A Pokemon is You!

Allison’s book provided a lot of nice detail, theory, and research regarding a topic I’ve been both actively and passively exposed to over the years. Naturally, being a Japan studies guy, I have a lot of experience with many of the ideas of Japan’s post-war economic and cultural transformation(s). On top of that I have an oddly extensive background with Pokemon, despite actually not liking most of the game itself or the culture that surrounds it. So, it was interesting comparing and contrasting some of my own ideas on the Poke-topic at hand.

Unsurprising, to me at least, was the overwhelming cultural force of consumerism/capitalism in both the success of these properties and the design of them as well. I wholeheartedly agree with her assessment that the basic functionality of Pokemon is an, at least incidental, allegory for capitalistic relationships, especially those represented in the TV show. However, like many others who reach this conclusion, she focuses primarily on extra-medial sources, like the TV show or Pokemon’s ubiquitous advertising in Japan. This certainly can reach the issue of Pokemon’s success, but I feel fails to examine why the original game managed to seamlessly assume this model in the first place.

Allison discusses some of the basic mechanics of children’s toys in some of her other chapters, but in discussing Pokemon’s appeal she basically chalks it up to ‘fitting the current portable model’. To me this is really one of the only holes in her discourse. If all a game had to do was fit the model, how come so few other similar games, like Dragon Quest or it’s Pokemon clone spinoff Dragon Quest Monsters which both boasted an established fandom, managed to take off in the same way? While I have many ideas about why this is (and are things I’m going to explore in my final paper), the basic reason is that Pokemon is inexorably tied to consumer culture and consumer identity.

The catching and collection aspects of Pokemon have been spoken about ad nauseum, but I find it surprising how rare the discussion about what you actually do with your Pokemon is. After all, the bulk of most Pokemon games isn’t actually spent just capturing new Pokemon. In fact, most people who play the game often end up using their first Pokemon the entire way through, sometimes exclusively. But that’s where the interesting part is, in choosing which Pokemon to use, players effectively ascribe those Pokemon into symbols of themselves. An overt case of consumerist ideas shaping identity. Beyond that, each Pokemon game has introduced new modes of interacting with your Pokemon, furthering this notion of personal ascription. People can rapidly and easily distinguish their persona by simply saying ‘I like to breed Charizards’, and those with similar cultural experience can extrapolate significant meaning through that saying. But more importantly, by giving players discrete differences they provide players with a tangible sense of uniqueness and self. That’s the true genius of Pokemon’s design.

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