In Defense of 'Pokémon' Genwunners
Musings on the 'Pokémon' Series
As described by Know Your Meme, "Genwunner is a pejorative term used within the Pokémon fandom to describe those who only appreciate the first-generation of video games for Game Boy, namely Red, Green, Blue, and Yellow, and tend to bash the sequel titles and monsters in the franchise." Under this definition, I wouldn't be a genwunner because even though I think the first generation of Pokémon is the best, I still have an appreciation for the other games. However, even though I haven't drawn the ire of the Pokémon fandom I disagree, with the notion that it is unreasonable to prefer the first-generation over the others.
Mystery and Surprise
The internet of today plays a significant role in the lack of surprises in modern Pokémon games because information about new features is readily available before the game even releases. Back in the day, snippets of information posted on Pokémon fansites like Serebii were the only source of pre-release information, now Game Freak and The Pokémon Company themselves upload trailers that spoil the game. Growing up, I remember hearing rumors about Mew and even a hoax created by Expert Gamer Magazine that convinced many players that they could obtain Yoshi. This kind of fun misinformation added to the mystery of the first-generation Pokémon games and could only exist naturally without the modern internet. The first generation of Pokémon is also well known for its glitches that added to the mystery and surprise of the game. The most famous glitch being MissingNo., a glitched Pokémon, that through a specific sequence of events, has an invalid identifier hence the name MissingNo. I believe this feeling of mystery and surprise is why the Space World 1997 Pokémon Gold & Silver demo leak garnered so much attention from the Pokémon fandom.
As far as Japanese role-playing games go, the first-generation of Pokémon is nowhere near the most difficult, but it at least treated its players like intelligent individuals. This lack of handholding in the first generation isn't only limited to training and battling, but also progression. For example, in the original Pokémon games, the player can defeat the Gym Leaders Lt. Surge, Erika, Koga, and Sabrina in any order. Of course, there are natural barriers like the strength of the Pokémon Trainers in each area, but apart from a few required sequences of events, the player can explore the world in whatever way they want. Another example of the first generation respecting the player's intelligence is when thirsty guards block the path into Saffron City, and the player needs to figure out that giving them a drink will clear the way. This scenario is well-designed because the drinks aren't special items but ordinary healing items the player needs to apply in a different context. The solution to this scenario is also subtlety suggested to the player by a thirsty girl in the Celadon City Department Store that trades vending machine beverages for items.
While there's no doubt that the Pokémon series has always catered to a younger audience, the first-generation didn't pull its punches. This lack of kid gloves isn't just limited to flavor text in the Pokédex either, but darker themes that are pervasive throughout the entire game. For instance, the first-generation has Trainer classes that wield whips, the implication being that they're being used to tame their Pokémon. Another example is Lt. Surge's dialogue before the battle "I tell you, kid, electric Pokémon saved me during the war! They zapped my enemies into paralysis! The same as I'll do to you!" This dialogue alludes to the idea of Pokémon fighting in wars alongside their trainers. However, nothing exemplifies the first-generation's darker themes more than the Pokémon Tower. The Pokémon Tower is a seven-story burial ground for Pokémon located in Lavender Town. Within the Pokémon Tower, channelers possessed by ghost Pokémon utter grim dialogue like "Zombies!" and "Give...me...blood..." before battling. To free these channelers from the possession, the player must defeat them or the ghost of a Marowak that was killed by Team Rocket.
A Lived-in World
The world of the original Pokémon games feels more lived-in than any other game in the series. By lived-in, I'm referring to how the Kanto region has a history that suggests it existed way before the player begins their quest. A perfect example of this lived-in quality is the Fighting Dojo in Saffron City. The Fighting Dojo is a former Pokémon Gym that lost its Gym status after being defeated by the current Saffron City Gym. This event isn't something the player can experience directly but instead gets explained through NPC dialogue. The depiction of the villainous Team Rocket in the first generation of Pokémon also gives the impression of a lived-in world. Team Rocket's presence is pervasive throughout the whole game with, them being regularly mentioned in NPC dialogue once they make an appearance. Unbeknownst to civilians, Team Rocket has already embedded itself into society by disguising members at Nugget Bridge, running the Game Corner in Celadon City, and recruiting scientists at Silph Co. One of the biggest plot twists of the game is that the Viridian City Gym Leader ends up being Giovanni, the boss of Team Rocket. This constant presence adds to the notion that Team Rocket has been committing crimes long before the player came along to stop them.
The diminishing returns phenomenon states that each additional unit of gain leads to an ever-smaller increase in subjective value. This phenomenon applies to my experience with Pokémon because, as the series continued, the lack of new features and repeated tropes made every subsequent entry not as exciting. Even though each generation of Pokémon introduces new monsters since every sequel includes Pokémon from previous generations, the series became gradually less fresh. The second and third generation of Pokémon, to their credit, did add new features that became staples of the series like Dark & Steel type, Held items, Pokémon breeding, Abilities, Double Battles, and Weather. However, following the third generation, fewer new features were added, in favor of singular, exclusive gimmicks like Mega Evolution, Z-Moves, and Dynamaxing. Pokémon, as a series, became more polished with every iteration, but each game maintained the same structure as the first generation. This structure includes tropes like starter Pokémon, professors, rivals, villainous teams, Gym Leaders, and Legendary Pokémon playing a pivotal role in the narrative.