I would like to start by thanking Bob for working on this story with me. It was a lot of fun to write this.
Let me tell you about the person I met when I was young.
For as long as I can remember, I have been in special education courses. It’s not really something to which I’ve ever really given much thought. All I knew is that I learned differently from the other kids. I was not really the social type and I didn’t like the things that they usually liked. Sometimes I said things that made sense to me but only resulted in laughter from the other children. So lacking confidence in having friends, I saw fit to entertain myself most of the time. At home it wasn’t much different. I didn’t actively seek to play with the neighborhood kids when I could stay alone in my room. My Nintendo gave me all the fun I could ever hope for.
Things improved slightly in middle school when Pokémon was introduced. The cartoon was okay, but the video game truly captivated my interest as it did most of my classmates. I had a Game Boy and link cable for a long time, but Pokémon Blue was the first game that gave me a reason to use it. Suddenly I was trading and battling with other kids during recess. Eventually the trading card game was introduced and the interest became all the more universal.
Many of the kids at my school collected and traded Pokémon cards, even if not everyone knew how to play the actual card game. Pokémon had given me a common interest with my classmates and it also gave me my first real friend.
Joshua was in many ways like me. He was just as much into Pokémon if not more. Also like me he seemed to have trouble having friends outside of Pokémon. He was one of the few people who laughed at my inside jokes and with whom I could discuss the many nuances of the game and strategy. I didn’t realize it at the time but he also had some of the same problems with learning and socializing that I had. We traded cards of course, but in retrospect I think he used his better knowledge of the game to swindle me out of my better cards with unfair card trades. The pride and joy of his deck was a first edition Charizard card which he used to win many duels. When we didn’t talk about Pokémon, we talked about games in general. I remember Joshua distinctly saying that he wanted to design videogames for a living. It was a dream I shared myself.
As a kid I had to be taught using many different methods to make up for my difficulties in learning. I learned eventually to communicate better with others. I learned about what things were considered socially acceptable. At times I wondered if Joshua had received the same treatment because there were a lot of times where he was obnoxious, rude, and suffered from mood swings. When he was in a good mood, he was fun to be around and made school a joy. When he was in a bad mood, I didn’t want to be around him and I usually kept to myself to avoid him. I had very few friends I could turn to when Joshua was in one of his moods.
I remember one time one of my friends in school died in a car accident. It was hard for me. It was hard for all of us. Joshua on the other hand saw fit to take the opportunity to make fun of him. It was not something that won him over with the rest of the class and from that point on I started avoiding Joshua altogether. I didn’t really make an effort to continue my friendship with Joshua. I mostly kept to myself and avoided talking to him when I had the chance.
Joshua’s behavior in school gradually became worse. One time he even got suspended for assaulting a teacher. In the back of my mind I couldn’t help but wonder if my friendship with him had previously prevented him from getting in serious trouble. Near graduation he did something that surprised me. He gave me his beloved Charizard card. Despite the fact that I had abandoned him, he still thought highly of me. It was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for me.
High school came afterwards, and with it a new generation of Pokémon. I bought a copy of Pokémon Silver but I ended up not getting as far into the game as I did with Blue.
High school brought with it a slew of completely new problems and brand new faces. I still had the occasional class with Joshua, but I didn’t really speak to him. Pokémon was no longer a big part of my life and as a result, neither was Joshua. I actually remember very little if any about high school in general. I eventually graduated and moved on into the working world. I had all but forgotten about Joshua.
Seven years passed. I had a job that I was doing relatively well in. I didn’t move up in my job, but I had enough pay to survive. One evening I decided to clear my head after a long day of work in a nearby park late at night. I don’t know why I decided to go out that late. I just wanted to. It was about 9PM but it was summertime so there was still some remaining sunlight. I sat down at a nearby picnic table and enjoyed the scenery. I was alone in the park with the exception of one other person roaming the park. I didn’t think much of him until he approached me. Soon I got a good look at him. He was somewhere in his 20s, looked completely unkempt and had a patchy beard. He obviously cared nothing about his personal appearance, but back in high school, neither did I.
He asked me if I remembered him. I shook my head. At that point he came closer. He looked me directly in the eyes and smiled. His appearance was unnerving to me, but I did get a good look at him. Between his appearance and his voice, I soon realized who it was. I asked Joshua how he had been. He said nothing but out of his pocket he pulled out a shiny red Nintendo DS with a copy of Pokémon Diamond. He asked me if I wanted to trade my Palkia for a Stunky. When I informed him that I didn’t play the game and had moved on, his countenance turned sour.
He accused me of abandoning what brought us together. He told me that I had a lot of audacity to simply give up Pokémon considering that if it wasn’t for the game and my friendship with him, I wouldn’t be where I was. He told me that he could have just simply beat me up like everyone else who he hated. Then he made it sound as if he in fact used to beat me up on a regular basis. This sounded very strange to me as I never recalled him beating anyone up when we were kids. Then again, he didn’t look all there. I couldn’t imagine he had learned to deal with others.
For a moment I considered the fact that maybe he was talking to the wrong person. I also considered the fact that he was unstable. I excused myself and ran home. The next day I went to the same park. This time it was a little earlier. I didn’t want to take any chances, so I carried a pocket knife with me. I prayed I would not have to use it. Sure enough I found Joshua was there, mostly keeping to himself and looking over a series of papers. Against my better judgment I approached him in as friendly a manner as possible. He didn’t seem like he wanted to talk. He seemed very disturbed, like something horrible had happened to him. I asked him how he was and that is when I learned what had become of him since we parted ways. It turns out he never did anything after high school. In fact he was kicked out of high school. He never moved out of his parents’ basement. He never held a girlfriend, but then again neither did I. He never got a steady job except the occasional fast food job and “working” for his parents. At that point he seemed really upset and he suddenly ran off, leaving the stack of papers behind him.
I tried to call out to him that he had left it behind, but he was soon out of sight. I looked at the stack of papers. They were bound with metal clips on one side like a book. I took them home and went straight to bed.
The next day was my day off, so after some breakfast and a shower I decided to finally take a look at the stack of papers I had brought from the park. The cover sheet simply said “Pokémon: Joshua's Legacy: by Joshua.” The stack was quite thick and bound together on the side of the pages like a book. I started to flip a few pages and soon I realized what this was. It was a fully fleshed out game design document (or GDD) for an original Pokémon game. I guess Joshua had toyed with the idea of being a game designer after all. Of course the reality was that this GDD was unsolicited and unlicensed. So it could never be turned into an official Pokémon game from Nintendo, but I thought that if anything it should be neat to read.
Looking at the first few pages I noticed that this game would stray very far from the normal Pokémon handheld RPG formula or even the Mystery Dungeon series. The document called for a role playing game played in real time with free exploration and a multiple Pokémon party system, no trainers, no one-on-one restriction, just a party of Pokémon carefully selected and adventuring together in an open world and facing the perils of it as a team. The GDD described this system as combining the party aspect of games like Dragon Age and Might & Magic with the open world aspect of The Elder Scrolls and Grand Theft Auto series. It was an interesting idea, so I read on.
According to the document, you would start the game off with four Pokémon of your choice, each with a handful of special moves reflective of the original game and could evolve in time as before. I flipped forward a few pages and looked up information on locales and was surprised to find that while plenty of caves and other dangerous locations were described there was no mention about Pokémon centers or Pokémarts. I then read on and found something interesting. While it mentioned the availability of the occasional berry, there were no other healing items. It went further to state that if a Pokémon was reduced to 0 HP, it did not “faint” but rather was killed and there would be no means of reviving it, just like in Rogue.
I decided to read on and eventually came to the section detailing the makeup of the game world itself. It described the dungeons in great detail and had a section listed about the nature of the difficulty of dungeons. It said the following:
The dungeons should all be inhabited with hostile Pokémon that are stronger than those outside. Since battles take place in real time, there is no “Run Away” command which means that even if the player flees, the hostile Pokémon will still chase after them for a while. Furthermore since there are no berries that grow in dungeons and Pokémon can only carry one held item, expect the players to take quite a beating unless they are really skilled. On average, expect at least one of the Pokémon in the player’s party to die. If the player is a newbie, it should not be uncommon for the player to wiped out completely in the first dungeon on the first attempt.
This brings me to another point. Pokémon death as we have said before is permanent and there is no means to bring the fallen Pokémon back to life. There is also no saving which means that if all of the Pokémon in a party die, there is no continue option. When a player gets a game over, there is only a new game option. Regardless of past accomplishments, everything must be done all over again in keeping with Roguelike tradition.
To really drive this home, all Pokémon in a player’s party will be given names and talk throughout the adventure, given personalities that the player can identify with, and compliment others on their achievements. The player must feel like these Pokémon are not just monsters for battle, but people he can identify with. By doing this, it will make each Pokémon’s death all the more tragic and group morale will be brought down when one of the player’s “friends” dies on the screen, never to be brought back to share his joys, his pains, his dreams ever again.
The game will not be indefinite. There is indeed a final boss. If by the grace of God the player manages to make it to the final dungeon with any Pokémon remaining he will find that the final boss cannot be beaten.
The most likely scenario is that the player will die before reaching him, but even if he takes the boss down to 1HP, the final boss cannot be killed. Ultimately the point is that for all the player’s accomplishments, all the levels gained and dangers overcome, in the end it is all fruitless. All the player's friends eventually go away and the only thing the player can do is delay the inevitable defeat. Of course this will never be told to the player flat out. It is something they will get to experience firsthand and learn the hard way.
At this point I put down the game design document. I was stunned and wasn’t sure what to think anymore. I just sat there in the emptiness of my room, only the sound of the garbage truck outside broke the silence. I took the GDD and put it on top of my bookshelf, not really feeling like reading it anymore. In vain I hoped that if I placed it out of sight, I would forget about it. I walked out of the house and back to the park. I didn’t find Joshua at the park that day, nor did I find him there the next day or the day after. I had no way to get in contact with him. I didn’t know his phone number or his email. I was stuck with his “legacy” and I didn’t know how to return it. I didn’t want to simply throw it away. It would feel like such a shame to destroy something he had worked hard on, even if I didn’t like it.
A few days passed and I had put the idea of Joshua and his game design document out of my head until one day when I was going through some drawers, looking for a spare USB cable. I didn’t find what I was looking for but surprisingly I found a red Nintendo DS and a copy of Pokémon Diamond. I wasn’t sure what to think. Just to make sure, I turned on the DS and started up the game. The player in the game was registered as “JOSHUA”. So this was indeed Joshua’s DS and game. Had he followed me home? Did he manage to break into my house without me knowing about it? A shiver ran up my spine. I called out his name and went around the house but no one was there. I now had Joshua’s DS and GDD and a feeling of dread came over me.
I had trouble sleeping that night as well as the following nights. My thoughts often turned to Joshua and his game design document and images of dead Pokémon. I didn’t want these thoughts in my mind. I didn’t want to have this weighing on me. I tossed and turned in my sleep. One night it got so bad that I jolted out of bed at midnight and stared at my empty room. Only it wasn’t empty.
I saw him sitting at the foot of my bed. He was grinning in the dark, staring at me like a hawk stalking his prey. Then all of a sudden he leapt at me and pinned me down in my bed. I struggled against him but he was just as big and strong as I was. Eventually however I managed to roll him over, which caused him to fall off the bed and me with him.
I don’t know what came over me just then. In time I had grown to hate Joshua and all that he embodied for me. So I punched him in the face. Then I hit him again. And again. And again. Harder and harder I punched him, beating the snot out of him. He once told me he beat me up, whereas here I was beating him up. I couldn’t stop it. I didn’t want to stop. I kept wailing on with my fists until he stopped moving. I got up from him and stared down at the pile of meat that used to be Joshua. A pool of blood was spreading on the floor, staining the carpet into a dark red color. Just then I heard a hard knock at my door and a voice coming from behind it.
“Joshua! It’s midnight! What the Hell are you doing up so late and making all that noise?! Some people here are trying to sleep!”
I looked at the door. Then I looked at the floor. There was no corpse there, no blood stains, nothing. My hands were completely clean. I stared in disbelief at myself, at my surroundings and the terror of the reality of the situation gripped my heart. I turned to the door and answered as meekly as I could.
“It’s nothing, Ma. Go back to sleep.”
I reached for a nearby Pikachu plushie and crawled back into bed, crying my eyes out. Somehow after all these years I managed to finally overcome the darker nature of myself only to find that it had been shielding me from the truth. And now I found that my reward was a life I didn’t want and the broken illusion of what I thought was reality. This was my gift. This was my curse. This was my legacy.