Pocket Monsters (Discovering a Community)
by Aaron Leatherbarrow
Pokemon! Gotta catch ’em all!
About a year ago, I noticed 3–6 of the boys in my Sunday school class reach into their pockets, pull out 12–40 cards, and show them to their buddies. They would huddle together, talk about how cool each other’s cards were, and would sometimes trade cards with each other. This immediately brought me back to my days of collecting baseball cards. I can vividly remember the feeling of building that first full set from buying the packs. It was the ’87 Topps collection—each card had an oak-grain border—and I collected every single card in the set, chewing stale cardboard gum along the way. This hobby took up years of my life, and I still brag about that collection.
The hobby started to fade once I obtained that first 8-bit NES.
Video games replaced collecting.
We no longer cared about each other’s Nolan Ryan and Rickey Henderson rookie cards; we cared about blood codes and properly executing ^ ^ v v < > < > B A.
This was the beginning of an unintended isolation that is a sad byproduct of video games.
In the early ’90s, while I was playing video games, Satoshi Tajiri was in Japan stewing on an idea that would soon explode in Japan and in the United States years later. Satoshi was a collector as a boy. His collection of choice was bugs, and he was also heavily influenced by the Ultraman cartoon series that featured the Ultra Seven, creatures that fought for Ultraman). These two aspects of his life led to the creation of his first video game, entitled Pocket Monsters, or Pokemon. In 1996, Pocket Monsters hit Japan. Using the amazing link cable, kids were able to trade their Pokemon collections with one another. This feature was, in my opinion, the reason Pokemon became such a hit. It brought the worlds of collecting and gaming together. All it took was a bug collector from Japan.
After seeing the boys in my Sunday school class chatting and trading their Pokemon cards, I inquired further and was immediately intrigued. They proudly showed me their cards and told me all about each Pokemon’s special attacks, abilities, evolutions, and so on. I had no idea that there was a trading card game. Right around this time, I asked my amazing assistant Cole If he had heard of this. Not only was he informed, he had actually been the state champion of the card game when he was in elementary school. Cole proceeded to tell me all about the game, we went out and bought a couple of decks, and I found a world that would heavily impact my life.
I started learning that this card game was very similar to all the great strategy games that I’ve come to love as an adult. It involves deck building, strategic thinking, reading your opponent, and careful decision making. It also has an element of luck, which I think every game needs. My deck started becoming stronger and my daughter Lilly became intrigued. She wanted to see my cards, and she wanted to learn to play. I bought her a deck, and we started playing at home. We went online together to pokemon.com and learned about all the different Pokemon types, strategies, and new cards. We discovered a wonderful world together.
After this, I remembered Cole saying that he won a tournament and wondered if they still existed. They do. Lilly, Cole, and I started attending the Pokemon league at Wizards Asylum in Tulsa at 71st and Mingo. We met about 30 or so fellow players, including kids Lilly’s age, teens that had been playing for years, and parents who were just like me. We were immediately accepted. I am now a gym leader in that very league. Lilly made friends and became better and better. She and I continue to collect and build bigger and stronger decks. Lilly brings her tradable cards to church and school. This new hobby has become something her younger sisters are extremely interested in. I am now a certified Pokemon Professor, I teach kids how to play at the league, I am a judge at state tournaments, and have a pretty substantial collection.
All you need to get in on the fun is a way to get to our League on a Sunday afternoon. We have decks, extra cards, and much more. A battle deck is approximately $17, and booster packs are around $5. You can invest as little or as much as you like to experience the world of Pokemon. There is an animated series on Netflix that has great continuity with the video game and the card game if you want to see a fun representation of catching and training these tradable little guys.
Go ahead! Discover a great community for your kids along with a piece of your childhood in an addictive game and catch ’em all!
Aaron Leatherbarrow grew up all along the east coast, lives with his wife and 3 girls, loves bird watching, playing Pokemon, writing musicals, collecting way too many comic books, listening to Joy Division on Vinyl, and drinks out of a White Castle Coffee Mug. He pastors kids, teaches them to paint, sculpt, whittle, or anything that helps grow creative thinking. You can read another article by Aaron here.
Wow this reminds me–very tangentially–of “Monsters in My Pocket” which were little pocket-sized plastic monsters you collected and traded. My son still has tons of them and an original display box or two.up in our attic.
We play new games with our kids at church each week and will need to try out Pokemon. Right now our kids are demanding Superfight (fantastic for getting the imagination going and creatively resolving conflicts), and any edition of Fluxx that we can find.
Thanks Aaron for a great article.
Nice to reminisce about the old trading card game, although, I’m sure it’s much more than what I remember as an elementary school student. I hope Lilly and the entire family are doing great. You aren’t so far away, being that I live in Austin, Tx, now; maybe I should come visit.
All the Best,