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The romance of Johto's shores and Friedrich's Wanderer


Someone has tweeted a screenshot from Pokémon and it's all I can think about.

Actually it's two things they've tweeted. On the left, the screenshot: Ethan, a tiny little pixel boy, is standing on the jagged, squared-off staircase shore of an island looking out across the ocean. On the right, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.

Now, I know what you're going to say: do not explain the tweet. And I know! I know you're not supposed to explain the tweet. I know the power of a tweet, especially this one but actually any one, is that it stands alone amidst the void; that a tweet is good if and only if it is pithy and silent in a sea of noise; that the more you talk about a tweet or comment on it, or try to intellectualise it in any which way, the worse it gets. I know all this! I just can't help it.

Anyway, this tweet is so good it's turning me inside out. Wanderer, ostensibly the face of Romanticism - and apparent archetype of open-world, action-game box art - is a scene of triumph and power. Man-as-master, the wanderer triumphant over the natural world.

It is also the opposite - which is brilliant, and probably why it's really quite famous, I'd imagine. As much as it's mastery and might it's also impotence and fear. The world is vast, and wild, and veiled in the most violent uncertainty. It stretches on forever in front of you, and you are alone in it. It's all the arrogance of Enlightenment thought being crushed under the weight of itself. Or maybe it's not! Maybe it's aware of itself and that's the point: the struggle to climb some great peak, in search of some control, some order, some accomplishment, and the sea of futility that awaits beyond. The realisation that there is no grand summit to be completed and finished, no neat and tidy end, no height of civilisation or perfect knowledge - only more uncertainty, on and on forever, and only you alone there to wrestle with all that as best you can.

We've seen this one before. Image via Bec2594 on the r/gaming subreddit.

Who knows! I'm fumbling. That's the joy of being not at all well read in the world of art, and I think, too, the joy of what it is to play a game and wrestle with what it really is to play it, that first time. The joy is standing there, 20-odd years ago, in Pokémon Gold, and wondering what it means to be looking out over the edge of the world. Was this poingance put here, on purpose? Is this little moment, some way along your journey through the natural world of Johto, one placed there precisely so you can reflect on it? On what it means to have come so far, or what it means to exist in a world you, Trainer-Wanderer, have such mastery over? Pokémon has always been about nature, after all, famously guided by the hopes of Satoshi Tajiri that other children would play it and be as fascinated with the bugs and critters of the wild as he was. Maybe this is a moment of pure and perfect design, one sweeping second that gathers so many disparate philosophies and thoughts together into one.

Or maybe not. But Johto's shores and Friedrich's Wanderer. What a tweet!

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Chris Tapsell

Deputy Editor

Chris Tapsell is Eurogamer's Deputy Editor and most decorated Football Manager. He used to write guides, and will send you links to his favourite spreadsheets if you ask him about League of Legends or competitive Pokémon.