Ever since players were conned out of 500 Pokébucks for a Magikarp in Pokémon Red/Blue (Red/Green in Japan), the splashing fish has long been labelled useless. After all it’s the only Pokémon with a move that literally does nothing. On its best day Magikarp is tolerated by players as a necessary stepping stone to Gyarados. But for me, of all the 802 pocket monsters, Magikarp remains my favorite.
“Welcome to the world of Pokémon!”
I’ve been a fan of Pokémon for 20 years now. I was around 8 years old when the series first came to Canada and I still remember the way it took over my classroom. That year I wanted nothing more than Pokémon Red or Blue for Christmas. Imagine then my shock at finding a large box from Santa himself under my tree on Christmas morning, and nothing else even remotely shaped like a GameBoy game box from anyone else. I unwrapped my presents with only minor disappointment; it was Christmas after all. My mother raised me on her own and money had always been tight.
As I unwrapped Santa’s present I remember my confusion at finding it filled with shredded newspaper. I thought I’d been ripped off. The elves had surely screwed up in the packaging process. But my mother assured me to keep looking. And there at the bottom, encased in a Nintendo brand plastic carrying case was the game cartridge for Pokémon Red.
This is the moment, and the game, I look back on as the experience that turned me into a gamer. I played that game from morning till night, burning through 4 AA batteries. We had to go to my grandmother’s for Christmas dinner; while my family mingled, I sat on the couch clearing the Pewter City gym with my new pal, Squirtle.
It was during the car ride home that I met the mustachioed fish that is now my favorite Pokémon. But my first impression was probably the same as almost everyone else: “What the hell is this?” It wasn’t until I was older — more evolved you could say — that my appreciation for the useless fish grew.
“For some people, Pokémon are…”
In the main series of Pokémon games the player takes on the role of a trainer: A young boy or girl whose job it is to be the very best, like no one ever was. You travel across the region collecting a stable of creatures to engage in legalized dog-fighting. You’ll be using those creatures to earn badges from professional dog fighters called gym leaders. Eventually you will rise to challenge the crème de la crème of dog fighters known as the Elite Four to become champion dog fighter.
But the world of Pokémon is so much more vast than the very narrow view we have been given over the years. In the first generation of games Professor Oak says it himself: “For some people, Pokémon are pets. Others use them for fights. Myself… I study Pokémon as a profession.” Throughout every generation of the main series the player will encounter people like the professors who appreciate Pokémon as more than just monsters to be captured and battled with. In fact, the Pokémon Fan Club makes an appearance in all generations of the games and is a hub for people who have a love for Pokémon that extends beyond just battling.
In the main games the player is introduced to another significant way people appreciate Pokémon in the form of competitions. These are introduced in Ruby/Sapphire as contests wherein you pit your prettiest, coolest, or smartest little monsters against others to win the top prize: a shiny ribbon. It’s a somewhat silly concept, sure, but it highlights just how versatile the interest in these creatures is. Not everyone in the world of Pokémon is bent on raising the strongest little monster. The contests evolved over the generations into an Olympics-style event, musicals, and now to filming a movie with your favorite Pokémon.
Looking beyond the main stable of games it’s not hard to see just how much Pokémon have become a part of the everyday in that world. In Pokémon Snap (my 3rd favorite Pokémon game of all time) you take on the role of a photographer. In Hey You, Pikachu! the player adopts a wild Pikachu as a pet with no intent to train it for battling. The Pokémon Ranger series puts you into the role of the titular Ranger, someone who protects nature and prevents Pokémon abuse (basically a cross between a police officer and a park ranger). And finally the most recently released Magikarp Jump introduces you to a whole league of people who have found yet another way to compete against each other, and where evolution for your fishy friend is not a goal you want to achieve.
Magikarp represents to me just how wide the world of Pokémon really is. There are people living in that world who have a completely different view than the ones given in the main games.
I am a Magikarp
I’ve lived with depression and social anxiety disorder for most of my life. When I was 16 it had gotten so bad that I dropped out of high school and for three years became a shut-in. I lived in my mother’s spare room, brought in zero income, and was doing nothing productive. I was the definition of Magikarp in those early levels. I was useless.
Magikarp is a resilient Pokémon. Aside from it’s jumping ability (which varies from seven feet to over a mountain), the hardiness of the mustachioed fish is the one of the only positive things said about it. Here’s a quote from the recent Alpha Sapphire: “Magikarp is virtually useless in battle as it can only splash around. As a result, it is considered to be weak. However, it is actually a very hardy Pokémon that can survive in any body of water no matter how polluted it is.”
I’ve dealt with a lot in my life. I’m certainly not going to go so far as to say I’ve become a ferocious Gyarados, but perhaps I’m a Magikarp whose toughed out enough battles to earn the move Flail. I relate quite strongly to the fish that is considered useless by many but is capable of accomplishing amazing things. Such as beating the Elite Four.
So of all the current 802 pocket monsters Magikarp remains my favorite because it is one of the best representations of how wide the world of Pokémon is, along with the untapped potential in all things. And more personally, that mustachioed fish that everyone calls useless best represents me as a person. Someone who has endured and still may not make a huge impact in the world. But you best be damned sure that I’m going to keep splashing.