Bogleech.com's 2014 Horror Write-off:
" Video Games "
ďTwenty,Ē says the man in the college football sweater and the Bush í04 baseball cap, and itís unbelievable.
ďIíll give you five for it,Ē I say.
ďFifteen,Ē he shoots back.
ďSeven,Ē I say, hoping for ten.
ďTen,Ē I try, but at this point, itís pretty obvious.
Weíve come to an impasse. Fuck it. I dig a tenner out of my wallet and scoop out some pocket change to try to make the difference. My boyfriend loans me a few singles and we walk away from the whole rotten mess.
I look back at the seller, but heís already haggling with the next customer over some wildly overpriced furniture. What a dick.
ďI guess thatís a reasonable price,Ē says Eric as we drive home.
ďI couldíve gotten it for five on eBay,Ē I tell him, holding the thing in my palm. Eric drives.
ďOr free on emulator.Ē
ďYou canít trade Pokťmon through games that way. Iím trying to clean house.Ē
I had been replaying the entire Pokemon series since last summer after picking up Leaf Green. Next Iíd have to decide whether or not to buy the remakes of Hoenn or just replay Emerald.
We get back to the house and I pop the cartridge into my DS. I check the save file just to see where the last owner was at. I glance at the trainerís name but forget it almost immediately. His starter is fully evolved into Meganium, and he has two or three of every legendary in the game in his PC, some of them over level 100. And heíd never cleared the first gym. He also has some more recognizable hacks and glitches going on, like how some of his Pokemon have impossible movesets that were probably a result of the rage glitch. Sometimes the colors fuck up, sort of like the glitch dimension thing that sometimes happened in the original gen II games, but thatís probably just because he kept fucking around with the game so much. I check his PC and find it filled with literally hundreds of Pokemon, many of the repeated multiple times, and none of them very good. Heís also got way more than the usual amount of boxes. His inventoryís full of 99 Pokeballs in each slot, somehow, and where it would say how much money he has, itís entirely glitched out:
The game is nearly unplayable with all the glitches and hacks going on, so I hope if I start a new game itíll fix itself and I wonít have wasted my money.
I have to ask google to figure out how to clear the file on a DS, and the weather turns to shit and I can hear Eric studying for his language final; once heís done, weíll be able to take a break from school for a few weeks, just the two of us. Between the frequent rain and the hushed tones speaking in tongues, itís easy to lose yourself in whatever youíre doing. Like a trance, I guess. My grades have never been better, so long as I make sure to get lost in studying and not anything else. Hours go by quickly and the drizzle becomes thicker, heavier, but not a proper storm yet. No lightning, no thunder. The skyís holding its breath.
I realize Iíve been staring at the screen for way too long. I donít remember what I was thinking about. Maybe dreaming. I havenít been sleeping right. Finals and such, but now itís over, at least for me, and soon Eric can join me for a few weeks of doing whatever. I refocus on the game, and delete the previous file.
The sky shakes and gasps for air but I barely notice. Iím already naming my trainer, picking my starter. The thunder comes a few moments behind the lightning. When I was a kid, my mom taught me to count the seconds between the flash and the clap, each second a mile of safety between me and electro-death. Or maybe every second was five miles, or maybe every five seconds a mile. I canít remember.
I decide on Cyndaquil and name my rival. When I set off on the adventure proper, my trainerís mom never asks to keep some of my money, and thinking about it I realize she hasnít spoken nearly as much as I remember from the original Pokemon Crystal. But itís a remake, and a remake of Pokemon Silver, for that matter, so what do I know?
The game proceeds as normal until I beat the Violet City Gym and get the egg. The sprite is wrong: darker, sort of faded, and Iím wondering if Iím going to get a shiny Togepi. I move on to the Ruins of Alph. Eric stops studying and starts warming something up in the microwave so I turn the game off and walk into the kitchen. He asks me how I like the game, and I thank him with a kiss. We eat dinner and go to bed together. I grab the DS on our way upstairs.
The rain starts again somewhere around 3 am and I slowly become less and less asleep, until my eyes are open. I take the DS off the bedside table and turn the brightness and volume down, feeling the warmth of Ericís arm around me. Heís a sound sleeper; heíll be fine. In the ruins of Alph I solve all the puzzles I can access at this stage of the game, but canít find any Unown in the cave below. After a few minutes itís clear itís more than bad luck and I wonder if Iím doing something wrong. I leave the comfort of the bed to check a walkthrough on the computer downstairs. I canít figure it out. I google the problem, even making a few forum posts. Why wonít Unown show up in Soulsilver? Iíve done all the puzzles but nothing shows up. Anyone else heard of something like this? Should I beat more gyms first? Iím too impatient to wait for a reply so I keep playing, trying to level up my team a bit before the next few gyms.
Now that Iím not focusing on the plot or progressing the story, I can take time to appreciate the simpler and subtler aspects of the game. One thing that really impresses me is that you can have one of your Pokemon follow you, outside the Pokeball, like Pikachu did in the cartoons. You can even interact with them a little. It allows you to bond with your Pokemon better, and if I played this as a little kid I wouldíve sworn the sprites were alive. The AI is really clever, and sometimes your Pokemon will actually stop following you, running away if itís scared or trying to lead you certain places if youíre lost. This actually helps me get past some of the trickier bits that I donít remember from when I last played Crystal, and really emphasizes the trainer/Pokemon friendship that has been the thesis of the entire franchise. After reaching the Pal Park and trading up some of my old favorites and some hard-to-find Pokemon from LeafGreen, I notice whenever I have any traded Pokemon out, they never really do anything on their own, just follow me and respond when I interact with them, but I figure thatís part of the deal with having to earn the trust of traded Pokemon and whatnot.
Every so often, I begin to get phone calls on my Pokegear from my trainerís mom, but all the text is fucked up and glitching out:
That sort of shit. I wonder if all the weird shit thatís been going on in my game is a result of the previous ownerís hacking. Hopefully Iíll be able to finish this easily enough and trade everything up to Diamond or Pearl without it glitching out on me.
I fall asleep somehow, downstairs on the couch. I donít remember at what point the game stops and the dreams begin. I have a dream about my mom. Iím in the game, and my trainerís mom is my real mom, and she sits in the house and barely speaks, and when she does say anything, itís cold and never more than a few sentences. Itís like she doesnít want to talk to me. I wake up scared, because in dream logic my mom being passive aggressive is terrifying. It would be funny if it hadnít actually disturbed me a little bit.
Ericís already gone off to school and I feel lonely. The rainís stopped, at least. I spend the rest of the day making crap food and watching TV. The DSís battery died overnight so I donít play again until a week or two later, when I finally find my old charger.
Eric comes back that night, says he did ok on the final, but not as well as heíd liked. But now, at least, itís all over. We can relax.
The break is almost half over the next time I turn the game on, so Eric is back to speaking in tongues upstairs, since heís only been using English for the past weeks and needs to get back into gear. Sometimes I can hear the murmurs of some words that heís taught me, or that I picked up on my own from listening, but not today. Or is it tonight? The sunís all fucked up around the solstice, where we live, and in our neighborhood you can hardly see it over the trees anyway. Just dense, dark-green forest surrounding every house for miles, slick with water and dew and moisture, depending on the time. Winter never gets cold enough to snow. Just water, Godís tears, almost constantly flowing into the dirt.
The egg hatches just outside Ecruteak City. Sort of. It had been getting darker and darker until it was almost black as I had played, and now itís finally cracked open. The text reads: ďOh?Ē as the egg sits perfectly still, then crumbles in on itself, revealing a reddish mass obscured by bits of shell. My hand leaps to my mouth before I can gasp and my eyes start to water. ďThe egg was emptyÖĒ says the game, but I know thatís not fucking true, I can see something inside, something red that doesnít move. I turn the game off without saving and leave the house. I go on a walk in the rain in the neither-day-nor-night. I find myself in the forest, half-lost, trying to think it through. Maybe it was a glitch, but probably not. Maybe Iím seeing things. I thought the break would help my insomnia but clearly itís not, and Iíd barely eaten today. Iím just seeing things, and they happen to be kind of fucked up. My phone rings and itís Eric and heís worried about me. I tell him Iím ok, I mask the panic in my voice, I tell him Iím just on a walk and heading back now anyway. I manage to get out of the forest and get back inside, sopping wet. I take a warm shower, smoke a cigarette on the porch, and eat some junk food. I pick up the DS and bring it to bed again, some unknown amount of hours later, but know I donít have any intention of playing again just yet.
Buried in Ericís arms I peek out of the covers, out from under his warmth, and eye the game suspiciously. I do this until the room is illuminated by the sun. I wish I couldíve actually gotten some sleep.
The next morningóand it is morning, unambiguously this timeóI turn on the game apprehensively, and thereís no egg in my party. I am sure I didnít save after it broke. Thereís no Topegi either. I tell myself it must have glitched out and I interpreted it weirdly because of lack of sleep. I even believe it, for a few days.
Eric and I go job hunting when heís not at work, and when he is I watch movies on Netflix until he comes back. But eventually break ends and eventually I run out of movies. I donít have many classes, but Eric is loaded down with them. I can only put off playing for so long, it seems. Besides, Iíve been eating better by now. Been able to sleep a few nights, too, when Iím lucky. I decide Iím going to beat this game as fast as possible then move on to the next. I look up walkthroughs and Youtube videos and learn exactly how to beat every gym and boss in the fastest way possible. I notice many differences between the game Iím reading up on and the game in my hands. It try to ignore them. I never wanted any part of this weird bullshit, whatever prank the person who played last was pulling, the old trainer whose name I canít fucking remember. Around midterms, Eric tells me heís taking a week off school to visit his extended family. His uncle is very sick and I canít come with him because theyíd start to ask questions and itís stressful enough without having threat of being disowned. After heís gone, I can almost still hear his vocalizations upstairs. Like how you think your cell phoneís vibrating when it isnít. I keep playing.
I realize whatís really disconcerting about watching Letís Plays and reading walkthroughs. Itís how their Pokemon move. Theyíre much different, never taking the lead, never trying to run away, never doing anything except giving you a berry or something when you tap A in front of them. One day I show one of my friends whoís a computer science major the game and tell him to describe what he sees the Pokemon doing. Iím not hallucinating. He confirms what Iíve been seeing since turning on the game. Clever programming and subtle nuances give the impression of a living creature. I scour google, message boards, gameFAQs, anything. Thereís no mention of any other versions of the game, any promotional releases showcasing new technology or game engines. I know itís not real. Of course not. Itís just that it seems like it is.
I want to make it clear that aside from occasional glitches, thereís nothing else wrong with the game. When Pokemon are defeated in battle, they just faint and can be revived at the Pokemon center. The NPCs are normal and the dialogue is benign and forgettable, aside from whateverís happening with the trainerís mom. Even when the game has me fight ghost Pokemon or do any spooky sidequests, itís very obvious this is part of the normal game. It just so happens that the Pokemon I capture in Soulsilver seem to be alive. Like someone put true artificial intelligence for thousands of different instances of Pokemon in one tiny cartridge. It doesnít make sense, so I decide to sleep on it.
I dream about my mom again. In real life, her name is Judy, but in the dream, I canít remember her name at all. I know this is important somehow, that forgetting her name has dire implications, and I end up sobbing, afraid of something. My face is wet when I wake up, alone. Ericís already at school.
My class doesnít start for a few more hours. The rain is back, and I sit in bed for a few minutes longer, watching the clock and thinking about the game. I wonder. What if the Pokemon were actually alive? What would that matter? I think about the coding. I think about all the Pokemon that arenít in my party that I encounter anyway, through tall grass or battling other trainers or gym leaders. Are they alive too? I realize the game could never have enough space to save records of all of those Pokemon, and why would it, if they never show up again? Theyíre only fainted, though, arenít they?
Jesus Christ, Iíve been killing them. Iíve been bringing living creatures into existence only to destroy them. Oh god.
The rain carries on, quietly. Not a downpour, not even a single clap of thunder to mark the occasion. Eric comes home and I realize Iíve skipped all my classes. I can barely eat anything at dinner, and I canít sleep at all.
I try to go to classes, but it doesnít really work out. I donít take notes. I just think. Or I just space out and think of nothing. Eventually I realize Iím angry. Iím frustrated. I canít remember who used to own the cartridge, so I canít hate him. But I know after I beat the Elite Four I can explore Kanto, and I can hate the trainer who started it all. I need to beat Red.
When I manage to sleep, I dream about my mom, and my Pokemon, and names. I figure it out one day. The gameís telling me a message. My mom is dead. Has been for who knows how long. Must have killed herself after the miscarriage that the egg was trying to tell me about. I try to tell Eric over the phone, but he doesnít understand. I forget my momís name in the dreams because sheís dead outside of them. See, in ancient Egypt, or maybe ancient Rome, if you fucked up royally they wouldnít just execute you. Theyíd find every instance where your name had been carved or written down, every record of your existence, and theyíd destroy it. Theyíd make it illegal to talk about you. Within a decade or two youíd never existed. One of my exes was into mythology and said in either Paganism or Wicca or some other form of witchery, relinquishing your name was serious shit. I feel like maybe I should have remembered the original ownerís name. Too late.
I stop going to classes altogether and start doing more research. Online, in libraries, talking to computer science and engineering majors, whatever. I know my Pokemon are weak and the only way to get stronger is to fight other Pokemon, but I donít want to kill anything I donít have to. I start by trying to hack the game to get infinite money and buy as many rare candies as I can carry. One by one, my Pokemon become level 100. I know that some areas of tall grass are unavoidable, so I keep maximum stock of Pokeballs and Repels. I figure thereís no way to get to Red without going through the gyms and Elite Four first, but that canít be helped. I start blasting through the gyms of the Johto region as fast as I can manage, dodging trainers and tall grass as best I can. No matter what I do, I canít win. I accidentally run into trainers and am forced to slaughter their Pokemon. Repel wears off and my level 100 team crushes wild Pokemon while I try to get their health down enough to capture them. Gym leaders donít ever realize that by fighting me they are going get their Pokemon killed, that once theyíve fainted they are never coming back. They pin their badges on me with a smile, totally oblivious.
The game gets glitchier the more I fuck with the programming. By the time Iíve beaten the Elite Four and journeyed to Kanto, nearly everythingís color pallet is fucked. Even though I try to avoid wild Pokemon, eventually Iím forced to catch so many that I have to hack the game even more, giving myself extra space in PC boxes. Dialogue boxes are filled with unrelated and garbled characters. Sprites become flashing, distorted versions of themselves. But the game is still playable. I just have to beat Red, then I can save as many of these living Pokemon as I can by trading them to the next game.
Eric calls me one night, saying he wants to break up. Iíve been acting weird, he says, and I guess heís right. Sometimes I donít even pick up the phone when he calls me. And when I do, I can only talk about the game. I understand, I guess. I just wish that I could stop hearing him during the rain.
By the time I enter Mt. Silver, the game is nearly unplayable. The colors flicker, the sprites overlap, the words become more and more unintelligible, and all in all I can hardly see. I memorize the layout of the place from looking at Youtube videos and slowly manage to make my way to the summit. I only encounter a few Pokemon. Most of them I manage to save, but not all of them. I barely recognize what species they are with all the glitches. I can see Red clear as day, though. His sprite is a little fucked up, but not like any of the rest of the game. I approach him and press A. He says nothing and we begin our battle, and strangely, the game stops being a glitched-out mess. Everything is clear until Red sends out his first Pokemon. I have no idea what it is. Thereís no name for it, and the sprite constantly shifts and glitches out and shifts again. Like at the 15 gyms and with the elite four, these Pokemon cannot be saved. As strong as I am, Red puts up a good fight. He nearly beats me on several occasions. But it doesnít last.
Eventually, Typhlosion delivers the final blow to the sixth incarnation of whatever the fuck kind of Pokemon Red has. The battle ends and Redís dialogue box opens up at the same time as all the glitches from before start to reappear. And the game shuts off.
I stare at the screen for a few minutes, trying to understand. I slowly flick the power on again. My save file is gone. I start a new game. It doesnít let me put in my name. The nearly blinding glitches from earlier as still here, and whenever I talk to anyone I get no response. I leave the town uninhibited and find a Pokemon in the tall grass, a Ratata. Instead of the usual cry, it sounds like every Pokemonís sound file plays at once, and the Pokemon flees. I turn the game off and eject the cartridge, toss it on a desk, and go upstairs as the rain softens to a gentle sprinkle. I can still hear Ericís voice, but this time, heís muttering in English. I take a belt and go into the closet. I donít know what to do anymore. I want to die.
I hear yelling, I hear my name being called. I donít remember it. I donít remember my name. The voice gets closer until itís right outside the closet door. I close my eyes and let go. The belt constricts around my throat. Itís ok. Itís ok.
The door opens and Eric screams, taking out a knife and cutting through the belt easily. He picks me up, takes me to the bed, struggles to undo the clasp. I can hear him like Iím underwater, but slowly, slowly, I break the surface. His voice becomes something I can understand.
ďÖ? Ö? ÖTom? Can you hear me? Thomas? Jesus, Tom, speak to me!Ē
And the rain stops.
Eric and I move out and stay with a friend. I take counseling, and I visit my parents for a weekend. My mother, Judy, is very much alive, and her smile is radiant and warm and I can see home in her eyes. Eventually I transfer to a community college in a different state. Eric and I say our goodbyes. I meet a lot of new people. I fall in love with some of them. I graduate in four years. I even begin to play Pokemon games again.
I find the old cartridge while cleaning. I hesitantly push it into the slot on the back of my dusty old Nintendo DS. The game is glitchy, alright. Virtually unplayable. But nothingís alive. There are discordant bits of sound effects and music, but nothing screams.
Near Christmas, I even drive back to where I bought the game and knock on the door. The old man opens up. Still there. Still in a faded college sweater and wearing a baseball cap. This oneís in favor of Romney. I grin at him and he asks what the hell I want, and I tell him I must have the wrong address. Someone asks him whoís at the door, and a man older than me but younger than this guy pops his head out in the room beyond. Heís carrying a baby. I think to ask the young father his name, but the words donít come out. The grandfather tells me to leave in no uncertain terms, slams the door. I drive home. My husband asks me where I went.
ďNothing,Ē I tell him, ďI was just seeing old friends.Ē