Collections Agents

Collections Agents
Ghost-Type Story

Brendan Main | 30 Nov 2010 12:37
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The truth is, Pokémon Ghost Black doesn't really exist, except as a spooky yarn told on the internet. But part of the story's appeal is that it could exist - nearly everything described within the hacked game appears in the original. There really is a graveyard town, where old men and women mourn for their late pokémon while spooky music plays. If you visit without a specific item, the ghosts appear hazy and indistinct, like your funereal tagalong in Ghost Black. And "Curse" is even a fully-functioning move in later versions of the game, albeit with a less drastic effect. All the pieces are already there, just portrayed as slightly off or out of place. The finished product seems like something that you really could chance into, perhaps in the backroom of some inscrutable shop of horrors, beside the mogwais and monkey's paws.

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So it isn't that Ghost Black is impossible, just implausible within Pokémon's own sanitized aesthetic. At the heart of nearly all the games we play there is an unspoken metaphor of life and death, but Pokémon works tirelessly to push all that unpleasantness just out of sight. There can be graves and tombstones for other pokémon, but yours will travel from one game to another, and will stay by your side forever. They don't get hungry, and they don't get sick - they aren't Tamagotchi, after all. Here is a game where these animals are both best friends and ultimate cosmic weapons, which will fight tooth and claw, biting and slavering until they ... faint?

This relentless cheeriness turns what could otherwise be a savage Darwinian scrum into a PG pokétopia, a place where the lion can lay down with the lamb, because they're both electric-type. But in the grand tradition of horror, Ghost Black pushes at the corners of this perfect picture until the shadows seep in. In the same way that The Ring or Paranormal Activity updates ancient spook stories to include the prevalence of modern technology, Ghost Black draws its technohorror from a similar cache of shared experience - those fond years we've spent rummaging through tall grass with a pocket full of pokéballs. In any new version of the game, the critters might be different, but the mechanic is the same. We expect certain things from our pokémon and our games. The discomfort of Ghost Black comes from how it breaks those rules. If a poltergeist might cause doors to fly open unannounced or scatter paper across the room, how might a "haunted cartridge" behave? If our thousands of collective game hours constitute a type of life, where does that life go when that cartridge finally fritzes out? It's uncanny how these gaming nightmares align so easily with elements of horror stories. The Ghost of Ghost Black belongs to a long heritage of bumps-in-the-night, hidden in the dark, but drawing inexorably close. And the shock of discovering a save file has disappeared seems somehow otherworldly, too. One minute it's there, and then it's gone.

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