Pokémon, in any of its umpteen iterations, is the quintessential collector's game. Any recent version offers not only an ever-growing roster of creatures to hunt and collect, but a chance to retain them beyond a single playthrough. Once you're done, you can upload them from one generation to the next and continue to expand your collection, urged ever on by the enthusiasm of the game's completionist slogan: "Gotta catch 'em all!" Well, "all" is relative. At this point, the original total of 151 different types has swelled up to just under 650. So it's unusual to hear of one particular version of Pokémon that doesn't buy into this frenzy of endless catching. One where, by the end, you don't have dozens or hundreds of monsters-in-pocket. By the end, you have zero.
Beyond your starter Pokémon, there is a nameless, unidentified Ghost, a hazy smear of pixels that lurks at the back of your party.
There is a story, cropping up on Tinycartridge via Player's Pulse, likely originating from 4chan, of an encounter with a "creepy Pokémon hack," appearing as an unmarked, black copy of the original Pokémon Red for the Game Boy. Such hacked cartridges aren't uncommon, and usually contain an assortment of modified or fan-made pokémon, but this one is different. As the story goes, this version plays out essentially the same as its original, but with one major addition to your roster - beyond your starter pokémon, there is a nameless, unidentified Ghost, a hazy smear of pixels that lurks at the back of your party. It cannot be dismissed or set free. Stranger still, it cannot be harmed at all, paralyzing opposing pokémon in their tracks with fear. The Ghost has a single ability, "Curse," that does far more than chip away at its opponents' life totals. When used, the screen cuts to black, the targeted pokémon screams, and then ... it's gone. This curse can also be used on opposing trainers after the battle for similarly morbid results. Soon, tombstones litter the roads, transforming the once-populous Kanto region into a literal ghost town.
A dark tale, but it gets darker. The game's end is followed by an epilogue that depicts your trainer as an aged man, standing in a vast mausoleum filled with your now-deceased pokémon. You slowly walk back to your hometown, passing through rows of graves marking the victims of that ghostly pokemon's curse. After arriving home, you are greeted to an odd sight - one by one, the spirits of the pokémon you killed appear before you, followed by those trainers slain at your hand. Finally, your old pal Ghost appears - but this time, "Ghost wants to fight." With no pokémon of your own, you can only stand paralyzed as he inches closer. You struggle, and your health bar whittles away from your own desperation. Finally, the Ghost casts his curse, you hear a scream, the game cuts to black ... and then nothing. Just an empty screen. You have to reset the game to continue. But when you turn the game back on, there's nothing there - the save file is gone.
The truth is, Pokémon Ghost Black doesn't really exist, except as a spooky yarn told on the internet. But part of the story's appeal is that it could exist - nearly everything described within the hacked game appears in the original. There really is a graveyard town, where old men and women mourn for their late pokémon while spooky music plays. If you visit without a specific item, the ghosts appear hazy and indistinct, like your funereal tagalong in Ghost Black. And "Curse" is even a fully-functioning move in later versions of the game, albeit with a less drastic effect. All the pieces are already there, just portrayed as slightly off or out of place. The finished product seems like something that you really could chance into, perhaps in the backroom of some inscrutable shop of horrors, beside the mogwais and monkey's paws.
So it isn't that Ghost Black is impossible, just implausible within Pokémon's own sanitized aesthetic. At the heart of nearly all the games we play there is an unspoken metaphor of life and death, but Pokémon works tirelessly to push all that unpleasantness just out of sight. There can be graves and tombstones for other pokémon, but yours will travel from one game to another, and will stay by your side forever. They don't get hungry, and they don't get sick - they aren't Tamagotchi, after all. Here is a game where these animals are both best friends and ultimate cosmic weapons, which will fight tooth and claw, biting and slavering until they ... faint?