking after my friends’ kids once in a while, as the cool, carefree auntie, godmother, or big sis, they opened up to me.

One in particular, my godson, was bullied in school. He was taught to tell any grownups of any problems in school. He did before but the retaliation of the telling, to a child, was much worst. It was a death sentence. It seemed a simple thing to do. If someone’s bothering you, you tell someone else to tell that kid to back off. Maybe in a far simpler and ideal world that’s how it would have worked. My friend, Jon, had shared similar stories of his youth and if there was anything he learned then, telling on a bully, meant even more trouble.

I have faced bullies of my own as a kid. Both boys and girls. And if their parents were informed, often, they would point the blame on the kid being bullied — “Well, my son told me your kid started it,” or, “Impossible, at home my son is an angel.” The former is a way to justify their child’s actions, the second is either denial or ignorant bull crap — it means children are smart enough not to bare their teeth in front of adults.

“Punch him in the face.” I typed in the chat box.

“He’ll punch back, he’ll beat me, he’ll kill me.”

“Then kill him first,” I wrote back.

After a moment, realizing how I might have made things worse, I added. “Not literally! Don’t kill him literally! Delete this shit!”

“Delete this conversation please.”

“Please delete it.”

“Have you deleted it?”

“Can I see a screenshot?”

“Thank you! xoxoxoxoxoxoxo ;)”

I contemplated burning my passport to ensure I wouldn’t ever leave the country to visit them.

Anyway, flamethrower — in some parts of the world a bully has their psychological background, so they say. But in other parts of the world, in my case, a bully is a bully. They simply enjoy acting around as a boss. I remember people telling me to get to know the bully, understand who they are.

These are ancient methods. Maybe in some parts of the country there are bullies who undergo troubles of their own and vent out to other kids.

My experience was rather surreal. Talking never got anywhere and I had resorted to violence, ended up yanking another girl’s hair, clawing at each other that led to actual fist fights. Oh, how the guys cheered. We were 10-years-old then. So something like that was deemed exciting to watch.

When I grew up, that’s when things started to cool off, where talking really got us somewhere. It didn’t stop gossips and backstabbing though. To my godson, I showed him an episode of “The Simpsons” from the first season where Bart gathered an army to gang up on Nelson. I always thought that was the point of the episode. Stand up to bullying and if you can’t do it alone, get more people, and united you stand. A single bully, after all, has no match against an army. Unless of course the bully themselves has an army.

In attempts for peace talks, my godson established neutral grounds, right in the principal’s office where he had gathered other kids who had the same problem with the same bully. According to my godson: They and the bully with the principal had a long talk, and things settled down for a couple of months before the scene reverted back to “normal.” A second complaint occurred and this time the principal called in the parents.

Now, my godson was never physically bullied again. He got to keep his lunch, was never forced to take down notes for someone else, never had to worry every time he needed to take a piss. But the bullying switched to verbal. And that seemed worse. It destroyed his esteem. And kids being kids would pile on top of that. It was all just teasing, after all, they would say. It’s a miniscule scale of LAN connected cyber bullying, only isolated within the confines of the classroom. And if he had told on them, the verbal assault would get worse. No one likes a tattletale.

At this point it was time to play things smart. I don’t know the exact words I said to my godson. It’s probably the typical things adult say to children about bullies, ignore them, be confident, don’t let them bring you down. I like to think some part of that got through to him. As I’ve mentioned earlier, I tended to fight, and when things got worse for me, I made sure to make it worse for them too. It was never a pretty sight and that was something I didn’t want to pass on to him.

As much as I wanted to try to help him out of this situation. There really was no avoiding it. I felt I was beginning to speak out of terms. I was giving advice based on how I handled bullies. I fought. My hair got pulled. A boy punched me in the arm. The same boy years later had threatened to hit me if I broke up with him. More reason to dump him on the spot, and no, he didn’t punch me.

The sad thing is, but probably the best thing that had happened, my godson was moved to a different school. And quite frankly, I got mad, it was unreasonable anger. My friends only wanted to keep their son safe. I felt that the kid needed to fight back. It was a little heated conversation that my friend and his wife had thrown me in the miserable “seen zone” pit for months.

“Bitch, who does she think she is? She doesn’t even have kids.” Oh, the things I imagine they might have said to me at the time.

In about two years ago, they got in touch with me again, talked about the difference of a 3DS and the New 3DS, which had, given me the idea to write this. I guess it was just a reason for them to patch up the holes we left behind.

Of course I told them to get him the New Nintendo 3DS and recommended games that he could enjoy alone and with friends. We met up in a restaurant and caught up in what we had missed through those months and so on. Our catchup had been so fun that I was partially expecting it’d end up in a three-way and I wish it kind of had, cause that would have caused all sorts of awkwardness in the future, and a damn fine thing to laugh at when I grow up and tell my godson about it.

Oh, yeah, about my godson. It’s good to know that he made a lot of friends. We played Pokemon once in a while. Damn, the Internet is amazing. Our battles often end up with Mega Charizard X versus Mega Metagross or Mega Mewtwo or Mega Blastoise or Mega Charizard Y. I sometimes lost, I won once in a while, switching Pokemons, switching tactics, and all that shit. He messaged me just a few weeks ago, days before V-Day, asking me advice on what a girl typically likes.

“Ask your god damn mom,” I wrote back.

He said he did and is asking for second opinions.

From a lot of Pokemon, to bullying, and now he’s about to dive into the world of dating. The next thing he might ask is how to stick it in — oh hell, I hope not. Then he might ask advise what major to take in college, career, how to propose, and all that. Maybe he won’t. Maybe he’ll figure it out by himself, like I did. I think that’s the way things often ended up. Maybe I’ll tell him that, but he’s always welcome to seek second opinions. It’s never out of the question.

I don’t have kids yet. But based on the things I’ve learned about them through my friends, is that they will always try to solve things on their own. It’s a damn respectable thing. If the worst comes, as an adult, you’d have to be there to guide them back around. Of course, this does not mean you could let them do anything they want. Of course you’d want to keep a close eye on them to avoid some mistakes some of us adults had made. It’s going to be cool and terrifying at the same time.

Flare Blitz. A powerful Pokemon fire type move that causes recoil damage to the Pokemon using it. Like how I handled my bully situation, I winged it, I took risks, and how I lived in my young adult years. Failure is always an option. The recoil can be bad but it can be as good. It’s all part of this fiery life, sending as much embers fluttering around the sky.

Honestly, that last part has nothing to do with the rest of the article. I just don’t know how to end this shit. So, I’ll leave it like this and F-Off now.

The Yellow Memoir

Pika

This is an updated article that was originally published in GameGulp.ph as part of celebrating Pokemon for 20 years.

The first memory I had about “Pokemon” was not the anime, or any of its merchandizes, or even the pocket monsters themselves. It was the move called “Mega Punch.”

In early 2000, on my sixth grade, two other boys were playing with their respective classic Nintendo Game Boys. It was a novel thing to have in our time and area.

Having one meant you’re a privileged fuck. And other students would revere at your presence, hoping to get a turn with what was the greatest handheld game console. Others would opt to steal it. But for the most part, everyone around our age who was too interested in a Game Boy like some holy relic that fell from the sky could only watch over the shoulder, drool, and hope and hope, until that hope withers away with mild envy and building, bulbous rage for the Game Boy’s stingy owner.

It was rare that anyone actually lent their Game Boys. Things got lost a lot around school, and no one was risking that for a damn second.

I had a Game Boy, mind you, which meant I was viewed as a privileged fuck, I also own an SNES and a Sega Genesis – both still working to this day – and this had placed my social status in the worst situation – a privileged fuck – and people around that school that weren’t privileged fucks didn’t like those kind of people. It’s a sad perception between the “privileged fucks” and the those who weren’t. We’re all just kids that wanted nice toys to play with. We were by no means, rich, but we did well, and family saved money and only spent when needed.

Despite the luxury of having multiple gaming platforms, I only had a few number of games: Spider-Man, Tetris, Contra, Sonic, Mario, and those things that we all can get tired off quite easily. I got to play more, only because other privileged fucks traded their own game cartridges with one another. I remember running across the street to meet up with our neighbor who also had a Game Boy and traded cartridges with him, which by the end of the week, ended up with someone else, until everything came to a full circle, where everyone has their original games back tucked in their pockets.

My biggest weakness was being a bit too nice, too eager to make friends, despite how everyone viewed me. So I lent my Game Boy, whored it around, letting everyone who touched it basked in its sacred monochrome light.

Gaming felt good, it was the grandest pleasure of all – until of course the glories of sex in later, later, way later years. I wanted to share it, let others enjoy a handheld gaming console that can fit in your pocket. And long story short, that previous Game Boy of mine ended up in someone else’s pocket and never seen again.

It was the most devastating thing I had to go through as a kid. I ended up being one of the kids who looked over the shoulder of the ones who played with their own Game Boys. They glorified themselves in their own spotlight, holding the device for all to see. As a kid who was never given a chance to play with someone else’s Game Boy, I believe it should be understandable to have a little grudge.

Two years later. About out of eight Game Boy owners, three were playing a game that caught my attention. I remember what that tiny screen said with frightening clarity: “TM 01 Mega Punch.”

I asked out loud what that was, like other kids who kept asking questions about the game. What did that attack do, was it strong, what game is that anyway?

Silence. Silence. More silence.

“Hmm? Uh, yeah,” the Privileged Fuck said.

Ah, okay. So, you can delete one of the four moves to learn that new move, why not

try it out?

“Mega Punch is weak.”

From my perspective, Mega Punch didn’t sound weak. That’s why it’s called “Mega

Punch,” right? Right? Right? Hello?

“Hello?”

Hmmm… hmmm?

“Can I try?”

“No.”

Stingy bastard.

One of the reasons why my old Game Boy was so dear to me was because my mother bought it, as a companion for my SNES. She wasn’t paid well during her early career days, switching jobs every now and then with salaries only slightly higher than the last, sometimes lower. Once, she quit her job just to get on a plane and fly half the world to see me. A gesture I never appreciated until my older years, when I had grown wiser, and learned the truths of being an adult: The impossible question between being with your child versus a decent job to feed said child.

The first option is the common noble route—the fairy tale that many people seem to prefer, as if to say, it’s alright to starve as long as we starve together.

The second option ensures well-being. And, as local soap operas and drama films love putting it, the child will grow up being ungrateful, believing their parent or parents, had abandoned them to live in foreign soil and bask in the luxuries there. Oh child, you’re still breathing, I’m sending you $200, get something nice, yeah?

Neither option is the right answer, because there is no answer to such things. There is only compromise. There is understanding. An electric spark that links the two or three of you into that single line of thought: “In life we need to make compromises and live the best we can.”

It’s a situation not everyone takes too well, and with good reason. Though, as a parent, would you rather be with your child and together starve? No, that is not an option. What about the other? Leave child to earn some money. This is something children also don’t take too lightly – and it is a complicated situation that is blown out of proportions by the media, specifically the local films that feature overseas workers. In such films, children were determined to starve and remain uneducated than lose their parents. The simplification of these scenarios begin to feel like an insult, and on hindsight, you might then think that maybe, just maybe, these films are produced as a means to educate the children in some visual medium that they can relate to. It’s better to place my mindset that way rather than believe the film industry is feeding off the in the emotions of these people who don’t get to spend their lives with those who they love most.

In my case, it was a simple thing of meeting my mother halfway through our seriously fucked up situation. The Game Boy and the SNES were both fruits of my mother’s long hard labor, depriving herself of nice things for herself. It was a testament and a tangible form of her sacrifice and love for me. I had accepted these gifts like holy relics. The SNES itself is stashed somewhere in safety, still kicking should I decide to summon it once more.

A year after finding out about Pokemon, along with all its craze, posters and cards sold here and there. I vowed to somehow get into that game and show those stingy, privileged fucks what I was made of. While staying with my mother in the US for a few weeks, I found myself standing in the videogame section of Toys ‘R Us, staring blankly at a yellow Game Boy Colored. Then there the games, the faces of Charizard, Blastoise, and Pikachu posed their best in those carton boxes, as if trying to make an impression impressive enough to be adopted into our home.

“Do you want it now?” My mother had asked.

I wanted to say yes. I needed this game to fulfill my childish wants. Even then I felt her reluctance. She didn’t have enough money, and yet, even without me saying yes, must have felt it through her bones. She got me the Game Boy Color, the bright yellow one, and to match it with colors was “Pokemon Yellow.” Pikachu stared at me, all charged up and ready for action. The excitement sent lightning bolts through my skin.

To say I was stoked was an understatement. The game was both simple and sophisticated, collecting monsters, trapping them in tiny red and white balls, turning them into gladiator slaves, to inflict harm against one another for the enjoyment of humans who should be in school. Privileged fucks.

I captured every Pokemon I spotted, spent countless hours raising them. Then I spent days, fighting my way through the game, earning badges, raising my monsters, and fishing a lot. As an only child who often dwelled within the confines of his own imagination and staring into blank walls for hours, “Pokemon Yellow” provided me a lot of comfort in my solitude. Witnessing firsthand my Caterpie’s evolution to Metapod, and then to Butterfree, is and will always be, everyone’s first love. The phase of the evolution itself feels like a coming-of-age story that unravels some secret truth to life. Osiris, Egyptian God of the Dead’s first riddle, the first riddle ever: What walks in three legs in the day, two in the afternoon, and three at night? Man.

And what is a man walking through the phases of life? It is a journey, a constant evolution that seeks fulfillment in life.

Let’s steer back to Pokemon, shall we.

The best part of having this spanking new Game Boy Color was I got to play games without bothering anyone who wanted to watch TV. And “Pokemon Yellow” was far from any game I had played. It gave me some story—well, sort of, a roster of a 150 monsters to collect, experiment, and raise, eight badges to earn, dozens upon dozens of NPCs to beat, fishing, and spending massive sums of money to purchase an endless stream of double-A batteries.

Beyond that, I had to make sure my partner following me all the time was in a good mood. I don’t remember if there are any significant changes about Pikachu’s mood, in how much it affected the game, besides netting me a Bulbasaur. But I always did my best to keep him happy, letting him fight first despite up against a rock monster. Believe it or not, on my first playthrough I beat Brock’s Onyx with Pikachu, by spamming Quick Attack and unleashing reserves of Potions. I also beat Lance’s Dragonite with Pikachu, using Mega Kick. I’m quite proud of winning against such odds.

Later that month, I got on a plane, and flew back home. I brought my new high-powered yellow Game Boy with a bright yellow cartridge and with a screen that has the faintest shades of colors in them. I was the only one in our small community that has “Pokemon Yellow.” Of course, some of the privileged fucks that played Pokemon actually started talking to me. We traded secrets and hints about the game, specifically the Safari Zone and searched for the mythical Missing No—an unfair privilege that I didn’t experience with my Yellow.

Now, here’s the funny thing. If anyone opens up their Pokedex, they’d notice there are a ton of missing Pokemons on that list. Despite our great efforts to locate those hidden Pokemon, we never found them in the game. No one understood why some games had ekans and the other a coffin, or one version has Magmar, and the other has Electabuzz.

After scouring the Internet, it turned out we all needed to trade – and who had a new Game Boy with a complete set of equipment? I did.

Pokemon trainers from school flocked my home, using my cable to trade Pokemon. More people caught wind of my mythical cable and more came running in, hoping to complete their Pokedex. I remember a Red player trading me her Haunter, and I my Kadabra, and we both screamed out our surprise at what happened. True story. Best fucking coincidence ever.

And then of course, we battled each other for the first time. This is only based on my memory, but if I remember it correctly, there were three options to do battle against each other, which required Pokemons at certain levels. This made it impossible for us to use some of our best team in battle. It was still fun by the end of the day, using other Pokemon we have stored in the box and neglected for so long.

I lost, they lost. On one very important match, where we had bet three weeks’ worth of lunch money, my Level 60+ Blastoise was knocked out by a Level 60+ Nidoking. This was after getting a lucky critical using Blizzard on his Zapdos. I really don’t know how I defeated his Nidoking with my Pikachu – all I remember was using Mega Kick. I don’t know how Pikachu did it, but that Nidoking would’ve needed to go the nearest Pokemon Center stat. The final round was an even greater stroke of luck. Pikachu faced off against Articuno. He moved first, using Blizzard, and for some lame-ass reason, missed. And my Thunder knocked him out in a single, super effective hit.

Of course things didn’t end there. Many more battles took place in the future. I was also the most patient of the trainers and I say with such great pride, I was one of the very best. I was the first to raise a Gyarados, Rhydon, and a Dragonite. No one believed me that all we needed was to level up a dragonair to 56. They believed, with aggressive vehemence, it would be level 60. And they couldn’t prove it themselves, for whatever reason, they could never find a dratini, which is crazy.

Things didn’t change when we jumped to Gold and Silver. I got Gold and raised a kickass Typlosion, and I’m sure that we all had eye-popping revelation that after finishing the Johto region, we can actually explore the Kanto region and collect eight more badges and fight another set of Elite Four, and the main character from the previous Pokemon version.

Sadly, those were the last glorious days of Pokemon.

I haven’t gotten around Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. Especially not Sun and Moon. But in my experiences with the X and Y games, the whole connectivity has been taken for granted. It felt less genuine, and more like a chore. All I had to do was raise ten elekids and I basically got everything I needed through online trade. Of course, this changes the whole meta, the whole trading and battling, and the Pokemon community as a whole. These impersonal Pokemon trading were more about conquests, knock down the next foe after the next – the sense of discovery of the bigger world of Pokemon has evolved.

It is less about exploration. The meta-game is all that matters. People might complain that this devalues trading. It has. That’s no debate. But rather, it encourages to seek out battles with other players. No, I’m not talking about online battles. I’m talking about going to conventions, meet other players in school, get together and play.

On a flight to Guam, which took four hours, I popped up the game from my bag and discovered another player within the plane. He must have been surprised too and a challenge was immediately issued.

We never sought out each other though. But on my way down the plane, I saw a boy quite younger than myself, holding a blue 3DS. I nodded to him, seeing if he’d acknowledged. He didn’t, instead looked at me confused and probably awkward.

And that made me feel stupid all the same.

On a nerd-infested convention, my friend detected two players within the vicinity. We found them, a boy and a girl, couples it seemed, and challenged them to a two-on-two battle. They were younger than us and understood the meta more clearly than anyone. Our team never stood a chance. They were coordinated and knew each other’s Pokemons.

It was still fun. It just needed a new approach.

The journey in Pokemon is no longer confined in its screens. It has expanded its horizon, putting the exploration onto the real world, meeting new friends. That’s what the merchandise is telling people, anyway.

Looking back, I don’t think my mother knows how much getting that new Game Boy with “Pokemon Yellow” has made a difference in my life. And that’s not being cheesy. I actually got to socialize better with my classmates. And if you’re wondering, yes, I still lent my Game Boy Color around to people I’ve consider then as good friends. I allowed them to pick their own teams and challenge the Elite Four. It had been wild, he replaced all my core team members with Pokemons that I never used, never gave a chance, and actually defeated the Elite Four, and that was where I learned that there are far more powerful Pokemon out there than what were my favorites.

I still have the mythical cable somewhere in the old house. My grandparents have a knack in hoarding things that might have the slightest value. And while having that cable has bridged some people and myself, who up to this day are still good friends—actually, friend, there is only one left in the old community that still keeps in touch—I can say how much the Game Boy Color and “Pokemon Yellow” charged up my social life, even just a little, and in many ways, allowed me to connect with my mother, and understand her more.