The Pokemon Card McConspiracy – A Tale of Heartbreak, Betrayal, and Lebron James

Ronald did me dirty.

McDonalds Pokemon
Image Source: Business Insider/The Pokemon Company

Earlier this year, fast food mega-conglomerate McDonald’s took a calculated risk by introducing a Happy Meal prize that was certain to cause immediate, widespread mayhem. This was, of course, when they unveiled a line of exclusive Pokemon cards specially made to celebrate the franchise’s 25th anniversary.

Featuring an array of popular starter Pokemon (and Chikorita), any fool could have foreseen the misfortune that would eventuate — from widespread shortages to scalpers flipping complete sets for a king’s ransom, and even a few unopened box loads being hawked on eBay.

It would be the cause of many Sad Meals, scores of heartbroken children being turned away with nary a Pikachu to cherish for their own. This would no doubt result in many of history’s greatest villains, having now lost their faith in humanity and turning to a life of destruction. Give this theory a few decades to pan out.

McDonald’s released a fairly milquetoast statement at the time, telling IGN that “…we’re working quickly to address shortages and also strongly encouraging restaurants to set a reasonable limit on Happy Meals sold per customer.”

Roughly translated: “we’re doing our McBest. Please stop buying fifty Happy Meals, middle-aged men.”

Here we are, months later, and now Australia has been blessed/cursed with the long-awaited promotion. It’s a simple truth that trends take longer to reach us down under, whether it’s video games, movies, or political progression.

With the power of hindsight, it leads one to ponder whether they ought to roll the dice on such a gambit. I cast my memory back to 1998, and a set of Pokemon plush toys that were being sold at Burger King. At last, my chance to claim a furry Vulpix friend to carry around the schoolyard, and to share all my secrets with, and should fate smile upon me, someday call my wife.

But it was not to be. By the time I visited the venue, the promotion was over, and in its place was a range of Play-Doh items. It tore my ten-year-old soul to shreds, and Play-Doh has never tasted quite the same since then.

Fresh though these wounds may have been, last week I steeled my courage and ordered four Happy Meals on Menulog. When the purchase went through, I was elated — success was mine! All I had to do was wait patiently for the bounty to land on my doorstop, complete with a handsome array of Pokemon cards and enough calories to clog even the heartiest of arteries.

The air would grow tense as the delivery driver took a suspiciously long time to arrive, having literally gone in the wrong direction for a period of time. Was he trying to steal my Pokemon cards? Was this a dastardly plot by Team Rocket?!

Eventually he righted his way, having clearly felt a pang of guilt for his misdeed. When my order was finally in my grubby mitts, I fervently tore open the boxes to come face to face with…

Space Jam

Space Jam toys?

What kind of sick prank was this?! I didn’t order a single LeBron Jame, let alone four of them. That wasn’t even enough to put a starting lineup on the court!

I felt betrayed, as if LeBron’s dunking action was the physical manifestation of my hopes and dreams being callously slammed into the waste bin of dismay. It was Play-Doh all over again, only this time I was a man in my mid thirties and somehow that makes it much, much sadder.

But now, I had powers that I could have only dreamt of in my childhood — the deadly ability to transform at will into a fearsome Karen. I wasn’t going to take this sitting (except for while I was tearfully eating my McNuggets), I had to bring my grievances straight to the top.

Ray Kroc himself would have to know how I’d been slighted, so I filed an official complaint. That’s right, an official one! Not one of those fictional ones that rarely leads to more than a stray headcanon.

“Imagine the disappointment my four children felt while they excitedly searched for their Pokemon cards,” I wrote, clearly embellishing the truth a little that my four children were in fact one me. “It ruined our whole evening.”

That last part, at least, was factual. It did ruin our evening, especially if we start referring to ourselves in plural from now on.

The response was swift, with an apologetic email the next day from a customer care person whom I will call Bernice, to protect the innocent. At least, I assume she’s innocent. I’ve never met Bernice, and cannot say with certainty that she hasn’t committed some sort of crime.

She followed the matter up, and promised me that “4 Pokemon Card Toys” would be posted to my address. You hear that, society? We won! All it took was disposing the last shred of integrity I ever held, and the efforts of poor, beleaguered staff members who did nothing to deserve this headache.

Yes, I’m very sorry that I’m a petulant disgrace. But straight up, it’ll be worth it if I score myself a Bulbasaur.

Pokemon Bulbasaur
Pictured: salvation. | Image Source: The Pokemon Company

For the next week, I would eagerly check the mailbox, only to find bills, junk mail, and a snail who I will tentatively name Armin until something more suitable springs to mind. Soon, anticipation would turn to doubt, and then to panic.

I could only imagine what fate my Pokemon cards had met. Bernice had me fooled, and was surely sitting atop a throne of stray cards right at this moment, a brandy perched between her fingers as she laughed a cruel, throaty laugh.

Was this… karmic intervention?

With each day that passed, I began to wonder whether these Pokemon cards ever even existed in the first place. I had never seen one, after all, so couldn’t vouch that they were not figments of our collective imagination.

Perhaps it was a social experiment, testing whether we had freed ourselves from the zeitgeist of consumerism a quarter of a century after Pokemania had first gripped the planet. If so, then it would seem that I had failed; having attempted to deny four children of their Pokemon cards in one fell swoop.

It’s hard to remain introspective when you hate everything that looks back at you. How could I progress as a human being when I was still falling into the same pratfalls that had been holding me back all along? I was awash with shame; a lamentable pawn who refused to free himself from the shackles of commodification, time and time again. 

Then my Pokemon cards actually arrived and I was happy again. And what better way to close out this piece than by unveiling what I ended up with? Would it be the beguiling Bulbasaur? The loveable Litten? The festive Froakie? That jerkass Charmander?

LeBron Pokemon

Oh… oh no…

About the author

Tony Cocking

A miserable little pile of secrets. Unabashed Nintendo stan, Resident Evil fancier and obscure anime enthusiast who insists everything is funnier when the rule of three is applied. Oh, and once I saw a blimp!