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February 29, 2012 / jwaxo

Pokémon Trading Card Game (Save Scumming)

A video game where you pretend to play card games that represent a video game where you pretend to fight monsters.

By the summer of 1999, Pokémania had swept the US. You could hardly walk anywhere without walking into a Pikachu slinging McDonald’s burgers or a Charizard telling you to come to Six Flags. The anime was in its second season and was religiously watched by kids all over the world, the second series of games were already in talks to be released, and the merchandise was pretty much falling off of the shelves.

As you may recall, I had gotten started on the whole thing maybe a year behind everyone else. I almost never traded my ‘mons with anyone, because I wasn’t really friends with anyone who played it as much as I did, and I wasn’t a super-serious trainer like a lot of people who still play it are. I was just into the entire concept of raising a team of unique animals and traveling the world with them.

Well, to be more truthful, I was a little obsessed with it.

From playing my lone copy of the game, to buying the next, nearly-identical “Yellow edition” of the game, to carefully tracking and detailing which Pokémon I had caught with a sticker book, to memorizing a book of facts about them that I got at a book fair. I was obsessed enough that I still remember a few of the dreams that I had about them.

I was dreaming about Mewtwo on Final Destination three years before it happened. Also, that dream could seriously make a book or a horrible fanfic.Then again, they were kind of epic. In the Homeric sense.

So there I was, summer ’99, and in the throes of my latest obsession. And forced, as usual, to go on a camping trip with a bunch of family friends.

Luckily for me, some of those family friends had a couple kids that were about my age and always had nearly identical interests as me. We immediately fell into our usual roles as friends despite only seeing each other maybe once a year, and it wasn’t long before all three of us revealed that we had a huge love for, believe it or not, that craze that all kids our age had a huge love for.

“So have you beaten the Elite Four yet?” I asked.

“Elite Four?” they echoed, looking at each other. “We don’t even have GameBoys. We just watch the cartoon and play the card game.”

Card game? This was news to me, and I hadn’t even known the cartoon played on local channels. They educated me, all while pulling out their miserable little decks of dog-eared cards. Within a few hours I was just as knowledgeable about the card game based on that franchise I oh-so-loved as they were. And, when I got back home, I started saving up to buy my own deck.

So, trading card games. Games where half of the point is collecting the cards, half of the point is having the most powerful ones, and half of the point is just plain winning more often than your friends. There are plenty of fads that have worn down through the years with these fighting/collecting/trading games: Yu-Gi-Oh! and Magic:The Gathering being the two that spring to mind first.

Approximate representation of every mother’s idea of a Magic game.

Soon my obsession slid from just the video game to the cards and to the show. I was building decks, collecting every evolution of Eevee, freaking out when a booster pack came with a holographic (but ultimately worthless) Ninetales, and so on.

And then the video game of the card game came out, and I was all over that.

I mean, think about it: in the game, you didn’t have to go through all of the hassle of buying packs of cards in the hopes they would have what you wanted. There was no cost of money once you were in. You could lose as much as you wanted and your friends wouldn’t make fun of you. Plus, you wouldn’t have the risk of losing your cards in freak accidents.

And I played it pretty obsessively. Over and over again, just like with the real Pokémon game, and, as usual, to the point of setting stupid goals for myself to try to unlock something that didn’t exist. My goal: to beat the entire game without losing a single game.

See, here’s what’s funny: there was no real penalty to losing games in Pokémon Trading Card Game. But I would know if I lost or not. So I started the horrible practice of “save scumming”: saving the game just before a fight, and then loading it back up if I lost.

I eventually finished the game without “losing.” But the fact that I cheated by save scumming was a mark on my record, leaving it less satisfying than it could have been: even in a game that didn’t penalize losing, I was forcing a win, just because I wanted to.

Trying that in real life just means nobody will want to play against you.

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