Internet furious as US customs destroy pristine copy of Pokémon Yellow worth $4,000

By Mason Berlinka

Published Jan 25, 2023 at 10:41 AM

Reading time: 2 minutes

To both the dismay and appal of gaming enthusiasts worldwide, one unlucky collector has had his original, sealed copy of Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition opened and subsequently ruined by US customs and Border Protection.

In what can only be described as an act of senseless brutality against gaming memorabilia, the near-mint collector’s item had its protective case broken, seal removed and front cover sliced off. Yes, you read that right—sliced off.

This gutting news comes directly from Stephen Kick, CEO of game developer Night Dive Studio, who tweeted on 19 January 2023 a picture of the destroyed box on behalf of the victim—a friend of the developer who goes by the handle @The_Master_Of_Unlocking. If you have a nostalgic heart, brace yourself because the image below is rough.

Users across the web were quick to voice their horror as to how something like this could happen. Did the US customs have to go to such destructive lengths to open the box and obliterate its value? One user from the r/retrogaming subreddit pointed out that if airports have machines that scan luggage, surely the customs office could’ve employed the same practice.

Not long after the tweet was posted, other enraged gamers on Twitter and Reddit began to share their outrage over the incident, wondering why the border officials would’ve been so ruthless.

Kick replied to one disappointed spectator: “Maybe they thought a Pikachu was trapped inside?”

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Needless to say, most folks weren’t happy. In an email correspondence with Kotaku, @The_Master_Of_Unlocking—who on 17 January agreed to pay $3,800 for the previously graded game—said that at first, he thought it was just the acrylic case that had been damaged and he wasn’t “particularly concerned,” but then he noticed the missing factory seal and subsequently saw that the entire front cover for the box had been sliced off. He went on to report that a PayPal dispute to figure the situation out is “still ongoing.”

It’s unlikely the customs office will pay for the damages, particularly as it’s within its rights to open goods that come through its warehouses. Nevertheless, we’re with @The_Master_Of_Unlocking on this one. The damage seemed senseless and deliberate. Surely there was a way around this to help preserve such a cherished part of gaming history?

Why do so many people have a problem with Wata Games?

Although numerous commenters were eager to share their sympathies for the damaged goods, many more were highly critical of the leading video game grading and certification service and the marketplace responsible for the retro find’s near $4,000 valuation, Wata Games.

Users were quick to highlight that the sealed Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition should never have cost that much in the first place, and that Wata Games actively manipulated the marketplace for vintage games to turn a profit.

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In May 2022, Video Games Chronicle reported that employees were said to be actively selling their own graded games for high prices, in a direct breach of the company’s own policies. Additionally, Wata is accused of conspiring with the auction house Heritage Auctions to artificially inflate the market.

Although the destruction of the near-pristine memorabilia is a tough one to watch, online spectators were quick to criticise Wata and the third-party grading of retro collectables.

Regardless of what you think of the arbitrary numerical grading of a collectible, it still sucks. Was the price tag completely unjust? We don’t know, but someone was willing to spend that much on the game, and look where it got them.

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