Booted up the PC
This blog is long overdue for an article series on Pokemon, my favorite IP and franchise of all time. Like most of the games that I write about on this blog, Pokemon, the handheld RPGs, is a game series that has received little thoughtful, intelligent, and critical analysis. Because the phenomenon hit the US back in 1998 many gamers feel like they know Pokemon well. I assure you there is much to discuss. I will presesnt a full analysis of Pokemon Black/White that focuses on its design and story. I will also take the time to frame Pokemon the concept through an analysis of other Pokemon games and products. Before ending, I'll suggest repairs for the next generation of Pokemon.
Before starting, I present my Pokemon precis. Pokemon Red/Blue came out in 1998. At that time I was 11 years old, the perfect age to start my first adventure. Over the next hundred hours of gameplay I traded and battle Pokemon with classmates, neighborhood kids, and strangers. By the end, I had legitimately caught all 151 Pokemon and put together a battle team with a few unusual Pokes, which is notable considering almost everyone used a team featuring the rare birds, mewtwo, and their starter Pokemon.
Behold! Part of my collection of Pokemon. Click to enlarge.
I also played Pokemon Pinball, Snap, some Hey You, Pikachu!, some Pokemon Puzzle League, and the Pokemon Trading Card Game (TCG). I also purchased the Pokemon anime episodes and movie on VHS. I caught Mewtwo with a Great Ball. I researched Missingno on the internet back when message boards were new. I battled against opponents at level 255 with my level 100 Pokemon and won. I went to two Nintendo tournaments and never lost a battle. I recited the PokeRap from memory and won a unique Pokemon hat. I battled in weekly TCG tournaments and took first place in most of them. And I somehow lucked my way into purchasing a first edition holographic Charizard card, one of the rarest and most expensive cards.
Bulbasaur is my favorite Pokemon. Just saying.
At the time, I considered myself a Pokemon Master. It was the kind of self awarded title that only a 14 year old kid could give himself after taking the idea from several Pokemon theme songs. It has been 13 years since I first learned about Pokemon. Initially, people thought Pokemon was just a fad. Give it a year, they said, and the world will have moved on to the next colorful, furry, kids thing. While I never gave up on Pokemon, I limited myself to the handheld RPGs (Gold, Ruby, Diamond, and Black) by the time I entered high school. Today Pokemon Black/White is selling just as well or better than the previous titles in the same amount of time. It's safe to say that Pokemon is not a fad. But this doesn't say what is it exactly.
What is Pokemon?
Pokemon at its core is a whimsical reflection of real world animal behavior, biology, evolution, and culture. Such animals include wild beasts and mankind. The Pokemon world is created and simplified around the function of battle. Instead of the countless classifications used by scientists, Pokemon are organized into 17 types. This simplification works in the same way that it did back in Elementary school when learning was the most interesting part of getting an education. Pokemon are designed to be caught by humans forming a bond of friendship. Through adventuring and battling most of all, a person can learn about Pokemon and visa versa.
For a lover of Biology and or animals it's easy to see the playful abstractions and interpretations of our world. It's obvious how the evolutionary stages of Pokemon like Oddish mirror real world plants. Or why a Pokemon like Zangoose has an immunity to being poisoned. Beyond the animal and plant comparisions there are Pokemon that look and act like us. Mr. Mime, Jinx, Hitmonchan, Throh, and Sawk are like little people designed around a specific aspect of humanity. Then there are the Pokemon modeled after the mystical, legendary, and the difficult to explain. Apparently, the abominable snowman is a Pokemon. The dangers and fears of genetic engineering is realized in Mewtwo. The frightening potential of stem cell research is represented in Mew's ability to learn every TM. For many mysteries of the world there's a Pokemon to give it a body, a personality, and a functional fit into the whole.
Of course Pokemon is also a breakfast cereal, a series of toys, a video game series, an anime, manga, movie series, and more. But these are merely products. What Pokemon is is a fiction that has adhered to the spirit of friendship, nature, and mystery. It's a canvas onto which the simple yet powerful story of an young adventurer is painted. This is why Pokemon is more than fad and more than mindless kid's entertainment.
In part 2, we'll take a close look at the creativity of each of the 5 generations of Pokemon. Are they less creative? More creative? Or just merely repeating the same ideas?