In the fall of 1998, at the age of nine, my 5th grade mind was only interested in two things: Girls and Pokémon. Girls were an enigma, but Pokémon was something I could stretch my mind around. I had been keeping up with all the newest Pokémon info via Nintendo Power for months. I labeled an empty peanut butter jar "For Pokémon" and dropped in every bit of change and hard earned cash I could get my hands on.
I never had any issues with girls growing up. I didn't think they were icky, had cooties, or were inferior recess playmates. In fact I had lots of lady friends throughout grade school. What I did have an issue with was knowing if girls liked me. You know, "like liked" me. Serious stuff. Boyfriend and girlfriend stuff. As a kid who would literally ask people, "Do you want to be my friend?" and then add them to a physical list in my desk, I wasn't quite sure how to approach girls on this more romantic matter.
Pokémon had just launched in September and my older brother and I had engrossed ourselves in our own versions. He had Blue and I had Red (the obviously superior of the two). We hadn't grown up playing many RPG type games where players interacted with non playable characters (NPCs), so Pokémon was a huge leap forward for us. What would the next person say? Would they want to battle? Did they have a Pokémon to trade?
For the first few days we (embarrassingly) couldn't figure out how to save the game, so we started our adventures over and over. Finally, finally, one of us managed to find the obvious "save" option. Huzzah! This meant more places to explore and more people to engage with.
Mid way through the game I sauntered into the Silph Co. building and busted up some Team Rocket grunts, my rival and that scum Giovanni. Saving the day was just part of the job, right? Dang, I thought I was a stud, rolling in with Blastoise pumping fools left and right. I roamed around talking to all the NPCs after the Rocket attack, taking in compliments, nabbing the Master Ball and strutting my stuff.
Then I met a girl.
"Please keep quiet about my crying!"
That's all this girl could say. She was obviously grateful to me AND she was trusting me to keep her tearful secret.
"I won't tell anyone!" I remember saying out loud like a complete dork. No one was around, what did I care?
That was that. I decided right then and there that this girl was gonna be my girlfriend. Or at least my Pokémon characters' girlfriend. A nameless, one liner of a sprite that didn't move. I dubbed her Elli, a name I had seen in Harvest Moon 64. For the rest of the game I made an effort to come and visit her after every victory, flying into Saffron City to tell her of my exploits in the world of Kanto.
Talking to an NPC on the scratched screen of a see-through Game Boy Pocket. It seems really strange to me now, and more than just a little embarrassing. However, after weeks of talking to my in-game "girlfriend" I mustered up the courage to tell a girl in class that I liked her. Like liked her. She didn't like like me back, but at least I had put it out there. It's not like a nine year-old needs a girlfriend anyway.
I forgot about Elli for a long time. In fact it was a discussion with my wife a few months back that jogged my memory of this little sprite. We both had a good laugh when I explained to her about my pixelated main squeeze. My original Pokémon data and character was deleted long ago by my little brother (I'll never forgive you, Jack), but his bold spirit lives on in me.
So here's to Elli. She's probably going to be really mad at me because I just told you about her crying, but she'll always be my favorite NPC.