So Your Favorite Thing Went Mainstream (And You Hate It)
The worst fans in the world have to be the “Gatekeepers” — the ones who insist you stay away from their hobby, lest you and the other peasants soil it. OK, Nazis are worse, but the Gatekeepers are next.
These are the fans who insist everyone who just discovered their thing is “doing it wrong.” It’s like they can’t enjoy it unless they know other people don’t. Gamers might be the worst of all about this. See how they react when someone suggests Dark Souls should have an easy mode. You know, so everyone can enjoy it.
Well, I’m not about to defend the assholes who spend their weekends tweeting death threats at developers over minor tweaks made to a game to make it accessible to “casuals.” But I am going to defend the Gatekeepers, just a bit.
I’ve been that guy with Pokemon, one of my favorite things in the known universe. If I had to decide between getting a million dollars and keeping Pokemon around, bury me in a pile of Pikachu plushies, because I’m holding strong. I’ve been a fan since I saw a sticker on a glass case in a dying Super K-Mart that said “POKEMON, COMING FALL 1998.” It’s the first pop culture thing that I ever waited for. When you’re a child and stupid, pop culture usually just happens to you. You consume whatever your parents happen to put around you. But Pokemon was the first thing that I ever chose to be like “That. That will be my Valhalla.”
The Pokemon series has always had a weird relationship with difficulty levels. They’ve ranged from being hard because they were actually sort of broken (like Pokemon Red/Blue) to being hard because the tears of innocents are delicious (like in Pokemon Diamond/Pearl/Platinum.) I love this, partly because I love shouting at my handheld consoles, but also because it means that when I win, I am, as the Pokemon anime theme says, “the very best, like no one ever was.” I started as a mute ten-year-old in a three-building town, and I trained my way to godhood. When I became champion and went back out into the forests, other trainers looked upon me and despaired.
And then X and Y came out in 2013, which were the first Pokemon games to be in 3D, meaning that Nintendo finally had a way to promote their precious monster games in a way outside of “There’s even more of these goddamn critters in this one!” But it was also clear they wanted to bring a new generation of players into the fold — casual players, who hadn’t suffered as I had. So these games give the player an item called the Exp. Share very early. It gives every Pokemon experience points after a battle — not just the ones who took part. This makes leveling up your monsters way easier, because now they all get a piece of the ass-kicking pie. A sort of monster-fighting communism.
And poof, that sense of accomplishment, of conquering the world with blood, sweat, and potions? Gone. The game now defaulted to Easy Mode an hour in, and a desperate journey to prove yourself against other combatants and a senior citizen who couldn’t remember his grandson’s name was reduced to a leisurely stroll.
Sure, the Exp. Share makes the Pokemon experience a friendlier one, especially if you want to raise a bunch of Pokemon really fast and use them for multiplayer battles and stuff. It’s great for that. And it was nice to receive in the earlier games, when it came to the player later in the story, almost as a reward for trekking your fourth-grade self across a goddamn continent. But X and Y (and the games after them) aren’t “new Pokemon for a new generation,” because at its core, it’s still Pokemon. It’s just Pokemon with more hand-holding, whether you have the Exp. Share on or not. Pokemon with a booster seat.
And then, to make it worse, came Pokemon Go — a stripped-down gimmick of a mobile game that suddenly everyone was playing. I spent years getting those “You’re still playing this series?” comments, and suddenly Pokemon Go bursts from a crack in the earth, blotting out the sun. And when I express my distaste, I get, “Why can’t you just let people enjoy things?”
I know, I know. But the things you love as a kid — really love — are the ones that fit you perfectly, like a shoe. Then they come out later and say, “Hey, we’ve changed the shape so that it will fit everybody! Isn’t that great?” Well, no, because if it sort of fits everybody, it means it doesn’t perfectly fit anyone, including me. It goes from something certain people loved to something everyone sort of likes.
So many of the latest entries of series that I enjoy, like Monster Hunter or The Legend Of Zelda or Dead Rising or Dead Space, have made a huge deal about how easy they are to get into. It’s not elitist to say that sometimes, doing stuff to garner more “mainstream” appeal can eat a charred turd, especially when “mainstream appeal” is shorthand for “We need to eliminate any aspect of this game that people might curse during or feel frustrated by in any way.”
I adore Monster Hunter: World, but even if it is the most streamlined entry in the Monster Hunter series thus far, I do kind of miss the maddening danger of the previous games. The “OH SHIT OH SHIT OH SHIT” that permeated every quest. It’s like spicy food — the pain is part of it. Knowing that it’s not for everyone is part of it.
Again, I don’t want to attack people about this, or send a pee-stained letter to Nintendo that asks why kids get these Pokemon games, and why a man nearing 30 has to endure them. To those who disagree, I won’t open their mouths and vomit into their throats “BUT SEE, IT’S NOT LIKE PAST POKEMONS. IT’S NOT LIKE MY POKEMONS.” But there’s nothing wrong with being an elitist about art, about loving something down to the last detail, including the rough edges. I have every right to hate change. I have every right to flip tables and make Tweets in all caps to no one in particular, which I think is what Jesus would’ve done.
Daniel has a Twitter. He talks about Pokemon a lot on it, so that’s definitely good news for you.
Go ahead and get yourself a Rowlet plushie while you’re at it. You deserve it.
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