Don’t hate on Fortnite too much – all it ever did was make me feel a little bit old

pokemon rby logo

Pokémon Red/Blue/Yellow (1998)

Latest stats for the year reveal that Fortnite (Battle Royale) has been making hundreds of millions of dollars each month in revenue, for a total well in excess of one billion USD, with over 125 million total players. And I would conservatively estimate that it’s seen a total of two zillion game-hours total. The whole thing is a phenomenon, and even I tried it once. That’s right, I tried a modern and popular game, but I ought to quickly clarify that it was free.

In the two matches I’d played, I wandered around hoping for some help, a tutorial of sorts, or even just a bit of abuse dressed up as advice from my teammates, whom I couldn’t tell apart from the actual enemy. I finally encountered a clear enemy and attempted to take a pot shot at them, only to witness my opposing apex predator immediately build what you’d have to class as an 11th century cathedral all around himself, including refectory and courtyards and other acreage.

Ignoring my wayward bullets totally, treating them like the noisy flies that they were, my opponent then effortlessly put down all manner of bridges going every which way outside of their magnum opus, providing the new hub for all remaining players to battle to the death in. While all this was happening, of course, I had been headshotted thoroughly, and my “involvement” in the match, if that’s even the correct term, came to an abrupt halt. Completely outdone by what I’m sure was an 8 year child, I began wondering to myself. How do they know everything about this game? How could they keep up with it all?

How indeed? It was probably the first time I’d ever been made to feel old by a game. Too old, too slow, must go, as they say. It made me want to immediately look down on the whole Fortnite rigmarole. It’s surely just a fad. Kids will move on to the next big thing. Or, it’s not even that good anyway, that type of thing. It’s just a cash-cow where only the greediest win.

But how could I level anything as hypocritical as all that against the game? It’s the exact same guff we used to get over Pokémon, 20 years ago now. Where does THAT time go?! Fortnite may be immensely popular now, but I’m not so sure it’s going to spawn still-running anime series and movies, or trading card games or mobile apps, or above all else, a game series that’s still mega popular two decades later.

I’m also fairly certain that Fortnite’s never had any accusations of it being satanic or in some way anti-Christian, such that you’ll hear of wild hick groups in rural Alabama burning copies of the game. Or in this case, receipts for V-Bucks. Pokémon’s had that. Harry Potter, too. So can you really consider yourself among the mainstream top brass if don’t have people burning effigies of your mascots?

It was simply strange how Pokémon took its hold over here in UK and Ireland. For starters, we had the anime come out before the games, which only ramped up our appetites. You’d wonder about the power of advertising on children – I obviously wasn’t going to miss it, given that I knew it was a Nintendo-backed cartoon. But everyone else in school started talking about it, even the dregs who would wholly deny that fact now. Who told them? Everyone knew Pokémon to be something big, something popular, and therefore something that you just had to be a part of or risk social ostracism, a terrible and irrevocable fate to suffer when you are 8 years old.

Then, after a six month period that we’d spent lamenting Ash’s skills, laughing at Brock’s plights with women and entertaining fantasies between ourselves and Misty, we finally got the first two Game Boy games, Pokémon Red & Blue. This was more than 2 years after they’d hit Japan. Can you imagine that now?! We later got the special Yellow edition, more based on the anime and crucially starring Jessie and James from Team Rocket.

But as for Red and Blue, the effect was immediate and profound. To my dying day, I’ll remember coming round the corner into the schoolyard, my purple Game Boy Color with Pokémon Red in tow and held out in front of me like Del Boy’s Filofax, only to see that probably 99% of the other children had the same idea.

My little heart soared. How sad is that? Finally, my encyclopaedic game knowledge could become cool. I would become the authority, the guru, the man every other child in school looked up to for a clue. That didn’t quite happen of course, but I did become a desirable man to know as I was in possession of an official Link Cable, the crucial tool that would allow for trading and battling with other mugs. Wired communication, if you don’t mind.

But perhaps I’ve gone too far here, and maybe some actual game talk wouldn’t go amiss. Well, time probably hasn’t been the most kind to Pokémon Red, Blue and Yellow, given the advancements that subsequent generations of the game have brought and given that the game coding has been shown to be pretty much held together by spit, gum and sticky tape. The battle mechanics are fairly out of whack, the game is completely unbalanced in favour of Psychic types, you’re never more than 6-feet away from a game breaking glitch and some of the graphics and Pokémon sprites are a disaster.

But as a sheer adventure, it nails the atmosphere of being a young kid ready to shake off the shackles of parents and school and explore a big bad world with six trusted companions. Whereas later games in the series like Pokémon X and Y give you absolutely no autonomy whatsoever, and should probably be seen as guided tours rather than adventure games, Pokémon RBY just leaves you to it. It’s you versus the lie of the land, with plenty of ambitious, sinister and even cute trainers and Gym Leaders in between who you’ll need to beat to become the very best.

This lack of hand-holding probably proved a bit too much for the more brain-damaged children, but come on. Can’t children figure these things out for themselves? Can’t they be given some credit? Millions of children managed to finish Pokemon RBY. I know they did it with one Pokémon, a Level 100 Charizard with a hideous moveset, but they did it. Why do the latter day Pokémon games, and many others besides, need to give you tutorials up the wazoo? Have attention spans gotten so low?

Evidently they have, or I would have given Fortnite more than two attempts before sneering at it and pronouncing it clag. And I can’t imagine any Fortnite playing child, packed with the necessary ADHD (ADD also an advantage) would look very favourably upon a monochrome adventure like Pokémon. Not when it’s on a portable system, a system that isn’t even backlit mind you, and doesn’t fry their brains with new colourful graphics, shiny microtransactions and pride and accomplishment every five seconds.

But for that window of time, 20 years ago, we were all adventurers. We all went out there and bumbled and made dreadful mistakes like Ash. We battled, we traded, we bonded. We let our minds wander, our imaginations do the work. We played a front and centre role in a phenomenon that the rest of society wanted to strip from us. And when Pokémon Let’s Go comes out in a few months time, we’ll do it all again.

3 September 2018

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