A few years ago, in anticipation of the release of Pokémon Black and White, Nintendo held a series of promotional events at malls across the country. At the time, I worked in the shopping plaza across the street from the mall, so it was a frequent stop for me. The weekend rolled around and my husband and I went shopping.
Okay, so we weren’t really shopping. I’d heard from a friend that I could get a Celebi at GameStop that weekend, which is kind of a big deal for collectors. You see, Celebi is a particularly rare Pokémon that cannot be caught without hacking the game, and I’d been looking to add one to my collection since the year 2000. Eleven years was a long time to wait for a Pokémon, so we made the trek to the mall with Nintendo DS in tow, planning to make a quick stop at the digital download terminal and then head home.
But the mall was packed. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on at first, but stopping to ask about it at one of the many Pokémon-themed booths set up around the mall set me on the right track. The lady explained between placing stamps in the booklets being carried by hundreds of children. They travel from post to post, collecting stamps, learning about the new Pokémon, then when their booklet is full, they had a chance at a prize.
Sounds simple, I thought. I thought about it while we went to GameStop, while I downloaded a Celebi to my game. I thought about it, and after looking over the balcony rail at the prize stand below, I knew I wanted in on it. So I got in line with dozens of kids under the age of ten, shuffling forward to ask for a booklet and collect my first stamp. My husband, ever the good sport, joined in with a stamp booklet of his own.
So there we were, two 20-something married adults, standing in line at a Pokémon event with about a zillion small children around our ankles, eagerly awaiting the stamps that would put us one step closer to Pokémon-themed prizes.
Society responded as you’d expect it to. People looked at us. People around our ages, people older, people younger. Some pointed and whispered. Others laughed mockingly. But more importantly, some watched.
Some people watched as these two adults moved up to the booth and grinned as they held their booklets out for stamping. Some people watched as these two adults linked hands and hurried off toward the next line. Some people watched with interest. And some watched with longing visible in their eyes.
The workers didn’t laugh at us. They smiled and stamped our booklets and sent us on our way without another thought. And then something amazing happened, as we waited in line for our third stamps.
Another adult joined the line.
He looked around, a little sheepish, a little embarrassed, hands tucked into his pockets. But he waited, moving up the line until he could take a booklet and get his first stamp. He grinned when he got it. His girlfriend rolled her eyes.
We ended up in the same line for the next stamp, the last one me and my husband needed. And more adults joined in.
With our booklets complete, we went to turn them in and spin the prize wheel. Both of us won a stylus to use with our DSes, and I was delighted. Mission complete, we went to leave. But by then, the lines had changed pretty dramatically. As we left the mall, we passed event lines filled with people of all ages, people who had played the games long ago and now relived their fondness for it. People who bent to talk about their favorite Pokémon with the five-year-old in front of them, sharing common ground despite the years that separated them. And people started producing games from bags and pockets, unashamed to play in public for the first time in who knows how long.
It’s easy to forget how simple changing the world around you can be. The world is a pond of people. It only takes one person to be a stone, to cast themselves into the middle and create ripples of change around them.
I didn’t do anything great. Nothing groundbreaking or amazing. But something did change, and because of it, all the people who joined those lines to take part in the event made memories that will last a lifetime.