On August 27, 1998, Topeka, Kansas became Topikachu for one day—a ceremonial renaming to celebrate the US arrival of a new video game franchise, Pokémon. While popular previously in Japan, the franchise’s impact has been felt in the US ever since. To remember this gaming landmark, we’re resurfacing this classic Ars tale of franchise fandom over Labor Day Weekend. The piece re-emerged once before in February 2016 for the 20th anniversary of the original release of Pokémon Red and Green in Japan, and it originally ran in October 2013.
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I’ve been playing Pokémon games since I was 13, and I’ve felt just a little too old for the games pretty much the entire time. Having an eight-year-old brother slavishly devoted to the games, and the anime, and the trading cards, told Young Andrew all he needed to know about the age of kids who were into Pokémon. Even once he (er, me) finally gave in to his curiosity and began playing Pokémon Blue (via the No$ gmb emulator on the computer), he only played it with headphones in and the door to his bedroom closed. That experience set the tone for the next decade-plus of Pokémon playing: done in secret, kept to myself, a source of shame.
I’ve never watched the anime. I don’t collect the cards. I don’t play the weird offshoot games like Pokémon Snap, Pokémon Rumble, or Hey You, Pikachu! or whatever. My possession of Pokémon merchandise is limited to a handful of figurines I picked up when I went to Japan in 2010. But every time a new game in the main RPG series has come out, I’ve been there. The games have been with me through childhood into adolescence and adulthood, and while they’ve changed (and I’ve changed) the things I enjoy about them haven’t.