In theory, the concept of Pokemon seems dark and bloody. People roam and wander throughout the world to hunt and capture wild, cute creatures into storage devices (either portable spheres or files on a computer). These creatures are then used to fight other similar creatures against people who have nothing better to do and stand around all day looking to fight at anyone who walks through their gaze. It sounds pretty grim. Until you play the actual game, which has delightful graphics, a sunshine view of people and Pokemon in harmony, and fun. Pokemon’s really fun (a shocking take, I know). In my last post, I said that this game was essentially capturing and having animals fight for my personal glory; this game is still that but after further thinking, that doesn’t ruin the game. This is because Pokemon has no root in reality and never claims to simulate real life, only create a new world of Pokemon.
Galloway states for a game to be founded in realism (as opposed to realisticness), it must have “a true congruence between the real political reality of the gamer and the ability of the game to mimic and extend that political reality” (Galloway 83). Pokemon (before Pokemon X and Y, which features a story centered on the ethical dilemma of Pokemon fighting) does not attempt to match any sort of genuine political reality of the gamer. Sure, the human characters look like cartoon people but still human people. I have to walk to a store to buy products, and I make money off of winning competitions I strategize and train over (yay capitalism). The argument can even be made to critique the flawed Silicon Valley ideal implicit in being “the best like no one ever was” (Pokemon Theme Song lyrics). But that kind of theorizing comes off of as kind of ridiculous. No player ever goes into Pokemon with the expectation that it is depicting the “real world” or any circumstances relevant to the player. If anything, Pokemon, especially the remake Pokemon: Alpha Sapphire, is escapist entertainment, promising a clear fantasy world that gives the player more control than they do in real-life. In military simulators like America’s Army and Under Ash, these games are designed to be realistic simulations and stories of war and modern armed conflict. Both act as sites where player can take the roles of marginalized people in these conflicts (more convolutedly in America’s Army) and experience similar actions in the digital world that a player might experience in their real social reality. This is why Galloway examines military games in that chapter (“Social Realism”) of his book (Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture). Transplanting social realism to fantasy games is ineffective because these games have no reality rooted in the actions within the game world.
For this reason, the game PETA released to protest the animal fighting, Pokemon: Black and Blue, has gotten mainly negative responses (apparent in any comments on any review or mention of it) (Schreier). PETA tries to argue that the combat system that uses Pokemon in the whole Pokemon series is akin to real-life animal fighting. These games, therefore, numb people to real-life animal fighting and normalizes it. PETA, in its parody game, places players in the roles of Pokemon who try to liberate other Pokemon from their cruel and abusive human trainers. I will admit this concept would have been very poignant if it were applied to any real-world context, not Pokemon. PETA ruins their aim for a socially realistic game by attacking fantasy, satirizing a world that everyone recognizes as not tied to reality in any way other than the digital world. There has not been an increase of kids trying to capture wild animals and have them fight for sport to the death. Even 8 year olds know that Pokemon is not real. However, if their game placed players in a more realistic rooster about to fight for a group of digital people in a realistically-looking barn in rural Alabama, PETA would have an effective game. But Pokemon isn’t the grim bloody reality that is real animal-fighting. And we shouldn’t pretend it is when we talk about it. Don’t get me wrong. Using pocket monsters, some of which are based on real animals, to fight for sport is still weird and a little unsettling. Then again, there are three Pokemon based off of ice cream and one that is based on a chandelier. So, let’s not treat the former card game (turned digital game) as a pure work but let’s also not treat as the most insidious cultural artifact. I would rather focus on saving endangered turtles by the Great Barrier Reef (which is close to dying) than make sure my Blastoise is safe.
“Chandelure.” Bulbapedia, http://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/wiki/Chandelure_(Pok%C3%A9mon).
Galloway, Alexander R. Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 2006. Print.
Jon D. B. “25 of the Most Useless Pokemon in the History of the Franchise.” Image #21 from Playbuzz, 23 Nov. 2014, http://www.playbuzz.com/jonb10/25-of-the-most-useless-pokemon-in-the-history-of-the-franchise.
“Pokemon Alpha Sapphire for Nintendo 3DS.” Toys R Us, http://www.toysrus.com/buy/kids-family/pokemon-alpha-sapphire-for-nintendo-3ds-ctrpecle-41442386.
Pokemon X. “Pokemon Theme Lyrics.” Metro Lyrics, http://www.metrolyrics.com/pokemon-theme-lyrics-pokemon.html.
Schreier, Jason. “Humans Are the Enemy In This Ridiculous PETA Pokémon Parody.” Kotaku, 8 Oct. 2012, http://kotaku.com/5949895/humans-are-the-enemy-in-this-ridiculous-peta-pokemon-parody.
One thought on “Pokemon aren’t really real (Ryan Rotella)”
Nice insights about the difference between fantastical and realistic settings in videogames, and the potential for either to critique society. Science fiction is often described as futuristic scenarios that are in fact critiquing the present (that idea came up in our discussions of Portal. Is there any chance that fantasy can be used to launch critiques of contemporary social practices? Maybe the PETA game was ineffective (though I think it accomplished what it set out to do, which is to call attention to itself), but are there other games that have used fantasy realms successfully to critique society?