Pallet Town, 1996. And 1998, kinda. Also 2004. And probably a bunch of other times. Look, whenever it was:
“Hey! Wait! Don’t go out! It’s unsafe! Wild Pokémon live in tall grass! You need your own Pokémon for your protection. I know! Here, come with me!”
And we all did. An entire generation of us. Because we were young, because it seemed like the beginning of some grand adventure, and because hey, what could go wrong?
Quite a lot, if you think about the character of Professor Samuel Oak.
What’s that? One of gaming history’s great men, you say? Alright then. Why don’t we explore that a little? Let’s describe the man for those who are unfamiliar with Kanto’s world-renowned Pokémon Professor.
Oak is a whitecoat-clad stranger who entices a ten-year-old (you) into his lab under the pretense of keeping you safe from the birds and rats that live in the grass near your house. He treats you to a meeting with his douchebag grandson and unsuspiciously offers you each a cute little creature for free.
Hey, thanks Professor! Now that I’m good and protected by this leafy/watery/flamey pet, I’ll get going, okay?
Not okay. Because ol’ Grandson Spikyhead McSmellYaLater wants to battle; and it’s only when this delightful romp begins that Oak finally springs some facts on you. Did you know that having this weird little monster on your person means that random oddballs can challenge you to “battle?” Yep, this bloke’s basically just signed you up for a few hundred annoying interactions with total randoms—bug catchers, super nerds, members of phallocentrically-named criminal organisations; a real high-end crop of movers and shakers for your contact list.
Oh! And also, while you’re stuck in an inescapable tussle with his own grandson, Oak takes the opportunity to let you know that if you lose one of these glorified cockfights, you’ve got to pay the other trainer.
Any red flags so far? No? You’re cool with child abduction and endangerment? Or the kind of set-up that so clearly belongs in the grifting playbook of a 1950s pool shark?
I suppose there’s not much you can do about it. And anyway, it’s time to venture out into the world! Away from all this creepiness. Only… you’ve got to come straight back. After picking up “Oak’s Parcel.” No, I’m not kidding. Walk yourself to the nearest town and start asking around until you find a random dude who works in a chemist. He’ll give you the goods. What’s in the parcel? Hey, don’t even worry about it, you’ll find out later. Just make sure you get it back to the lab safe and sound. Seriously, this Oak guy reckons he’s the Japanese Pablo Escobar. Admittedly it turns out to just be Poké Balls but so what? Why are we riding our luck to satiate the whims of this odd, shady man?
And the defense is always the same. The few times I’ve pointed any of this stuff out in public, the argument coming back at me invariably involves Professor Oak’s memory.
“He’s just a doddery old guy.”
“Take it easy, he’s someone’s forgetful Grandpa.”
“Why are you getting worked up over a video game?”
You know he’s 47, right? Look it up. The maximum billed age of this poor, frail, dementia-stricken victim doesn’t ever clear 50. You can choose to be fooled by his “crippling” Alzheimer’s all you want, but guess what’s indisputable—he’s got a grandson who’s at least ten. The man was procreating while he was in diapers. Maybe that’s got something to do with the fact that there're two kids living in the Oak household on the East side of Pallet Town with no sign of a parent.
And let’s say that you’re now actually coming around to the idea that, potentially, Professor Oak isn’t the whiter than white public figure we’ve all been sold. You figure you should grab the parcel, deliver it to him and leave this awful chapter once and for all. You’re just gonna get out into the world and enjoy one of the most successful gaming adventures ever made by building a cabal of bloodthirsty monsters, away from the influence of the dubious lab-dweller from your hometown. Just… before you go, it’s been this 47-year-old’s dream to “catch ‘em all,” and he reckons he’s too old to do it himself. At least, that’s the excuse he gives you before handing you a creature-catch recording device that he’s gonna need to check every once in a while, so make sure you come back soon, okay? Or, if you find yourself too busy, this perennial nice guy has an army of aides in every town with a special present to bribe you for basically doing his research.
That’s right, there’s no escaping. This world belongs to one man, and that man is Oak. So why are these questions never asked? Why does history look so kindly on a figure so unsavory? Why will no one speak truth to power here? It’s almost as though people are so afraid that th—