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The earliest I can recall feeling legitimately trapped was the first time I played Pokémon Red edition. I had just named my character (‘Zach’, in case the reader doubted the creative scope of my six year old self) and was prepared to venture forward into this little known world in which all my friends had been thoroughly immersed in for months now, enthrallment evident in their vehement refusals to never, ever, share their brand new Game Boys for just two minutes… Alas, I now had my own Game Boy, and relentless joy was to ensue.
Sadly, the joy was limited to inserting the cartridge and powering the device because, as I said earlier, I was soon trapped, only moments into my first engagement with Pokémon, this inaugural virtual reality.
Of course, I wasn’t trapped in a physical sense. At the aforementioned point of entrapment I was sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car, reasonably mobile. The same was untrue for my newly christened persona in Pokémon, however: I couldn’t figure out how to leave my character’s house. I repeatedly took Zach around the perimeter of his dismayingly small abode searching for an exit, but met no success. Inside the house was a table, four chairs around the table, two bookshelves in the corner, and a television. Zach’s mother was seated at the table, only able to repeat the phrase, “All boys leave home some day”—I suppose mocking my inability to locate the door. With a sigh of frustration I shut the game off.
But then I turned it back on. Zach wasn’t ‘real’, regardless of any name I gave him, though I found myself empathizing with…whatever he was, and in that moment, for the first time in my life, I felt sympathy for a construct not wholly human. I reloaded the save I made earlier (Thank god; gamers will know), fussed around within Zach’s house some more and suddenly, with a heavenly “ca-chick” sound, the screen faded and Zach re-appeared in the ‘world’. Our journey had begun.
As Zach’s mother aptly predicted so long ago, I myself have left my home like all boys. Still, as a university student my enthusiasm for Pokémon has not diminished, nor have the core fundamentals of the game changed. With each new installment of the franchise (I purchase most) the journey begins as it did in the backseat of my parent’s car as a six year old: The boy (or girl, as introduced in later editions) emerges from his bedroom, converses with his mother in which some variation of “All boys leave home some day” is exchanged, and the player is released into the world with the intent of becoming a Pokémon master. However, nowadays I’m quite familiar with the working of this virtual reality. No longer am I restrained by the absence of physical doors. I have grown so familiar with the simulated world of Pokémon that I can now traverse mountains, seas, grasslands, and caves with ease, not to mention deal with the occasional Snorlax blocking my path. With the passing years, I have evolved, my first Squirtle has certainly evolved, and the distinction between what is virtual and what is real has, to a certain extent, blurred…
I keep breaking away from writing from this essay to check Facebook. And if I’m not looking at Facebook, I’m opening up Snapchat on my phone between sentences, or maybe checking CNN.com. By the way, John Boehner announced his resignation from Congress at the time of writing this. The reader may rejoice if they please.
When I check Snapchat, I’m presented the option to select from any one of my friends’ stories, these selective moments often accompanied by text… “Love them”, reads one in particular, though another only shows the temperature (70) imposed upon on a picture of a deep blue sky. I want to stow away my phone and continue my essay to elucidate the profound impact of Pokémon on my brief existence but honestly I’m disastrously enraptured by these images, however benign, disassociated, or virtual. The current temperature in Tallahassee, so-called-love with someone on some couch; these representations capture me and I realize I am just that: Trapped, not unlike I was in Zach’s house 14 years ago, though in this instance trapped not by my failure to find the door but my failure to recognize what is virtual and what is real… When I was six, I knew exactly the difference between my own life and that of ‘Zach’s’—Zach existed on a screen, he lived in a tiny house and battled Pokémon all over the land, he always looked the same and I could shut him off whenever I felt trapped—it’s different now, navigating this new virtual landscape isn’t as easy as obtaining the Pokéflute.
When I open someone’s Snapchat, scroll through my Facebook newsfeed, or even check the news, I am interacting with simulations, but I know these simulations aren’t anything new. Since six years old I’ve tried my hand at harnessing simulations, virtual worlds in which ‘Zach’ is not Zach, but a surrogate of which to experience a selective re-creation of someone else’s reality, some of which are created by Japanese video game developer Game Freak, and others that are constructed by my roommates with their iPhones. Playing Pokémon from such a young age educated me that strange, false worlds exist beyond my own that disguise themselves as true landscapes, and this is true all around us as we all confront virtual realities existing as near as our pockets, and sometimes we may feel trapped… Yet, even though there doesn’t appear to be a door… I turn off my phone, buckle down, and finish my essay.
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