I NARROWLY made it into the 80s. I was born in November, 1989. So I become aware of my surroundings by the time the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze ended.
But my favourite game was Power Rangers. This is how I played:
-Arrive at a public playground.
-Size up the other kids; boys and girls.
– Start fighting them with my Power Ranger moves.
-Kick her down the slide
Mum was embarrassed. So she banned me from Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
A STRANGE new game had begun at my catholic primary school, involving imaginary creatures.
“You’re challenging the gym,” one of my friends told me. “I’m the gym leader. And you,” he pointed. “Are fighting for a badge.”
“You’ve got Magikarp.”
The creature sounded cool, it sounded like it had magical powers. “Fly and kick its butt!” I yelled, but apparently my Magikarp couldn’t do that.
“Use psychic powers!” I said.
But apparently my Magikarp couldn’t do that either.
All it knew was splash. My friend’s Starmie killed my Magikarp easily. I lost. I didn’t get a badge.
“This is bullshit!” I screamed, and ran away.
The year was 1999. The craze on the playground was beginning to change from marbles to Pokemon.I was slow to the discovery because I didn’t own video games, and my family didn’t have aerial on our TV.
Every Wednesday I would stay at the postman’s house. It’s not as weird as it sounds. He was a family friend and lived 40 minutes closer to my school. I watched cartoons on Cheez TV every Thursday morning including Pokemon and I learned the rules. My imaginary Magikarp was shit house. But it could evolve to Gyradoes, and that tough, scaly bastard could rule the gym near the drain, and even take on the next gym at the giant pine tree too.
The first time I was at another friend’s house he showed me his collection of Pokemon cards. “Here,” he said, giving me his spare ones. The best one I got was a Machoke. So began the obsession.
I chased the cards. Any I could get even if I didn’t have pocket money. My younger brother Keith and I scrounged for them. Once I stole my brother’s favourite card and hid it in my room and he used a tomahawk like in The Shining through the wooden door to get it back. Only instead of “here’s Johnny!” it was “give me back my fucking Pikachu!”
I figured that since Keith wrecked my door I was allowed to wreck his. So we spent the next 20 minutes breaking them down as our Mum fled the house sobbing.
Keith and I worked out a game combining my marbles collection and our spare Pokemon cards, and we played for keeps. But one of us cheated, so we got angry and rolled around the floor trying to strangulate each other.
Our three year old brother Sam was watching and as I pushed them out the room I slammed the locked door.
Sam’s toe was caught in the hinge end of the door. He screamed. It was a high pitched bellow that echoed through the house. The door was locked and I couldn’t get in to unlock it. The spare key was on the other side of the house, on top of a cupboard I had to reach by a chair.
His toe. It was definitely broken. Mum bundled us in the car and she drove as fast as possible to the hospital. It took 40 minutes and Sam was sobbing the whole way. Sometimes he was too tired to cry.
He was carried into the emergency ward and the doors shut behind us in the waiting room but even then we heard the screaming. As the doctor checked his toe my little brother screamed at the doctor and nurses, “you blasted animal!”
Guilt. I’ve had it before and since. But not like that moment. Not like in the aftermath.
The Department of Communities (DOCS) social workers began to monitor our family, but it had nothing or little to do with the smashed toe incident. No. This was about other reasons including expulsion, running away, breaking into another school to raid the kitchen and use the computer and read the Tintin collection in the library.
The DOCS manager figured the best way to get me to behave was through a rewards system. For every week I behaved I received a pack of Pokemon cards.
But when they failed to be delivered I grew impatient. Finally, I told them, “where’s my Pokemon cards?” and when I didn’t get them I swung my belt buckle at the glass door and it smashed. So I threw rocks through every other glass window.
It wasn’t long after that I was in a foster home. I earned pocket money, and I used it to fuel my collection.
But this isn’t about Pokemon. This isn’t about childhood. This is about obsession. Sure, there were other lesser interests through the years, such as Animorphs, and Harry Potter, and Halo, and then Jesus.
But…but, I suppose the next major obsession was before I turned 17. It was two years after baptism, and two months before graduating high school.
I was walking through the arcade one day with a friend when we saw a new store had opened up. They sold and played Dungeons and Dragons, Pokemon, Yugioh, but the game that grabbed me was Magic the Gathering. It was like Pokemon cards but more strategic. I understood the game quickly. I didn’t have much money – I was on Centrelink and didn’t have a job and my family lived on the other side of the country. I lived with my math teacher and his family. But I spent what I had on these cards, concentrated on value, and began to set up a deck of cards that focused on resurrection and light and angels.
I was there four or five evenings a week, and all day Saturdays. But one day I lost one of my rare cards. I searched my deck three times in case it had stuck to the back of another card. I freaked out at school the next day and when I went home I prayed to find the card – because that’s what I did. I prayed for everything. And I prayed again and then searched the deck again.
I found the card the next morning.
And I felt relief. It filled my mind and chest. And then I knew what a hold the game had on me. It was dominating my thoughts, my time, my feelings.
“This is a sign,” I thought. “You will not go back to the store after school today. You’ve spent too much time there.”
Anyway, when I was at the store that afternoon I bought a new pack of cards. I opened it to find the best card ever. A ‘Wrath of God’ which basically wiped out every monster on the field. Everyone in the store was jealous. I was offered more cards, more money for it, but I wouldn’t take it.
Later that night I felt guilty. I felt that the Wrath of God was commercialising something sacred. It felt blasphemous. I felt if I was going to continue playing the game I had to get rid of the card.
So I ripped it up.
And funny enough, after that, I never felt obsessed with the game again. I enjoyed it, but even then that joy was blunt, faded somehow. The Saturday tournaments were a little stale. But one of my friends found out I ripped up the card, and he told someone, and he told the owner, and the owner of the store was angry at me. “I could have traded you four packs of cards for it,” he said.
Every Magic the Gathering player in town knew me as the Wrath of God Killer.
This multi-player online game in which you wander, complete quests, train your skills up, and talk to your friends around the world. There were almost 30 skills including combat, magic, archery, fishing, firemaking, woodcutting, mining, smithing, and so on. There were also the paid members skills. Members had so much more quests and skills and a bigger world to explore.
I ended up joining. I played for several years, but by 19 I was a miner. I would spend days at a time picking a digital vein of coal just to level up. Eventually I was restless. I wanted to quit but at the same time I felt that the more time I spent on it, the more of a waste it would be to quit.
Eventually I moved to Melbourne to work with the homeless. The Salvation Army program I was in didn’t allow any time, or any internet reception, to play such a game. I quit cold turkey. When I left Melbourne after a year and had better internet and more time, I tried to play Runescape again. I had no interest. It bored me.
AS OF last week I own two phones. My work phone. And my Pokemon GO phone.
I’m a journalist in an outback city and I managed to write a few news articles on Pokemon Go. It was well read. Our city is going mad on Pokemon. So am I. It took two days after the game was released before I had a chance to play. My girlfriend and I went on a date to chase Pokemon and within a few hours she noticed a change in me. I was irritable and at one stage I ignored what she said because I was engrossed in catching an Ekans.
I couldn’t concentrate on work. I couldn’t concentrate on conversations that weren’t Pokemon. Every sentence I spoke was about Pokemon.
I don’t know why it’s sending me this way. I’m becoming what I was.
THIS morning I decided to quit Pokemon GO for four days. I turned my Pokemon phone off and hid it in the undies drawer, and then I went to work.
Three hours later I found an Aerodactyl on the street I was in. Within a minute I stumbled into this rare Pokemon – the one I was chasing specifically. And I tried catching it. As the Pokeball caught the Aerodactyl, the phone glitched. It froze.
I had to turn the phone on again but the Pokemon wasn’t in my collection, and it was no longer on the street.
Yes. I was upset. Then I realised. This game was a game. Yet it was influencing my moods. It was controlling me.
It shouldn’t have had this power.
“Let it go,” I thought, not even thinking of the Frozen song. But I still felt like shit, at least until half an hour later when I caught a Clefairy.
I turned the phone off, and I left it off the rest of the day, and I went back home and put the phone in my sock drawer.
And I really think it will remain in my drawer the rest of the week.
But even if I’m deprived of Pokemon Go, I somehow feel better. I can think clearer.
I don’t know why I’m writing this, why I’m sharing this, but I suppose there’s a message in here somewhere in my experience, so if there is I’ll let you find it.