Exploring the weird world of Pokémon urban legend0 Comments
Pokémon has an interesting place in video game history. It was one of the most massive pop culture fads of the '90s, and one of the most popular video games to be released at the end of the 20th century. Not only that, Pokémon made its debut when the internet was still in its infancy. Most people had internet access, but this was still the age of America Online and Geocities. Search functions were rudimentary at best. Instead, people got much of their information via forums and print publications.
Pokémon was very much a collective experience. As kids, we would desperately wait for recess, where we would huddle in tights circles with our Game Boys and spend lunch time in fierce conversation about the game. Naturally, these passionate orations would lead to stories we had heard on the internet or in magazines. We caught wind of pokémon who could destroy our Game Boys if we engaged them in battle, of secret gardens, and eerie mentions of ghosts and cursed cartridges.
We allowed ourselves to believe in these urban myths and superstitious rituals. We relied on the advice of random internet strangers and playground gossip to help us get the most out of our games, and sometimes that meant trusting the bizarre anecdotes that spread like wildfire both online and in real life.
Pokémon is regarded by the wider world as a children’s game, but its odd penchant for sprouting meta-narrative and myth makes it a fascinating pop culture phenomenon. Pokémon is one of the last, and one of the richest, memories we have of this time period in gaming history. In a time before Google, we were more innocent. In honor of this, we take a look back at some of the most popular myths from Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow.
Mew and the S.S. Anne
The elusive Mew captivated the imaginations of most school kids in the late ‘90s. The psychic alien cat was a whole lot cuter than Mewtwo, and a lot more mysterious, instantly making Mew a hot commodity. Our Pokédexes constantly teased us with that elusive 151st slot. Unfortunately Mew was only available through special events hosted by Nintendo, and in the pre-WiFi era, there wasn’t really any way you could get a hold of one of your own unless you had a super cool friend who had been to a Nintendo competition. Sure, you could use a GameShark, but where was the satisfaction in that?
It’s only natural that methods for capturing Mew began to circulate. The most widely spread rumor focused on the mysterious truck parked on an island next to the S.S. Anne. If you could somehow swim your way over to the truck and use Strength to push it aside, you’d find Mew hiding underneath. The trick doesn’t work, and the truck is merely a set piece. However, it was later discovered that there is a pretty fascinating glitch that players can exploit to trick the game into spawning Mew in a random battle.
The Pokéball Ritual
Catching pokémon isn’t always easy, and letting one of the little monsters get away can sometimes be risky, especially if it’s a critter that’s extra rare. Luckily there was a purported fix for that, although its actual efficacy is pretty dubious. Many believed that by pressing B + Down on the D-pad, or by pushing A each time the pokéball shakes, or any other variety of button combos, you could boost the strength of your pokéballs, increasing the odds of a successful catch.
It was a common strategy for the Safari Zone, where you couldn’t whittle down a pokémon’s HP and had to rely on wimpy Safari Balls to catch the often finicky pokémon that lived there. It was an odd ritual that was born purely by word of mouth that spread all over the place. I still do this to this day, out of sheer force of habit, and I doubt I’m alone in this.
The small, unassuming patch of empty space behind Bill’s cottage was a point of fascination for most children. While that sounds pretty baffling, many kids thought that if you could somehow magic your way back there, you’d be able to access a lush garden teeming with rare pokémon, including Mew or extra Eevees.
Gaining access to Bill’s Garden meant you could really flesh out your Pokédex and be the talk of the playground. Sadly this is pure myth. The gap behind Bill’s house was simply placed to prevent the cottage’s roof from overlapping with the mountainous terrain that surrounded it.
Pokémon Gold and Silver were prepping for launch in Japan just as Red, Blue, and Yellow were really taking off in North America. Back before we had dedicated translations of Famitsu and other Japanese game publications, it was pretty tough to get reliable information about the upcoming Japanese games.
When Marill, a roly-poly water pokémon that has a striking resemblance to Pikachu, surfaced in Japanese marketing for Pokemon GS, the images made their way to the U.S. Some thought it might be an ultra-rare evolved form of Pikachu, and thus Pikablu was born. Nowadays Pokémon games release on the same day worldwide, and Japan doesn’t seem like such a faraway mystery anymore.
The great thing about Missingno. is that it’s real. Nothing made you feel more like a hacker than taking that risk and seeking out Missingno. An odd garbled mess of pixels, Missingno. is a glitch that occurs due to some confusion with hexadecimal characters if you trigger a specific series of events. Talk to the old man in Viridian City and let him teach you how to catch pokémon. After that, fly off to Cinnabar Island and surf up and down the coast. Eventually you’ll bump into Missingo., who’ll take on a few different, creepy forms depending on your character’s name. If you want a techinical account of just how Missingno. works, competitive Pokémon HQ, Smogon, has you covered.
Missingno. appealed to trainers not just for the mystery, but for its ability to clone items, including Rare Candies and Master Balls. There was a catch, though. Messing with Missingno. also meant you ran the risk of corrupting your save file (you only have one — bye bye 100 hours of your childhood) or a whole batch of other weird bugs. If you got out of your encounters with Missingno. none the worse for wear, though, it was a great way to impress your friends.
Pokémon is fascinating, not for its built-in story, but for its expansive, imperfect world. It speaks to our instinctual desire to explore and tell stories, and from there we get the wealth of myths and legends that we still remember and reminisce on today. This piece doesn't even begin to touch on the more recent wealth of meta-fiction that was born from 2014's Twitch Plays Pokemon. Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow present a perfect example of what happens when digital media and millenia-old oral story-telling habits collide.