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Pokémon Red and Blue’s playground myths are what made the games magic

Pokémon Red and Blue’s playground myths are what made the games magic

Looking back on Pokémon Red and Blue, the urban legends surrounding them were a huge part of what made the games special.

Every time a new Pokémon game comes out these days, the same discourse always seems to roll back around online. ‘The Exp. Share ruined the series.’ ‘Pokémon hasn’t been the same since it moved to 3D’. And of course, the thing that seems to underline every single criticism that fans have with the modern games - ‘Pokémon just doesn’t have the same magic that it used to’.

What happened? Obviously, as annoyed as everyone was when the Exp. Share became mandatory, it wasn’t this that somehow removed the ‘soul’ from the series, nor did the transition from 2D. While it’d be far from the truth to say that the efforts of devs don’t play any role in making a game feel ‘magic’, it’s important to consider the context of the player base and the world as a whole at the time that the series’ earlier instalments released, and the first Pokémon games in particular had one huge factor working in their favour.

Take a look at the incredible stuff that was shown off during the 2023 Pokémon Day event in London.

Between 1997 and now, the internet has become much more widely available, for better or worse. While it unfortunately means that no one is safe from the clutches of the week’s viral TikTok audio (there’s literally no point in me referencing the current one because it’ll be irrelevant in about a day), it’s also a lot easier to fact check things. Baseless rumours about games just can’t land in the same way anymore given that a simple search will tell you to stop being silly.

As such, the further back through the Pokémon series you go, the more common myths and urban legends were, and during Red and Blue’s era, they were at their prime. With the series being at its very beginning, fans could be far less certain about the extent to the secrets dwelling within those colourful Game Boy cartridges, and given that the games already housed a cryptic 151th Pokémon that was inaccessible by regular means, it’s understandable that to many young players, the possibilities of what could be included felt endless. The game seemed so much deeper than it really was, because how could it be proved otherwise?

The most classic example of this centres around Pokémon number 151 itself - Mew. Back before everyone really knew what ‘event Pokémon’ were, they were faced with quite the enigma. Everyone was aware of this extra Pokémon that had been found in the game, but was nowhere to be found in any of the tall grass or caves. But surely there had to be somewhere to find it, right? After all, the whole point of the game was to catch ‘em all.

Obviously, the only reasonable answer was that Mew was under that random truck in Vermillion City. Where else could it possibly be? To be fair to anyone who did believe it, it didn’t seem unreasonable to think that there could be a secret here - the truck is found on a ledge that can only be reached by using the HM Surf on a patch of water that can only be accessed before the S.S. Anne leaves - an unavoidable part of the plot which generally takes place before gaining access to the move. Why else would such a random object be left out in the world if not to house some sort of hidden prize?

Looking at this thing, it's so clear that it would choose to inhabit trucks, right? /
The Pokémon Company.

What’s more, it actually was possible to get there - by trading a Pokémon with Surf into your party before setting sail, the mysteries of the truck can be solved (the answer being, obviously, that there’s nothing there). However, doing this would require knowing about the myth and planning ahead before getting there, and chances are, most people weren’t down to reset their save file to test it if they’d already moved past the required section of the story. As such, in most playgrounds, this probably lay unresolved for years to come.

Similarly, many players were convinced that there was a secret area behind Pokémon researcher Bill’s house north of Cerulean City. Much like Vermillion City’s infamous truck, you can understand why people would think there was something here - there’s a gap right behind Bill’s house that can clearly be walked in if not for the mountains blocking it off. Heck, the guy literally studies rare Pokémon, that’s his whole thing. Who’s to say that the rest of the starter Pokémon can’t be caught there, or even some undiscovered Pokémon?

Again, this could never be disproved because it was impossible to get there, but that didn’t stop anyone from trying. If so-and-so’s uncle who works at Nintendo says it’s true, there had to be a way in somehow, right? Nowadays, it seems ridiculous, but given how many glitches Red and Blue had that seemed to imply that there was more content to the game that could be accessed if you followed very specific steps (like the method required to encounter Missingno. or actually encounter Mew), these completely fictional fables were inadvertently given some weight. Exploring the games to their fullest (and trying to go beyond what was even possible) in an attempt to discover these things allowed players to believe that a whole other side to the titles existed under the surface. Like magic.

In the sense of tall playground tales, Pokémon really isn’t the same as it used to be. Despite the mountains of pre-release rumours that emerge every time a new game is announced, no in-game myths can ever get the same footing as they used to - things are either datamined and correct, or simply not true at all. There’s nothing the developers can do about this, either - it wasn’t them who started the old legends in the first place, and we can’t simply remove the internet and all fact-checking sources from existence to make games more mysterious again.

Unfortunately, that means that the series has indeed lost a huge part of that sense of wonder and magic which many fans experienced as children back in the series’ heyday, and it’s extra sad when you think that young players today will never be able to experience Pokémon in that same way. That doesn’t mean the modern games aren’t fun. Maybe we just need to make up some wild stuff about them and simply choose to believe it all. Being able to turn off the Exp. Share would be cool too, though.

Featured Image Credit: The Pokémon Company

Topics: Pokemon, Nintendo, Game Freak, Retro Gaming