Pokémon TCG: A Test of Resilience

Last week, my friend Jake taught me how to play the Pokémon Trading Card Game. I know, I know, how can a self-proclaimed obsessed fan of Pokémon not know how to play the TCG? Don’t get me wrong, I do have a decent collection of Pokémon cards in a binder on my bookshelf at home but it’s exactly that, a collection–meant to look at and feel nostalgic not meant for playing purposes. Fun fact about me, never get me started on collecting anything, I will lose all impulse control and it will be a problem. Case in point, my collection of more than 100 Funko Pop figures currently packed away in a box somewhere because there simply isn’t space for all of them in my room right now. Anyway, the point is that no, I’ve never played the actual trading card game–although my friend Vicki and I used to make up our own rules for the game in elementary school because we thought the real way was too complicated…but I guess that probably doesn’t count.

Turns out the real game wasn’t nearly as complicated as I remember but then again I’m not ten anymore either. That’s not to say the game went well, however. I lost. Badly. We played three or four games and I couldn’t even come sort of close to beating Jake in any of them. He obliterated me. It was embarrassing. Now, I don’t consider myself a competitive person because while I always try my best to win, losing almost never bothers me. But this? this irked me. Maybe it’s because I see myself as something of a Pokémon expert and losing so badly felt a little like being exposed as an imposter. But it’s not like I’m all that competitive in Pokémon either, I enjoy the games for the collecting aspect and for the story I don’t take part in the online competitive battles so while I consider myself an expert I have no illusions of being–as Ash Ketchum would call it–a Pokémon Master as far as battling or strategy go. Still, losing to Jake bothered me. So I went home and downloaded the TCG app onto my iPad in order to hone my skills and prepare myself for a rematch I refused to lose. I’m proud to say that my training–combined with an entirely different deck–paid off big time. I won each of the three rematch games. As silly as it sounds, it was a win I really needed. It felt good to be reminded that sometimes you just need to get up when you fall and make sure you come back stronger than you were.


Grapes hang low on the vine above your head. Low enough that they brush the tips of your hair. Low enough that the sweet smell overrides all other senses, making your empty stomach rumble. The pool you stand in is deep, the crystal clear fresh water is up to your neck. All you would have to do to take a sip is to dip your head and you are so thirsty. But every move you make, be it toward the water or toward the grapes, satisfaction makes an equal and opposite movement away from you. The grapevine climbs far out of reach. The water recedes till you stand on dry ground.

The eternal punishment of Tantalus is forever having satisfaction within reach and never being able to grasp it. I’ve become familiar with this situation myself over the last few months…though perhaps in a less dramatic manner. I mentioned before that I play an absurd amount of Pokémon. It is far and above my favorite video game franchise and one of the few that I haven’t eventually lost interest in over time or abandoned out of sheer frustration. That being said, Pokémon Go has come very close to causing the latter over the last few months.

When Pokémon Go released over 80 new monsters in addition to the original 150 back in February, one of the Pokémon to make an appearance was Unown (yes, that’s how it’s spelled), a species of Pokémon that comes in 26 different forms: one for every letter of the alphabet. As any Pokémon Go player knows, Unown is the rarest Pokémon in the game. Rumor has it the spawn rate for Unown is one in six-million (though based on my experience the last three months perhaps that’s a bit exaggerated). Now, as obsessed as my dad might think I am, I know a futile search when I see one. I took one look at the insane spawn rate, sighed, mentally lumped Unown in with the five or so regional Pokémon only obtainable outside the U.S. as Pokémon I would probably never catch and moved on with my life…until three months ago.

I moved to Nashville Tennessee with my Parents in July, leaving my friends behind in California. In August, I discovered Discord, an app for video game players to connect with each other and on it, a group for Pokemon Go players in Nashville. Now I had high hopes upon my initial discovery of this group that it would be my key to making new friends in my new home and while that didn’t quite pan out (turns out when Pokemon Go players meet up it’s more of a Wham, Bam, knock out the Raid Boss, Thank you M’am and disperse with no further conversation till the next Raid) it did offer something I didn’t expect. With a simple command to the moderator bot of the group I could have the app send me an alert whenever someone in the group found an Unown in the area. Great idea right? I mean, it would probably never go off, but what’s the harm in setting it, it might just get me one of the few Pokémon missing from my Pokédex. What followed was three months of Tantalusian torture.

Turns out, Unown actually quite like Nashville. You’d think that would be a good thing but well… The first notification I got set my heart racing and my hands shaking right up until I saw that it was at a location 45 minutes away from me. At Dinnertime. With only 25 minutes left until it vanished. Unown, apparently, are mischievous little monsters. In the last three months I must’ve gotten thirty notifications that Unown were in the area. About 50% of those were after midnight. Another 44% were either at a location too far away for me to get to in the allotted time before they inevitably vanished or when I was in the middle of something else and couldn’t get away to go searching (such as the time one spawned about 10 minutes from me with 20 minutes left on the timer but I had an interview that afternoon I needed to prep for). Or Both. One time, one spawned about 15 minutes away from me with about 25 minutes left on the clock. It was only around 8 o’clock at night. Desperately, I got up off of the couch and all but ran to my car. I drove to the location, making a stop in a nearby parking lot to re-check the location before driving back out. I saw the spot as I passed it. Four cars were parked on a little dirt outcropping from the road. Maybe ten people stood by the very closed gate designating private property, their phones lighting their faces up in the dark. I made a U-turn at the next light. When I came upon the spot again, five more cars were parked in the median, their hazards illuminating the silhouettes of people jay-running across the street. I kept driving. Stories about people risking life and limb to get that coveted Pokémon littered Discord that night.

I despaired of ever finding one myself. My phone buzzing with the alert soon drew rolled eyes and exasperated sighs rather than excitement and crushing disappointment.  However, as with all things, patience is key. Today, I got three Unown alerts. The first two, like the many before them, were too far away with too little time left. The third. Well, the third was 18 minutes away with 24 minutes left on the clock. After two minutes  of hesitation–unwilling to drop what I was doing for yet another disappointment–and two minutes rushing to get ready I ran out the door with barely any cushion time between when my GPS said I would arrive and when Unown would vanish. I arrived at location at 11:37am, Unown set to disappear at 11:39, still it did not show up. I got out of my car and walked across the parking lot toward the Pei Wei Discord said the Pokémon was near. 11:39 came and still no Unown. I kept walking, determined not to give up until there could be no doubt that I was once again too little too late. Three more steps. Buzz. There it was. A little black capital A floating on my screen. One Razzberry and one Ultra Ball later and finally, finally, my seemingly fruitless quest was at its end. I don’t usually nickname my Pokémon but I’ve named Unown Tantalus in honor of the trials and tribulation I went through to get it.