The Pokémon Letters: Chapter IV

Editor’s Note:

Because he wishes to replicate the sensation of trying to coax a recalcitrant toddler into an uncooperative cagoule, computer game writing-man Owen Grieve has set himself the challenge of trying to encourage me, a handsome and noted ludological sceptic, through Pokemon Red/Blue, a computer game aimed at 10-year-olds. He’s having more success than I’d have imagined, delays notwithstanding.

We’re a week late because of extenuating circumstances I feel disinclined to explain, which may include – but not be limited to – my neglect to save my game at the end of the last chapter,  and also I hate this fucking game. Nevertheless we will try to be on time from now on! Let’s see how long that promise stands up.

I bet I’m not even halfway through yet, am I?

This week: Celadon City!

Dear Owen,

I’ve labelled this week’s update Celadon City, but it seems like I spent more time faffing about in caves and other gloomy environs. I guess you’re right that I should take a little more notice of the friendly and innocent people around me, if only to get some inkling of where I should go next. But every conversation in this game is like standing on the wrong side of a locked door, trying to read an entire novel by peering through the letter slot, even though only one single sentence is relevant or interesting (and I use both of those words advisedly). So I just blindly stumbled about, fought a shitload of people, and then I got waylaid in… well, you’ll see.

Perhaps after last episode’s admission that I now understand the conceptual appeal of Pokémon, you anticipated a more engaged and interested partner in our quest. I regret to inform you this is not the case. But I hope you are pleased that I am at least grappling with the ‘RP’ aspect of the ‘JRPG’, in directing my character as if he were Clint Eastwood with a great deal on his mind. It makes the simple world and the easy battles much more palatable if one remains deliberately aloof. Keep things small and in perspective, you see.

I’ve run out of pithy and jocular opening remarks, so let’s crack this week’s pokétome and see what took me so long.

With Captain America down, I ensure that our victory is immortalised, chiselling ♂COBRA♂’s signature into a pillar with one of WINTERBORN’s discarded hatchling-fangs.

I can’t remember where or why this takes place, nor who that guy is, but I do recall something about a guy who’ll critique your Pokémon nicknames. He can try, is all I’ll say.

I think it’s on the east of Vermilion we run into a little problem. I don’t get why I can’t just set fire to it, and USELESSBOB’S cut is equally impotent. My screenshots folder indicates that we went all the way back to Pewter City which, in an uncharacteristic moment of attention-paying, I realise was where we began. This suggests a degree of freedom to explore, and I’m a bit unimpressed. I’d rather just be funnelled ever onward, to be honest. It’s not that I can’t orienteer my way around an imaginary island full of weird animals, it’s just that I can’t be arsed.

I guess we made our way here. I honestly can’t remember the details. The process of cutting a shrub down is significantly more convoluted than the above screenshot triptych would have you believe.

I think myself very clever, as we cut through another shrub and sneak past a young lady who looks as if she is spoiling for a fight. I don’t need the hassle. I didn’t ask for any of this you know.

Augurs badly for the overall progress of this update that I apparently forgot to screenshot the brilliant joke I thought up for this bit. To light our way through the darkened caverns of wherever, we must first capture an electronical Pokémon and then bestow the gift of flash upon him. So we get a Voltorb and nickname him SCOTTSTAPP, in memory of our beloved brown-cowhide betrousered saviour who will forever have his arms wide open. He flashes. Everyone goes blind.

I know enough.

There’s quite of lot of cavern to cover, but it’s really drab to look at, and nothing of any real interest happens, besides a ton of fights, a couple of faints and some sneaking.


Ah, I now recognise this as the place where this week’s episode got shunted into a siding while I concentrated on other things like… shut up. Due to hitting the end of the usual travel-city-gym progression, I figure we’re where we need to be, so we mindlessly plunge through this door, and find ourselves in a weird place indeed – a Pokémon mausoleum.

Maybe you should get a grip.

Jesus Christ. You people are sick.

We head upstairs or downstairs or somewhere, I dunno, and look who it is.

I actually recognised AVIRGIN before the game even told me who he was. See, Owen? I am interested.

If anything, the battle is even more trivial than last time.

Somewhere along the way he’s picked up this monstrosity. I’ve taken quite a few unused screenshots of Pokémon I thought looked funny or stupid or just really fucking shitty, and they’ll remain unused because none of them look as half-arsed as this thing. Half a dozen eggs in a cluster, and it’s called EXEGGCUTE. Wow, where do Nintendo get their crazy ideas?!


Hopefully by next week, you’ll accomplish the task of leaving me alone.

To cut a dull story short, I ended up wandering around lost in here for a fairly long time, not sure what I was doing or why. Every couple of steps I would suffer a spooky moment with a g-g-g-ghost – that I couldn’t do anything but run from – and a bunch of irritating battles with creepy nuns; all of which eventually triggered my gag reflex and left me no choice but to quit and refuse to play the game for a whole week and then be unpleasant and vague about it on Twitter.

Still, we got there eventually.

A mysterious benefactor possesses the mortal form of OWENGRIEVE and gives us a boon of knowledge.  We abruptly realise that we’re burning down the wrong tree by hanging around in Lavender. One simple, hasty detour, and the entire chapter slips beautifully into gear. Welcome to Celadon.

Almost immediately, I spot the gym. Knowing that success here will buy me a day or two of freedom from this game, I decide we might be in with a shot.

I respect your honest enthusiasm, four-eyes.

He wasn’t lying either, it totally is. Although these sound more like teenagers.

Oh boy.

♂COBRA♂’s got a catch in his throat, and his mouth is too dry to swallow. He doesn’t want to fight her, he wants to love her. And at the same time, he wants to impress her with his prowess. He couldn’t care less about the Pokémon league. He knows that now. It was all leading him here, every trainer battle, every badge, every poké ball; to a mere fragment of time between the boy and the man, one plane and the next. If anywhere in all this crazy world there’s a woman to crack ♂COBRA♂’s granite heart on the basis of her name alone, then COOLTRAINER♀ is surely she.

It can never be, he realises, crushing the life from the ember before it can even begin to smoulder. His destiny is locked, as if on rails. They clash as rivals, not as lovers, not even as friends. The Pokémon League covers ♂COBRA♂’s life like a blanket of poisonous fumes, exacting its toll on every single corner of his mind as if it were a starving god. Nothing is sacred. Nothing is special. ♂COBRA♂ knows he must find the will to feed even this, the fragile bloom of his emerging love, into his strange god’s unfathomable maw.

Fortunately for our league hopes, COOLTRAINER♀ doesn’t stand a fucking chance.

This is Erika, who seems like a nice lady. But she’s standing in my way. Which means she’s dragon food.

That tiny chip off WINTERBORN’s health is the sum total of the damage she was able to deal. But it’s hard to feel cocky when she’s being so polite about it.

And with that, we turn our back on the ladies of Celadon Gym – and one in particular – leaving them to their fate, whatever it may be. And as we pass the pillars:




Click for Owen’s reply!>>



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