The word "inspire" derives from the Latin term "inspirare," which means "to breathe into," because creativity blows in from some transdimensional reservoir of ideas; when it feels like it, at least. Video game developers are particularly susceptible to these fancies, which is great, because without these oddly-inspired classics we'd have to spend a lot more time, ugh, outside.
On October 19, 1991, an unextinguished grass fire in California's Berkeley Hills quickly turned into a massive suburban firestorm that engulfed 1,500 acres across southern Berkeley and northern Oakland. Officially called the Tunnel Fire, the disaster caused more than $1.5 billion in damages as it consumed over 2400 homes.
It just so happened that one of those homes destroyed by the fire belonged to video game designer Will Wright. He was a founder at Maxis, the game developers that helped kids across the world tolerate computer class with their 1989 classic, SimCity. As the story goes, Wright was one of the first to react to the blaze and even saved a neighbor, fleeing with the flames nearly licking at his tailpipe.
As he surveyed charred remnants of his home and the molten globs of metal formerly his cars, Wright was surprised by an overwhelming feeling of apathy. He realized he only needed a few essentials: a toothbrush, preferably clean underwear, a roof over his head, and maybe two or three Lamborghinis. Despite this feeling, Wright enjoyed redecorating his home with new furniture so much that he decided to give gamers the same experience. Minus the firestorm.
Around this time Wright and Maxis released their third title, SimAnt, which is exactly what it sounds like. Wright came up with the idea of an ant simulator simply because he liked watching ants. Scaling the idea up to human colonies, Maxis pitched an initial version of The Sims, called Dollhouse, to EA. The concept mixed the feeling of watching insects scurry around their habitat with the satisfaction Wright felt while rebuilding his life from the ground up. The original version was judged too sterile, but once The Sims themselves become more lifelike in their reactions, an eventual epic was born, allowing you to vicariously live a better life through a virtual avatar that's more attractive, hygenic and all-around likable than the real you. And all it took was one person's life being ruined.
As a burgeoning Pokemon master, you traversed the globe and enslaved endemic fauna and to fight for your whimsy and honor. The dynamics changed with the introduction of the card game in 1996, which replaced the persistence of hunting with the persistence of annoying your parents for another deck, which contained exactly three Magikarps, some grass energy cards, and another goddamned Dugtrio.
More importantly, no longer could you overlevel your way to victory and crush early-game rivals with a level 57 Butterfree. Instead, the card game required masterful cunning and strategy to reduce opposing children to tears, continuing a historical tradition that stretches several continents and over 500 years into the past.
It starts in the 16th century, when numbered playing cards reached Japan via European traders. The cards offered a distraction from the mélange mindboggling new diseases that mysteriously originated around the same time. Until 1633, when the Tokogawa shogunate banned all numbered cards to discourage gambling as well as stifle the influence of Westernization.
But the already-addicted populace skirted the draconian card ban by producing "artistic" pictorial cards, including a variant known as "obake karuta," which depicted monsters and ghouls from Japanese folklore, known as y?kai. Every card had its own type and special abilities that would help it succeed (or doom it to failure) when battling it out with other cards. The player who collects the most cards by the end of the game wins -- in other words, you "gotta catch 'em all." Sound familiar yet?
These were Japan's first collectible monster cards, emblazoned with figures from popular mythology, as number of Pokemon are, with some directly inspired by their y?kai forebears.
In 1889, shortly after the card ban was lifted, a man named Fusajiro Yamauchi established a small card-manufacturing concern to mass produce Hanafuda decks, composed of 48 flowery cards of four different suits. You may have heard of that company. It's called Nintendo.