The Friends We Made Along The Way

For as long as I can remember, I've loved Pokémon. My first memory of any real significance was getting to play Pokémon Yellow for the very first time, and ever since then it's been my biggest interest. Even during the releases of the third and fourth generations when Pokémon was falling out of favour with my peers at school, I kept on playing the games and loving them. And, actually, my biggest friends didn't even go to my school, or live anywhere near me.

Growing up in the mid-90s/00s was a pretty interesting time, due to how amazingly fast technology was progressing. One of my favourite things became going to my grandparents' house to play on the computer and go online, and from there I found Pokémon websites and communities. I was amazed and inspired by peoples' art, their Pokémon fusions, their fanfics, and all the fun content the best websites had, and immediately jumped in and made my own art, fakemon and fanfiction. It blew my mind that people could make these kinds of things for a game they liked!

Of course, as a child my creative endeavors weren't of fantastic quality, but Pokémon fanart and fan content gave me the inspiration and the drive to get better, to practice, and to learn new things. I'd spend hours reading the sections on The Cave of Dragonflies, hours of trial and error messing around with HTML and CSS, and hours practicing anatomy on my art and dreaming of being as good as the fantastic Pokémon fanartists I'd seen.

The most important thing for me, however, was being able to make friends. As a child I got bullied constantly and had a very hard time interacting with my peers, as the whole school viewed me as some kind of weirdo. It was pretty lonely, but the web actually gave me the opportunity to befriend people, and people that loved Pokémon too, no less! It was like a whole new world had been opened up to me, and I took every possible opportunity to go on the computer and have fun with my new pals.

And so, I made many friends. The internet was still evolving, many Pokémon fansites were created and abandoned, many forums and communities saw their rise and fall, and a lot of friendships were viewed as a temporary thing. Even today, the friends you make in offline spaces are viewed as "real" friends whilst online friends are in this nebulous inbetween state. After all, any one person could decide to not log onto a website anymore, or offline circumstances could prevent them from accessing a computer. And honestly, on larger forums and websites with so many people, you're more than likely to cross paths with random people and then never interact with them ever again.

However... that isn't always the case. A very wonderful thing about interacting with people of similar interests (and especially one with as much complexity and content as Pokémon) is that you actually have a solid basis to make a friendship upon. Peers at school are great, but when's the last time a person you spoke to at school was guaranteed to know what you were talking about when you said you found a shiny Gible with good IVs? Whom at college would understand when you said Swadloon was your new favourite? And with a shared interest in Pokémon, you're likely to find people who like other Nintendo games too, or who enjoy drawing and making creative content. Someone could mention that they enjoy playing as Pikachu in Smash Bros. and spark a huge conversation about that. The possibilities are endless!

In the mid-00s, I found myself in a quiet Pokémon forum. The main website was infrequently updated, but the admin made a specific section in the forum for people to spam to their hearts' content, and even a topic with the goal of getting 10,000 replies. At first it was a dump for irrelevant, meaningless posts, but it slowly became a hub for everyone to talk about their days, what was happening in their lives, the latest games they'd played or the latest drawings they'd created. We did in fact hit 10,000 replies, and a new topic for 25,000 replies was made. It became 50,000, 100,000, and eventually 1,000,000, which was when we discovered that the forum software had a post limit for threads and would stop letting people reply at somewhere in the mid-300,000s. Nevertheless, a new thread was created, and everyone continued talking and memeing to their hearts' content.

It probably sounds like we did nothing but spam posts all day, when in actuality these threads spanned for years. In a sense we grew up together, with all the drama and fallouts a forum of teens is liable to have, and yet despite any bad times we retained a solid community. Some people naturally fell into inactivity, but 10+ years later the people who remained are still very good friends of mine and people I talk to regularly. We now even have a Discord server so we can stay in contact with more ease, and they know me better than any new offline friend could ever hope to. Several of my friends in this group have met up in offline spaces, have gone on trips to theme parks together, and have even lived together in the same flat. One of these friends from so long ago is even married, and I bought him a wedding present!

And to think, this is all because we were on the same Pokémon fansite as children. Do you think any of us knew we'd be making life-long friendships because of the games we loved?

Something that got me thinking about all of this lately is that offline people I interact with call me obsessed with Pokémon sometimes. I certainly fit the criteria with all the art and content I make of it, and the amount of time I spend talking about it and playing it, but honestly, it's never quite felt right to call it that. Pokémon actually changed my life and is the biggest reason I'm still drawing. It's the main reason I learned how to use HTML and CSS at all, and it's how I learned to make friends and mellow out from my extreme teen years.

I've made even more amazing friends from joining a Pokémon art Discord on a whim, and several years later we're still talking all the time. I gained my interest in making custom emotes from a competition this Pokémon art Discord held, and from there it's how I got commissioned for Twitch emotes and made even more wonderful friends on the livestreams I visited. People are very interested in commissioning art from me solely because they've seen my Pokémon art or my emotes and think they're great, and I could potentially sustain myself from these commissions if my art keeps gaining traction and popularity (and if my ADHD co-operates with me!).

All of this, all of this has happened because I like Pokémon. It's inaccurate to call it an obsession because it's simply a part of my life, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Page originally published on 13th November 2017.
Page last updated on 31st March 2021 at 00:24 UTC - (very minor adjustments and typo fixes).