There are many moments I could have chosen: the time I was with my friends at a secluded house in Hunter Mountain playing Resident Evil in pure darkness, when I was watching The Ring and my phone rang from an “unknown number” at the exact time the phone rang in the movie, or even when Wes Craven’s New Nightmare put the idea out into the world that horror movies existed to purely to placate ancient evil spirits that could do real harm if not remembered and “worshiped”. Despite all of these great stories, the one that sticks with me the most was my first journey to Lavender Town in Pokémon.
When Pokémon Red & Blue released in America, I was 11 years old. I couldn’t wait to explore the world that this morning cartoon had been displaying. Adventuring, catching cool monsters, and battling friends were more than enough hooks to get me to play the game. Actually playing it on my old Super Game Boy for SNES was even better! It added the element of mono-color and allowed me to play my Game Boy games on my little TV at the foot of my bed. I was even able to play them at night or in darkness, something that was difficult if not impossible on a regular Game Boy thanks of its lack of backlighting.
It was October, Fall was well in season, and Halloween was around the corner. The atmosphere for a child of 11 is all about the spookiness of the impending holiday. Horror movie marathons were on TV, pumpkins and witches decorated the lawns of most of the houses in town, and the days were shorter than ever because the clocks had not changed yet. It really all snowballed together I think to create my horrifying trip to Lavender Town.
In Pokémon, they set up the idea early that when you battle and your Pokémon lose, they simply faint. Without animations being what they were today, it seemed almost peaceful. Your Pokémon worked hard, and sometimes just needed to take some well-earned rest. You bring your team over to a Pokémon Center, and before you know it they are up and running again. Most of the journey was the same. You headed to a town, battled a gym leader, maybe did some problem solving, and off to the next town. It all seemed grand and light-hearted.
Then one October night, alone in my home, I entered Lavender Town for the first time. There on my TV, this dreadful musical 8-bit lament began to sound off. It was horrible, beautiful, and instantly set my hairs on end. I took a breath and continued on through this new area. It was creepy beyond belief, my mind constantly wandering to the music making it difficult to retain the words of the NPC’s as I read them. I wasn’t too afraid though; my Squirtle (now Wartortle) and I had been through every battle together and triumphed. What could possibly stop us now? My virtual buddy had my back, no reason to be nervous.
I finally entered Pokémon Tower, the place that warped my world and both scared and scarred me for life. It started when the first Ghost Pokémon I encountered attacked. Instead of a normal sprite, it was this shadowed ghost. My character was unable to comprehend its nature. The sprite was unsettling to say the least. It was just a black shadow mass but it had triangular Jack O’Lantern eyes. The worst was its mouth. It was smiling. It was happy to have encountered me. I ran from it.
I tried to progress as quickly as possible through the haunted tower. With all the other elements of the Halloween season in place as they were, this area had me really terrified. Then I learned what was perhaps the most chilling piece of information of all: Pokémon could die. Not faint; die. My mind started racing. I didn’t want my Pokémon to die. How did that even happen? Wartortle was my pal, we started the adventure together, and what about the rest of team? Was there a chance that if I worked them too hard, they’d end up buried in this tower and their souls would wander forever? Was that why the ghost was smiling? Was it a Pokémon I had forgotten about or let go, and its spirit was now haunting me? My 11-year-old brain couldn’t handle the implications. I began to cry. I saved the game and stopped playing there. I sat by myself in my room the rest of the night, scared and saddened out of my mind.
Dave Marconi is the co-host of the You Shall Not Pass Go gaming podcast, which you can catch on the first Saturday of every month, right here on Geekade.