“So as a kid, I was a huge fan of the Pokemon games. Best game ever, just putting that out there. So there’s quite a few times during the game where you have to catch these Legendary Pokemon. Like you know, in like Pokemon Yellow you go into the cave and you’re like ‘Oh my god its a Mewtwo, I need that Mewtwo’, right? So I have like 20 Ultra Balls and I’ll be like ‘Oh crap. I need to catch this thing before I’m out of Pokeballs’, so I go in and like every single time I throw a Pokeball I have to do the traditional moves. Once you throw that Pokeball you have to press left, right, left, right, and then while you’re doing that you have to vigorously press the A and B buttons. That increases your chances of catching that Mewtwo. Trust me it works. Try it next time.”
This practice of mashing buttons while trying to catch a Pokemon is incredibly widespread. Everyone that I’ve seen play Pokemon has done something similar. It is almost like a nervous fidget while waiting for a successful capture or a failure. Everyone I’ve watched does it differently based on where they grew up. In my hometown, the common practice was to hold the A button and tap B in rhythm with the twitching of the Pokeball. As children, we had no understanding of programming or how games were designed. We didn’t know that the designers of our Pokemon games never programmed in any functionality for button pressing to affect Pokemon capture rates. To us, Gameboys were these magical boxes that did things when we pressed buttons. I think we just assumed that pressing buttons while a Pokemon was being captured would affect the probability of catching the Pokemon because why would it not? This ritual speaks volumes about how we see new technologies. When we don’t understand things we tend to come up with rituals to deal with them. When we catch a Pokemon due to random chance, but happened to be pressing a certain button combination, we’re often lead to believe that pressing buttons works. For many people, these button patterns became consolidated because every once in a while, they appear to work.
There is an incredible amount of folklore and rumor surrounding the Pokemon franchise thanks to the internet and poor translation. In 1998, When Pokemon first achieved mass appeal in the United States, the internet was just burgeoning. I remember going on “gaming tips” sites that often featured wild rumors and had little-to-no fact-checking. What complicated things was that a lot of literature about Pokemon was in Japanese, the game’s original language. Many of gaming tip sites were run by people with no knowledge of Japanese, so often they just took pictures that were available in Japanese gaming guides and made an educated guess as to what the pictures were trying to illustrate. As a result, there were many theories and rumors, mostly incorrect, about the game.
In Pokemon, the main goal of the game is to catch a multitude of colorful monsters and battle them. Perhaps this explains why the game is so incredibly popular. The core concept of the game plays into our drive to collect, dominate, and compete. A friend of mine once compared it to a more interactive form of stamp collecting.