What made the Pokémon series so engrossing? The narrative of the games is straightforward, repetitive, almost so formalized as to be suffocating. You wander, catch, battle, gym-challenge, heal, lather, rinse, and repeat, and all in environments that differ slightly only in the most superficial sense. There are, everywhere, gyms and high grass, Pokécenters, Pokémarts, and Pokéballs. There is always another confrontation with Gary on the horizon, always another convalescence with Nurse Joy. Even the music rarely changes—that maddening eight-bit music which once heard can never be forgotten. What is it, then, that made us so crazed—that made us whine, in the cacophonous voice of an entire generation: “Mommy, I’m in a battle and you are making me die!”
I am like many people of my generation: my sense of history is grounded in a patchwork of games. Books, documentaries—these are entitled to add some polish. But they will never change the facts. My Old West was settled by Oregon Trail’s eight-color Conestogas and their dysentery-ridden crews. My Rome—the Rome of Sierra’s Caesar III—was built in a day. And if the distant past often feels eerily present to me, it is perhaps because I have done substantial time temping as Pharaoh of Egypt, Doge of Venice, and Japanese Shogun.
It is difficult to explain, to those who do not enjoy them, the appeal of computer simulations. They are games only in the broadest sense: you cannot win them, and there is no direction given. Some people prefer to call them “software toys.” But a good simulation is more a world unto itself, a perpetuum mobile through which something organic evolves. When done right, a simulation has all the inexorable momentum of reality. Things proceed by themselves and can hardly be predicted, but when they do, they seem entirely correct—as though they could not have happened any other way.
It is here, you will later decide, that you made a mistake.