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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Becoming the Pokemon World Champion (or, confronting a ghost of my gaming past)

Watch out Ray Rizzo, there's a new champion in town. Okay so maybe I'm not an official champion by Pokemon Play standards, but last night (or 1 a.m. this morning) I finally won the Champions tournament at the PWT in Pokemon Black 2! Also, I'm 27 years old.

I want to be the very best, like no one ever was

Quick editor's note: that pic up above isn't's something I grabbed from online. I wanted to take a picture of the moment when it did happen, but it happened so suddenly I forgot. I achieved this victory of victories late last night, lying in bed, wife already asleep, my hunger for victory keeping me awake. I didn't think I was going to win. I kept losing over and over and I was only playing because I couldn't believe that my hard work to build a team to defeat the champions tournament wasn't working. Well, I could believe it, because it actually wasn't my fully realized team, I just was trying to rush a team I had been building the past few days and testing how far off I was.

My journey to this point started a week or so ago, when I started playing Pokemon Black 2 again. I picked up the game this past summer, with some gift card money I had received for my birthday. I conceded to buying it because I thought I was going to get a 3DS and the next Pokemon game far into Summer 2014, so I figured I'd entertain myself with Black 2 for awhile. And I did play it, putting in my usual 100 plus hours like I do every Pokemon game. I stopped playing it maybe around the Fall, and hadn't touched it until recently.

So why did I decide to play it again? As with all my games in my backlog, I had some unfinished business.

Pokemon and me

I have been playing Pokemon consistently since Red/Blue. I begged my mom to get me a copy of the game when it first came out, and while everyone walked around with their fancy Game Boy Pockets, I was dishing out Ice Beam's with my Articuno on my big fat grey Game Boy OG. Like a gangsta.

And I bought every Pokemon game since when they were first released up until Black version 2. I was playing Gold with it's night and day cycles while 90% of my friends abandoned Pokemon altogether. By the time Crystal came out, I had stopped watching the show but not catching them all.

Sapphire practically changed my life, and to this day it's one of my favorite entries of the series. I bought Emerald too, but never really touched it because I had 500+ hours on Sapphire (wish I still had that cartridge, but more on that later). Of course I was gonna revisit Kanto with Leaf Green. And even though I always had to defend myself to people when they asked, "You still play Pokemon?" when Diamond and Platinum dropped, it's been the only franchise I've stayed with consistently and bought every single entry. It's my favorite franchise, and one that I know I will never get tired of. So of course you can imagine my excitement when I got my hands on the greatest remake of the greatest game of the series (at that point) Heart Gold. Me and Pokemon, we've been friends for life.

My dirty little secret about Pokemon

Pokemon B&W 2 was the first time I didn't buy a new Pokemon game right when it was first released. Why? Because I thought I'd hold out for the soon to be announced new Pokemon game to be released on the 3DS. And sure enough my prediction was right, and X&Y was announced. But times were rough, and realistically I knew I shouldn't drop money on the 3DS right when it came out so that I could get Pokemon when it drops. I'd figured I'd wait until Pokemon came out, then buy them together, hopefully as a bundle. 

But that's not my secret. The reason I've started this blog is because I want to create better habits for myself with my most passionate hobby. And sometimes that means I have to come face to face with the bad habits I have, and be honest with myself about what I am actually doing, and what I need to be doing. Pokemon is a prime example of how dedicated I've been about gaming since I was a kid. It's not the only game or series I've stuck with, but it's most likely the one that I've logged the most hours into combined. In fact I wish I did have all my old Pokemon games so I could add up the hundreds of hours I've logged in. Unfortunately there have been some rough financial moments in my life that have forced me to sell some of my most prized possessions. And as much as I didn't want to, I've had to sell a lot of my games and systems I've owned throughout the years, Pokemon included.

Dark times

I will go into detail in another post about how I had to sell all my games, the impact it's had on me over the years, and the steps I'm taking to ensure that financially I'm never put into that situation again. But the short of it is my means of making money were very limited and I wasn't having much luck in the job market in NYC at the time. We (my wife and I) were doing everything we could to make ends meet to support ourselves and our newborn baby. I had a large game collection, with some valuable items that went for a good amount on Ebay and Craigslist. I never considered myself a collector, just a gamer with exquisite tastes. #humblebrag

Little by little my collection was sold, and my Pokemon games were the last to go. I sold off everything I had from Red/Blue/Yellow to my Pearl and Platinum. Along with some of my older GBA's and other Game Boy's. And just like that, all my Pokemon, all the hours I had poured into the story and catching them all (yes, I did catch them all a few times), the endless breeding, shiny Pokemon I found, special Pokemon events like the ones in Time Square I went to, literally hundreds if not thousands of hours were gone. Yes you will always have your memories when something like this happens, but as much as I fondly remember all the years I spent playing, I can't get rid of the dark cloud that hangs over me when I play Pokemon. What I once had, maybe possibly what I could have kept, is gone. And I can't get it back.

But this is why we fall, right Bruce? We need to live and learn from our past failures and mistakes. For a time I was in such a depressive state even when I left NYC, that I kept going back and forth on how I was going to recover. I started spending money on old games I found at garage sales in an attempt to reclaim what was once mine (and probably spurring someone else getting rid of their game collection into a similar state). I was spending money I didn't have and shouldn't have been spending. I would take these games and then sell them again, because we hadn't really established our living situation, and I was foolish to make those purchases in the first place.

I was in denial of what was happening with my relationship with video games. Even when things started to look up for us (we found an apartment, I got a full time job, we got a car, etc); I was scared about what was going to happen with me and my games. I was afraid that every game I purchased I would sell, end up regretting it, buy it back, sell it, rinse, repeat. And it was hard for me to stop doing so. Video games and I have been together since I was born, it's a part of who I am. I've never valued it above my wife or kids, which is why I made the hard decisions I had to make, but I would be lying if I said it didn't hurt me and still does.

And Pokemon has always been at the center of it all. If there is one series that reminds me of the amount of hours that I put into it, and now have nothing to show for it, it's Pokemon. I wanted to be there at those Pokemon Play regional tournaments and compete. Battling online and getting a chance to put years of experience to the test. But by the time all these things became available, something I've always dreamed of, I had lost it all. I have nothing to show for the work I put into these games, and that is scary.

Beginning a new save file

A week ago I started playing Black 2 again, as I said, because there was unfinished business. Not just within the game, but with recovering all that time and energy I've put into this series. Last year I started to buy all my games digitally, as one of the preventive measures I've taken to ensure I can never sell games and feel regret. I have to make sure not to sell the systems to play them, but I (hopefully) won't let that happen. Having the 3DS and the digital downloads available is a blessing, because for the first time ever, I won't be able to lose all the Pokemon and hard work I've put into it, because I'll be able to back up my game saves on my computer, and store my Pokemon in Pokemon Bank, and keep the game forever digitally.

Now that I have a 3DS, I should download Pokemon X&Y right? I mean what am I waiting for? Well, not so fast. Yes, if there is any game that I should jump on it right away, Pokemon would be it. But even though I do have the money, and the dark times are a lot brighter now, I need to be very careful and patient with my game purchases. I bought Black 2 with every expectation that I wouldn't be getting a 3DS until this summer. Now that has changed and I do own a 3DS yet I don't want to leave Black 2 unfinished. I want to go into X&Y strong and confident that I am making my return and fixing my past mistakes.

This year I have a game budget, but I also want to set some criteria for certain purchases through the year, so I can ensure I don't exceed my budget or spend it all too quickly. I need to treat my budget as a benchmark, and as I learned in real life I shouldn't be maxing out my budget either. So the longer I take between game purchases the better off I will be in the long run. Here's a list of goals I want to achieve before I get to Pokemon X&Y.

  • Gotta Catch 'em all - When I had Platinum, I was able to transfer all the Pokemon I had up until that point and I did indeed have a fully completed National Pokedex, including all the event Pokemon like Mew, Celebi, Deoxys, etc. I know it will probably be a long while before I get those event Pokemon again, but I would like to go into X&Y with a full national Pokedex. This means I might even have to obtain a few of the older games like Heart Gold and Platinum.

  • Defeat 100 trainers in a row at the Battle Subway Super Doubles Line - What to do after I catch them all? Why, battle of course! The closest I've ever reached to getting a hundred in a row was back in Emerald at the Battle Tower. My team of Heracross, Regice, and Salamence was this close before getting wiped out by a Wailord using fissure three times in a row! Are you freaking kidding me!! I'm still upset about that, and it remains one of the most frustrating things to ever happen to me in video games. Anyway since I can't go back and pick up the pieces in every copy I use to have, I feel like defeating the Battle Subway this time around would help me make amends; and even though I've lost my Pokemon over the years, I haven't lose the desire to win.

  • Only buy old version games to complete Pokedex, for now - I haven't reached the point where I am ready to go buying back all the old games I use to own, and Pokemon is no exception. Even though I would like to own a copy of each game once again, I am not going to drop all that money to obtain it right away, especially if I want to play them. I need to treat old game re-purchases like new ones, and I will detail some of my most favorite games I need to repurchase later, but for now with Pokemon once I've obtained all the Pokemon I could possibly get between my copy of White and Black 2, I will only buy past versions to complete it.

  • Pokemon Dream Radar - Again another thing to help me complete my Pokedex, and only compatible with Gen V. I can only get this though once I've obtained all the Pokemon I can between the two games I own.

  • Wait until Pokemon Bank releases - As of yesterday (1-22-14) Pokemon Bank just came back online in Japan, and we are still waiting to hear when it will be released in the U.S. That could be today, next week, or six months from now. Whenever it does get released, I can confidently buy Pokemon X&Y. I will be able to transfer my completed Pokedex with ease, and then I can focus mainly on playing X&Y and future Pokemon games.

  • Defeat all the Champions in the Champions Tournament at least once - Winning the tourney for the first time last night at 1 a.m. was a huge moment for me. Yeah I lost like 5 times in a row to both Lance and Alder (especially Alder, he's got my number) it was a very rewarding experience for me. It's another page in the history book of my life with Pokemon games. I never get tired of battling the AI, raising my Pokemon and trying to find out what works best for me. I've tried going online but it seems most people are moving onto X&Y, and Nintendo has already pulled the Ranked battling so you can only play in Free Rating. Which is fine, and there is fun to be had there as well, but I get a lot of challenge from the PWT and I learn as much there as I do playing others.

As my story continues

Recently I've started showing the original Pokemon cartoons to my girls, and my oldest daughter is getting hooked. She's always seen me play the games on my DS, but now she has the show to put it together and get a sense of the world. Pokemon came out when I was in junior high, so it's great to see basically my five year old self watch the show for the first time. I enjoy the time we spend together watching the show and playing the games and, as silly as it sounds, as much as I want to share my knowledge of games with her as she grows.

I know one day when she is old enough, she is going to inherit all my games, or at least the games she wants. And one day soon, when she is able to read, she will want to have her own Pokemon game that she can play with me. Who knows, maybe all the Pokemon I use and train I can give to her so that she can continue what I started and play with her friends. While saving for her college future is way more important than capturing Pokemon, I am excited about the bonds that we will create through these games.

If gaming is important to you as much as it is to me, I want you to realize from my story that one day it can all be gone. Sometimes you have no control over it, and sometimes you won't be able to see how it could have been prevented until after it's too late. With my Pokemon collection, it was way too late for me to do anything about it. But now I have the knowledge and experience to move forward, and to ensure something like that doesn't happen again. It does still wound me when I think about it.

I hope through my story you can begin to take steps to prevent this. Be smart with your money now, even if you think nothing bad will happen. I didn't think I would ever end up in the financial situation I did, but when it happened I had no savings or means to get through it. If you have a collection of games you treasure dearly, don't ever ever sell it. Keep it as long as you can, and if you do have to part ways with it, I would recommend giving it away to someone you know and trust won't go around and sell it.

And if you play Pokemon as much as I do, and have suffered a loss as much as I have or worse, please share and let me know how you overcame or are still coping with it. This journey I am on to right a lot of the wrongs I've unfortunately done or had happen to me with video games, is a long and hard one. But the reward will be greater and worth it, and will make me a better person for it. Instead of living with the weight of this loss for the rest of my life, I am slowly picking the pieces back up and putting it all together. It's the only way to make things better for myself. And with that knowledge, I can teach my daughter the importance of what we hold valuable and what losing something important can feel like.

And with that being said, it's also never too late to be a champion. I have 15 years of experience with the franchise. Maybe next time this year, I will be writing about my real life quest to being a Pokemon World Champion contender. For now, I will have to settle for the PWT.

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