The Bug Boy: The Early Years of Pokemon’s Satoshi Tajiri
“When you're a kid and get your first bike, you want to go somewhere you've never been before,” says Satoshi Tajiri. “That's like Pokemon. Everybody shares the same experience, but everybody wants to take it someplace else. And you can do that.”
As a young boy, Satoshi Tajiri was dubbed “Dr. Bug” thanks to his fascination with insects. But when Tajiri discovered a way to combine his interest in insects with his passion for videogames, he had an electronic revolution on his hands. Today, children the world over remain enthralled with Tajiri’s creation of Pokemon, which has made it the most popular video game franchise in the world, second only to Super Mario.
Tajiri was born on August 28, 1965 in Machida, Tokyo. His father worked as a car salesman, while his mother was a housewife. Ever since he can remember, Tajiri has been preoccupied with bugs “As a child, I wanted to be an entomologist,” he says. “Insects fascinated me.” His family lived close to the forest, which allowed the young Tajiri to wander off on his own and observe insects at his leisure.
But Tajiri did not just watch the insects he found; he would also try to catch them and create his own collection at home. He would even trade insects with his friends to get the ones he really wanted.
When he was not out catching bugs, Tajiri was busy reading comic books and watching anime. “I’m part of the first generation who grew up with manga [comics] and anime [animation], you know, after ‘Godzilla.’ I was absorbed with Ultraman on TV and in manga.” Soon, he became interested in video games, and found a job testing video games for magazines.
In 1982, when Tajiri was just 17 years old, he got together with a group of his friends – all of whom shared his love for video games – and they came up with an idea. The group of teenagers decided they were going to create their own magazine. It was going to be a magazine about new video games and comic books called “Game Freak.” It was not long before the magazine – hand-written and stapled as it was – took off in popularity. Other Japanese kids could not get enough of the tips, tricks, and reviews that Tajiri and his friends were providing.
The success of “Game Freak” led Tajiri to write two books, “CAP Land” and “Catch ‘em all CAP land.” Still, he wanted more. And so, later in the 1980s, the boys behind “Game Freak” decided they would begin to develop their own video games. Tajiri was inspired by the recent launch of Nintendo’s Game Boy. He began to think about a video game that revolved around insects, collecting them as he used to as a child. When Tajiri noticed two boys playing the Game Boy next to each other, he was struck with the idea of creating a game that revolved around trading.
With that, Tajiri set off to create what would become one of the most popular video games in history.
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