I munched my blueberry Pop-Tart to the rhythm of the music as I roller-skated down Route 6. Or rather, as Serena roller-skated down Route 6. I watched as my generically-named character scooted along the pixelated road toward Parfum Palace. I was curled up under a blanket on the couch in the living room.
Overhead, I heard the shower going and footsteps romping through the bathroom. I figured that the footsteps belonged to Mom since Dad had been in the shower for a few minutes now. She must have just woken up. Normally, I was the last to wake up, favoring sleep too much. Today, however, I was awake rather early. Maybe it was the excitement of having a new game to play. I had quickly thrown on a dress and a sweater, cooked my breakfast, and sat down in my spot. Christmas had brought me a copy of Pokémon X a few days prior, and I had played it almost non-stop in between festive family gatherings.
Focusing on the game again, I made my way up to the gates of the palace when the screen went black. I made a goofy face at my reflection as a cutscene faded in from nothingness. A butler blocked my path to the golden gates, saying some words that I skimmed through. Then, another character wearing a hot pink t-shirt and ripped jean shorts approached on my left. She had curly pigtails that defied physics. Shauna.
She was supposedly one of my rivals this game. However, the poor girl's programming made her less of a rival and more of a friend so far. I easily beat her in every battle, she picked the starter that was weak to mine, she gave me items, and she even healed my Pokémon when they were hurt. It was a refreshing change of pace from the serious rivals of other games. She felt like a typical girly-girl with an attitude. I liked the way she was written. Plus, she was cute.
I continued pressing A, quickly reading through the butler's dialogue. An exclamation mark popped up above Shauna's head, and she said something. I huffed a laugh out at her line, "Yeesh! This is how the rich get richer!" She had spunky one-liners.
She paid the entrance fee. Then a dialogue box popped up informing me of my current balance.
"Rude," I jokingly muttered to myself as I forced my character to pay the fee. The amount in the top right dropped by one thousand. Bye-bye, money.
One cutscene and a black screen later, I was allowed to go inside the palace. Shauna had gone ahead already, displaying her typical enthusiasm. Once inside, the screen depicted an NPC running around in circles shouting about his Furfrou being lost. Ah, plot development at its finest. Shauna caught my character's attention, saying that we should help.
Well, of course, we should help. That's what the game wants us to do. Most of the time, the Pokémon series had excellent writing. It also had grown men crying about their lost pet poodle.
But first, I needed to explore. I was one of those gamers that had to scrounge every nook and cranny of every location. I noticed that the sound of water above my head stopped and I heard the shower door slide open. I didn't have nearly enough time to search the large mansion thoroughly. Dad would be downstairs soon after getting dressed. Then, we would leave, and I wouldn't be able to play my game for a few hours.
I weighted continuing the story or doing an items search. Something propelled me to proceed with the story. My craving to complete the game, perhaps. I could always be an item perfectionist later. Plus, I had been enjoying the adventure so far. Game Freak had created yet another gem of a game that I was engrossed in. I couldn't put it down.
I poked around a bit, searching for the outdoor area where the Furfrou was lost. It didn't take much searching through the ornate palace to find it. The blue door towered over my character's figure. Rectangular windows formed a horizontal pattern on the door. I couldn't see out them, but I knew from my years of playing Pokémon that an outdoor section was just on the other side. Windows with light coming from them usually signified as such in this simplistic world.
I stepped out the doors, pressing A to exit while pushing up on the D-pad. I stepped out onto a bridge with a statue rising from the water behind me. Trees dotted the background to give the game dimension.
"Wow," I gasped. It looked beautiful compared to Pearl, the game that had first introduced me to the addicting world of Pokémon. These games never ceased to amaze me, filling me with awe every time I began a new one. I always felt joy inside every time Nintendo delivered another phenomenal game. The company sure knew how to give gamers the experience they wanted. What more could a kid ask for?
As I finished crossing the bridge after admiring the pixel art, my avatar froze. An exclamation mark appeared, and I knew someone was coming up behind me. Shauna appeared on my screen, sprinting her way to the area I was walking toward.
"I'll have a look in the back!" her dialogue read. I couldn't help but smile at how energetic she was. Online forums complained about her, but I thought she added a sort of adorable energy to the game. Then again, I had always been a bit different.
As the bouncy rival made her way off screen, I forced Serena forward toward the statue of a familiar Unovan legendary. I pressed A and read the prompt that popped up about Reshiram. Then, I continued to poke around the scenery of the garden. There were so many fascinating features examine. Every miniature detail of this game was designed for a reason, and I loved finding out why. Soon, I found that I let myself get distracted in the environment for too long. My time sponged away as I let myself become immersed in the environment.
"Good morning," a voice in the real world said. I jumped slightly, my attention snapping from the game to my mom. She smiled before walking toward the kitchen.
"Morning," I mumbled before returning to my game. That was foolish of me to get caught up in such a tiny moment. Time was running out.
The short amount of time left displeased me when I realized what was sitting before my character in the game. A giant maze grew to fill the entirety of my screen. It was as if Game Freak designed this challenge to tease me at that exact moment. I adored mazes, but I had to hurry through to find the Furfrou then save the game. I made a mental note to come back to that spot when we returned home.
I skirted around the maze as fast as I could, lest I get distracted by the obstacle. I dodged around NPCs, making yet another mental note to return and talk to them too. I was an item completionist, a Pokédex completionist, and a story completionist. To add the cherry on top, I felt the need to talk to every character I encountered. Maybe that's why I liked characters such as Shauna and the other people from Kalos while other players despised them. As I approached the back of the outdoors area, a white dog Pokémon stood proudly as if it were expecting me.
"It can't be that easy, can it?" I wondered out loud. When I approached, it triggered a cutscene that displayed the creature running away from me. "Of course, it's not."
"What are you saying, sweetie?" my mom asked. I heard what I assumed to be a bagel popup out of the toaster.
"Nothing," I responded.
Suddenly, Shauna ran across the screen again, shouting about how we couldn't let the Pokémon get away. No duh, but thanks for the tip.
She talked for a bit, explaining a new game mechanic to me. I could tell her to stand in certain spots to trap the white dog. Again, less of a rival and more of a friend. Silver or Blue probably would have told me to buzz off, but she kept talking with friendly words.
"If the two of us work together, we can solve this puzzle and catch Furfrou!" she said. The enthusiasm made my tired face smile. These games had that effect on me, especially the cast from Kalos so far.
I led Shauna around the top-down puzzle before finding where I wanted her to stand. She said something cheerful, and I left to go chase the Furfrou into the corner. It was nice, having a companion like Shauna. It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I imagined her and my main character as best friends.
The puzzle was surprisingly easy to solve. As a sophomore in high school, I should have expected that. While these games were designed for everyone, they definitely had their childish aspects. The lack of difficulty attested to that. I didn't mind, however, since I was in love with the rest of X so far. The screen switched to a different view, zooming in on me and Shauna. Furfrou stood next to us.
"Serena, you're amazing!" Shauna exclaimed. Yep, I'm definitely getting best friend vibes. These two are total gal pals.
Suddenly, the NPC that had asked us for help in finding his lost Pokémon showed up. It amazed me how dumb the writers could make some characters seem; this man had to be the biggest moron ever. He thanked us copiously as Pokémon NPCs usually did. He even went so far as to offer to put on a fireworks display for us. He continued talking, so I button mashed through it as usual. He probably didn't have anything intelligent to say.
I heard heavy footsteps on the stairs in real life now; there was no more time left to waste. "Good morning," my dad said as he rounded the corner. I waved in response.
Mom and Dad began a conversation in the kitchen as I continued plowing through in-game conversation. I heard cereal plink into a bowl.
"We'll leave in less than ten minutes, okay?" I heard my dad say in a loud voice. The additional volume meant he was talking to me from the other room.
"Kay," I responded, dragging out the end of the word.
I rushed back through the garden and toward the palace. I had promised myself that I would stop after finding Furfrou, but now I had to see the fireworks. It was the gaming equivalent of "Just five more minutes, please?"
I made my way up the steps and to the balcony, the location that the NPC told me to rendezvous at for the show. The game switched to a three-quarters view, so I knew this was an important location. Why else would the animators create such a well-designed scene?
Pillars lined the walls with a ruby red carpet stretched out beneath my feet. Tall arches with light shining through the opening signified the beginning of the balcony. Then, I admired my character's outfit for a moment. The customization feature in the game made me smile inwardly. She wore a plain t-shirt and shorts, nothing special. However, the idea at the heart of it made me relate more to my character than in previous games. I now controlled her appearance as well as her actions.
Beyond I could see a poorly rendered outside area. I moved toward the opening in the windows and onto the balcony. Shauna was already waiting for me. I approached her to begin the scene. First, however, I saved the game just in case it was a battle. I had been playing these games for enough years to know when a battle was about to start. That way, I could come back if I had to leave in the middle of the fight or if I lost by some fluke. I snorted a bit at the thought of losing to Shauna. Again, cutesy BFF, not an actual threat.
However, when I pressed A to begin the dialogue, the music faded and began with a new sound. It was a piano playing a soft melody, a tune that pulled on my heartstrings. There would be no battle here, and instead, I knew it would be something heartwarming. Almost...romantic? Was this the forced romance that people online were complaining about? My heart pounded in my chest at the idea of what might happen. I had been hoping for this moment like this for a while. I was excited to see if Game Freak actually followed through with it.
"Um... You know..." Shauna began.
I cocked my head slightly at her words. Was this... Was Nintendo finally going to do it? I had only seen this scene on YouTube from a male main character's perspective, never with a female main character. I waited on bated breath for the next line in the script. It was finally time.
"I really hope we get to be great friends, Serene," she said.
My heart sank as I let the scene continue. How could I have been so foolish to think that Game Freak would have done it?
"We haven't even seen them yet, but I know I'll never forget these fireworks! 'Cause I watched them with you, Serena," Shauna said before the game played an animation of fireworks.
I won't forget them either for dashing my hopes of finally adding a canonically queer character.
All they had to do was add them holding hands, at the very least. It didn't have to be anything special, just a simple gesture to show that both the male and female had a chance at this scene.
That was what upset me the most. The very same heartfelt scene with a male character implied that Shauna had a crush on the main character. It hinted at a romance with just her words. Instead, I had gotten friend-zoned by my wimpy rival. I felt a bit broken as I watched the rest of the animation play out without giving the same hints. Part of me hoped that the writers would go back on their cruel decision. The rest of me knew they wouldn't. After all, everything in these games was well-designed and done on purpose. This was Nintendo's way of saying they didn't want that in their ledger.
Fireworks that should have expressed happiness and excitement washed across my screen. The animation faded and switched back to the ever-disappointing view of me and Shauna next to each other. I desperately wished to jump into the game at that moment and slide my hand into hers, change fate, and prove that it was okay.
"Wow!" Shauna said. "That. Was. AMAZING."
It really wasn't.
"I never ever want to forget this, so I'll keep this memory in an album in my heart!"
I want to forget this.
The set up was perfect. I felt like our characters could have been more than friends in a single heartbeat, but Nintendo snatched that fantasy away. Instead, I was left with a cold reminder of the real world, as cold as the wind outside. For a game series that had brought me so much joy only moments ago brought me a sharp pang of sadness now. I thought that the writing was going to be progressive, that it would show that it was okay while other aspects of the real world showed that it was wrong.
"Hey, sweetie, are you ready to go to church?" my mom asked, snapping me out of my daze.
"Yeah, let me get to a save point." I didn't want to relive that moment. To rethink those stupid thoughts that maybe, just maybe, it was okay to be queer.
"Hurry up, you've had plenty of game time," Mom said. She turned to walk away, stopping abruptly and looking at me again. "Your cheeks are red, are you feeling okay?"
"I'm fine," I snapped. She couldn't know what was racing through my mind. It would change her opinion of me in an instant.
I ignored whatever else she was saying as I rushed through more text. I accepted an item at one point, but I didn't really care what it was. I just wanted this moment to end. Mom was right, my cheeks were red. I noticed their hue in the empty, black screen. I touched them to feel the physical aspect of my embarrassment. Finally, I was free of what felt like an endless stream of dialogue. I saved my game the moment the camera focused on my avatar again.
I snapped the 3DS shut before rising from the couch. I grabbed a coat and marched out the door to the car. My dad already had the vehicle running, and my mom was already buckled in. I watched out the window as we pulled away. The snow whooshed by as we sped down the road.
For games that knew how to deliver, they knew how to take away as well. Every minute detail was perfect in those games. Meaning, it had to be deliberate to not include that singular line that would have opened up a new dialogue to the world. My thoughts raced along with the scenery. I looked up to the bare trees, closing my eyes as their empty branches reflected my now empty heart. It was the perfect set up for reassurance, but Game Freak reminded me once again that they would never add that to their games. That is wasn't okay to be different.
But... It is okay, isn't it?