Today is my dog’s birthday, the first one when he is not here anymore. And god I miss him.
I am not very good with grief. Nor do I really talk about grief, with anyone. I just keep it all bottled up inside me even when it feels unbearable. I don’t really know why I do this, but I guess a part of it is me being too afraid of others invalidating the magnitude of my feelings, because it was “just a pet” (disclaimer: he was NOT “just a pet” to me – he was, and still is, my best most precious friend).
I lost him last summer and I was having a very hard time processing it, partly due to living on the other side of the world now where I do not have to deal or accept this reality in my daily life. Then Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee! came along. In normal circumstances, I might have been slightly skeptical about playing an “easier” Pokémon game that traded half of the battles for a Poké Ball throwing mechanic familiar from Pokémon Go, but turns out it was now exactly what I needed.
I was a little hesitant at first, but ended up naming my Eevee after my dog, as the colors of their fur was pretty similar. I am really happy I did. It was incredible how quickly it started to feel cathartic to adventure the region of Kanto with my little Elvis.
My dog was diagnosed with a heart condition relatively young (five years old), so when I pursued my studies (and later career) abroad I could not take him with me and instead of adventuring together, we spent a lot of time apart. It is these decisions that I feel the most conflicted about in my whole life – I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without doing what I did, but goddammit if I don’t regret it a lot at the same time.
And here was Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee! finally giving me the escapist fantasy I always wanted, of exploring the world with my little furry partner. And I realized that, while my Eevee was really OP in battles, it was not the battles that I enjoyed the most, but rather it was getting to play with my Eevee and having him surprise me with his sudden antics, such as asking me for a high five. I also loved having my little Elvis travel on top of my hat while I roamed the wilderness and how my other Pokémon interacted with him and me. Turns out my Vaporeon, even though he enjoys discussing the deliciousness of food with my Eevee, is also a bit jealous of the strong bond we share.
I feel much better now, though I would be lying if I said I am not hurting anymore. The pain has become a lot more bearable and mostly I can embrace it as an important reminder of how much my Elvis means to me. I would have struggled a lot more and a lot longer in getting to this point without the help of Pokémon: Let’s Go Eevee!, which allowed me to process my grief in a safe space at my own pace while also allowing me to celebrate the special bond you can only have with your pet.
I know it is hard to conceive of games without combat, as it has become such an integral pillar of gameplay, but I would be really happy to see more games that follow the tend-and-befriend gameplay style. I do think we will see more of them in the future when developers get more confidence in being experimental and push themselves to conquer new ground. The world is a pretty scary and kinda sucky place to live in lately, so there definitely is much need for more soothing games that don’t trigger our fight-or-flight instincts like combat does.
Meanwhile, I’ll probably be hanging around the gates of the Pokémon League for quite some time, as I just can’t bring myself to finish the game and bring my journey with my little Elvis to its end.