How The Grand Underground (Almost) Saved Shining Pearl

Pokemon Platinum was the game that got me back into the franchise after a decade’s long hiatus. It was a gift from a friend along with a DS Lite and I was immediately sucked into the Sinnoh region and its Pokémon. I was able to take on Giratina with a Piplup and turned said devourer of worlds and chaos entity into a spoiled pet that liked walks in Amity Square and lots of poffins. 

When Brilliant Diamond/Shining Pearl was announced around the same time as Legends: Arceus, I had a bit more faith in the Sinnoh remake than I did about the open world survival horror game where Pokemon are actively trying to kill you and a murderous blonde is causing mayhem. But from the start there was something…off about BDSP. A different studio was in place that changed the art direction and style. Many of the quality of life changes that had become practically canon in Pokémon games were either ignored or severely limited. The game overall just felt lacking in comparison to its Sinnoh cousin and its Sinnoh elder. For many, Sinnoh was their home in the same way that Hoenn and Johto were mine (I did play Red, Blue and Yellow as a kid but I don’t really think I formed a strong connection to the franchise till Crystal and for sure cemented in Ruby/Sapphire). 

In my friend group, Carlos skipped BDSP because Sinnoh wasn’t even a region he played in and that left Ricky and I to try and get through it, emphasis on try. Both of us immediately noticed that this was not the Sinnoh our nostalgia remembered from the very deformed (chibi) style of character model to the running mechanics to how Pokemon interacted with you and the world. There was just nothing about BDSP that felt like it held a candle to the Sinnoh I came to love so much. So much like Legends Arceus, I stopped playing the game. To be fair, my issues with Arceus are much different to BDSP. While Arceus was a game I fundamentally didn’t feel attached to save for the malewife (Adaman), Volo being the literal worst and a brief mental crisis over Ingo; BDSP had me practically written all over it much like Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire.  

You may know where I’m going with this.

I got to the 7th out of 8 gyms in about 18 hours, having caught only a handful of Pokemon and having a team with stats so high that if I could only solve the puzzle to reach the Ice Gym leader, I’d destroy her. 

I put the game down and didn’t pick it back up. 

That was months ago. 

After finishing the main game in Scarlet/Violet and realizing Pokémon has no plans to actually ever finish a game again since they can just release DLCs and we’ll eat it up like the abused children we are, I decided to go back to Shining Pearl almost on a whim. I was confronted with a team I barely recognized. Sure, it was a team I would have built; an over-powered Empoleon, a Staravia that could fight God, a Luxray with Crunch and a few smatterings of legendaries and other Pokemon that I suppose I captured in a fugue state. I didn’t recognize this team but I was confronted with the 7th gym puzzle and decided to take a step back and get back to my roots. I had an incredibly sparse list of Pokémon in my Pokedex. I clearly had barely captured anything or spoken to anyone in my haste to just finish this chore of the game. So I went back to basics, returned to the start of the map and decided to retrace my steps. The game still isn’t good so when that became tedious, I remembered the Grand Underground. 

The Grand Underground is a series of tunnels built under Sinnoh and connect to various caverns and caves. In the Grand Underground, you can hunt for treasure, catch Pokemon, build a secret base and find new environments. And turns out, it was exactly what I needed. 

If you’ve heard my thoughts on Sword/Shield or Legends: Arceus, some of my favorite parts of those games were the parts I could explore, mostly on my own, get loot and be off to myself. 

I set out to hoard statues, find shards and gather fossils and stones. And I did that for 20 or so hours. I made a Secret Base in my favorite city, full of my favorite Pokémon. I traded shards and sold stones and changed clothes. I explored caves and caverns and even caught some Pokémon to round out my team including a Garchomp that is also ready to take on God and a Rapidash that is the most majestic murderer I’ve ever seen. 

I spent time making my Pokeball capsules absolutely perfect and connected Pokémon Home to the game so I could fill out the Pokedex and start finding Pokémon that I actually was willing to bond to. I saved the world from Cyrus’ stupid plan and tamed a god and any time the game got a little too hard or a little too boring, I’d return to the mines. 

I’m still in the mines; frankly annoyed and flustered at my inability to solve a puzzle meant for children and still focusing on making my Secret Base perfect. I still can’t say I like this game, it is still a failure in every way for one of the most iconic regions in Pokémon history. But for a brief and wonderful moment, I’m content in the mines. 


What COVID-19 Took From Us

I remember driving into work 3 years ago. I didn’t get the message sooner; I had refused to download Slack onto my phone, determined to maintain my strict line between work and home. I had brought candy into the office to help celebrate the upcoming Easter holiday. When I got into work, the office was empty. My Slack was full of messages about working from home and a virus. I packed up my laptop, charger and client notes that day; I never walked back into that office again. 

This week marks 3 years since the first lockdown for COVID-19. I’m writing from my dining room table, my now makeshift desk that was set up to accommodate working from home. I still remember watching the story unfold. First it was a virus that was spreading across China. Then as soon as it arrived stateside, the world slowed to a crawl. Suddenly I was using scrap fabric to make masks, working in my dining room, recording podcasts in my living room and spending all of my time at home. The first lockdown, in hindsight, was such a naive gesture. We joked about how this would just be a two week long ordeal and we’d all be back to normal soon. I’d argue that 3 years on, we’re still not fully back to normal. 

The misinformation started both quicker and slower than I expected. There of course was the racist information that spread and still spreads like wildfire due to the then racist demagogue in office. Discussions of who was essential and who wasn’t essential. The immediate rush to figure out how to make nearly any job one that could be done from a remote setting. The surge in delivery services, home cooking projects, crafts that will never be picked up again and strategic trips out to briefly glimpse an outside world that was still, quiet but somehow still functioning. 

I made visits to my friends working at the local card shop, shocked that they were considered to be essential by their capitalist boss. It was that outrage that started me bringing in baked goods and sweets for them. I felt it was the least I could do: if they were having to risk their lives for the sake of corporate greed, the least I could do was give them a tray of cookies or cake to help ease the sting of the situation. 

Insolation, the worst in people bubbled to the surface. Latent racist, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia all rose to the top as people flooded online spaces to discuss their views with others who thought like them. Civil debate died before COVID, arguably with the aforementioned racist demagogue, but people became so much more set into their ways alone in echo chambers. 

Masks were debated endlessly, comfort was placed over saving lives. Arguments, deaths, violence all over a covering of the mouth to not only protect others but to protect yourself. 

When the vaccine became available, that was also called into intense scrutiny because apparently the reality I live in has reverted back to a shadow world where fascists walk freely in the streets and science is denied over solutions such as Ivermectin, colloidal silver and hydroxychloroquine. A non-insignificant part of the population didn’t even think the pandemic that was killing millions was real, blaming the deaths on other conditions or even assuming those lost were merely crisis actors. 

Nurses and doctors were faced with a solution that seemingly had no winner. Either people died because they had been exposed or people died because they did nothing to stop the spread of COVID-19. Either way, people died. 

In 3 years, over one million people died. There are still deaths to this day, we just stopped counting. Living in Texas, our governor decided he was tired of acknowledging the existence of the pandemic years ago and in the process put thousands of Texans at risk. The people that died were mothers, brothers, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, fathers. They were Americans. They were neighbors. But I’d be lying if I said that I wore a mask and got vaccinated for them. I have asthma and other underlying health conditions: I was the poster child for someone who would die if they got COVID. I managed to contract non-COVID pneumonia during the same time and I struggled so much during that time that it took me months to fully recover. I got vaccinated and wore a mask to protect myself. 

Did I stop wearing a mask too soon? Probably. There are people that I know that are still masking and I fully support them. I stopped around the time I got my first vaccine booster, at that point I was already starting to feel the societal pressure to stop wearing them because things had gone back to “normal” with the promise of a vaccine. But I’d argue that nothing about what has come after that first lockdown has been normal. People are still dying. 

Nothing about who I am is the same that I was 3 years ago. Before I loved going out, at times for hours, shopping and walking around the mall and spending time at restaurants either alone or with friends. Now, the thought of going to a mall for fun makes me anxious. Most of the food that I consume outside of what I make is left on my doorstep via delivery app. I don’t shop in-store anymore, opting for home delivery or if I’m feeling daring, a quick pick up of an order only to promptly return home to sanitize my purchases. 

I’ve always had some social anxiety but during the lockdown, it became absolutely unbearable. I couldn’t go to grocery stores and honestly, I still struggle to do so. Places with too many people makes my chest feel tight. I hate crowds or people standing too close to me. Going to anime conventions with Carlos were once a major part of my life and now the thought of going to a convention with so many people just makes me sick to my stomach. In addition to the social anxiety, my generalized anxiety and depression also worsened. I’d sit at home for hours refreshing my city’s local COVID dashboard, seeing every updated case, every new zip code added, every new death. My then therapist encouraged me to stop doing so, citing that it was akin to digital self-harm. I had to stop reading the news and feverishly checking social media. In isolation, my depression that had just very recently as of the start of the pandemic was becoming more manageable once more became the monster I had always known it to be. I felt that the world was falling apart around me, I was worried about my family 300 miles away, I was scared about getting sick. I was afraid of facing violence because of my choice to wear a mask in public. The pandemic was the worst case scenario for those that have mental illness: the last thing any of us needed was a mandate to stay inside, avoid crowded spaces, constantly hyperfixate on bad news and more importantly: confirm the sick suspicion that we all had, something truly horrible could happen and there before our eyes, it was. 

COVID took nearly everything from me. I’m still struggling to find a routine that makes sense in this world that is in transition. Clearly, the pandemic is not over but there is no hard and fast date that things just end. That doesn’t mean I think the U.S. has handled this all perfectly. The CDC has handled this less than gracefully. I feel it most when I’m also doing things I’d normally do. On a day I’m feeling brave and I go into more than one shop, there’s this tug of dissonance that tries to tether me to the current reality of what’s going on. This shit isn’t over. This disease isn’t just like the flu. We shouldn’t accept that thousands are still dying every week. We shouldn’t accept that those suffering with long COVID are disabled and have had their lives turned entirely upside down by one illness that spiraled into an unlivable nightmare. 

None of this is okay.

But we have to keep going, we don’t have a choice. Capitalism never lets you slow down. And while I feel some solace knowing that I am protected by science and social awareness, I struggle to think I’ll ever get back the security I had in myself, my nation and the world I had before the first lockdown. 

Where is the 2022 Year in Review?

I started a tradition years ago that I would do a year in review every year I still blog. 2022 is the year that royally kicked my ass. I was let go more times than I like admitting, I saw many of my personal relationships deteriorate and my mental health take a dive in ways that I hadn’t felt since before I returned to being medicated. 

Needless to say, I struggled with even posting on my blog. The truth is that after being canceled by a guinea pig fanatic and her mob, it was hard for me to return to blogging. Every notification felt like another shoe about to drop. I lost motivation and was incredibly burned out between my day job, podcasts and other obligations. 

But I’m doing my best to return to this blog and return to writing regularly. My goal is at least twice a month for now and keep that rhythm for a little while. Look for another post soon that will be a little different than others. We’ll be playing a fun game as a way to get to know me and get me used to seeing blog notifications as nothing to fear and something to look forward to. 

Thank you all for your patience and thank you for sticking with me! 

I’m a Slytherin…What Do I Do Now?

The author of Harry Potter is a TERF. A TERF is a trans exclusionary radical feminist. She denies the existence of trans women. She thinks trans women are just men in dresses that wish to do harm to cisgender women. She thinks that trans men are lost sisters. She is an active threat to trans people across the UK and the world. 

She is also the creator of something I hold close to my heart. Closer than my religion on the best of days. 

There have been murmurs about what to do with Harry Potter for at least a decade. There had always been rumblings that Auntie Jo Rowling had some unsavory thoughts about trans people. And for the most part, the fandom was content to just remove her from the fandom. IHarry Potter is a phenomena and was always more than the author. By the 2010s when these conversations were brewing, there was fanfic, entire AUs, fan art, roleplays and more that were in places better done than the original work itself. Knowing what Hogwarts House you were in was needed and entire friendships and relationships were made and broken over House placement. Entire personalities were based on House placement. There was merch, cosplay, and midnight theater showings. 

And all in the background was a conversation about “Death of the Author”. A conversation I was happy to indulge in. It was the easiest path to take that meant I could distance myself from Rowling’s inflammatory nonsense and still enjoy the one source of remaining serotonin in my life. 

I can’t ethically do that anymore. 

Hate crimes against trans people have risen exponentially in the UK. Hate crimes and anti-trans litigation are also on the rise in the US. All of this can be linked to Rowling’s very approachable form of anti-trans hate. She brings up “valid points” about how inclusionary language is harmful. That she’s just a good feminist for not trusting men in women’s spaces. That she’s a victim of past sexual abuse and that she’s “rightfully worried” about men parading around as women like wolves in sheep’s clothing. Those are all points that if you’ve never met a trans person before all seem like valid concerns to have. It creates a simple pipeline from concern to bigotry. 

Canceling Rowling in theory is easy but not supporting her financially has been hard. On one end, there were folks who immediately destroyed their books and merch, vowed to never give her another cent, had tattoos removed and said they’d never show the Wizarding World to their children in an effort to stop hate. 

There were the middle ground folks, which for the most part included me, that said they would provide no new financial support but found too much meaning in the franchise to entirely cut it off. For many, Hogwarts was a home away from home that kept those with mental illness, trauma and addiction safe from their own less than savory realities. Harry Potter was most importantly about community and leaving that behind…putting up our wands and cloaks…that felt too hard to do. 

There were others that felt that there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism and took immense comfort in knowing that Warner Brothers had cut off some of her profits from the Fantastic Beasts franchise and the upcoming Harry Potter video game that everyone thinks is fantastic. I understand where these folks were coming from. For every dozen of us willing to pack it in, there were others that had no concerns about Rowling’s rhetoric and harm and would still consume this product anyways. 

Then the slippery slope came in: do you denounce everyone who agreed with her? Ray Fienes was one of the hardest (especially considering how brilliant I thought he was in The King’s Man) and Robbie Coltrane (who passed away in 2022) also sided with Rowling and he was the most comforting and accepting presence anyone could ask for. The main case almost unilaterally disagrees with Rowling. Danield, Emma, Rupert, Tom…all of them have openly come out to say they disagree with her views but you can’t deny they still profit off of their work decades ago. 

I was willing to stay in the middle lane until visiting The Wizarding World at Universal Japan. I don’t want to talk about how much money I spent but I felt alive. I felt like I was at home. Like I had finally gotten my Hogwarts letter at 32 and I could run around with a wand, casting spells with wands my friends and I picked based on our personalities. I felt powerful going through the motions of spells and getting each one correct much to my friends’ amazement. I felt alive. 

And then the guilt set in. 

I had promised to remain in the middle path, not giving Jo Rowling anymore money in exchange for blissful ignorance about the active harm she’s doing. 

I am a Slytherin. I’m proud of my house despite its fascist implications. I have always prided myself on my cunning, ambition and charm. 

And now, here I am. I am surrounded by Slytherin merch that has defined me for over a decade. I am unsure of what to do or how to feel. I obviously despise Jo Rowling and her rhetoric. I stand firmly with my trans brothers and sisters and those that are somewhere in between. I am horrified by the rise in anti-trans litigation and sickened by the increase in violence against trans people across the world. 

But I don’t have a straightforward answer as to what to do with my merch. For now, I am phasing out of displaying it publicly. I won’t be part of something that is clearly anti-trans. But I also am incredibly sympathetic to those that still associate heavily with Harry Potter and their Hogwarts House. 

For now, I won’t be creating a bonfire of all my Slytherin merch. But my relationship to all the money I have spent supporting a TERF has certainly changed.