Professor Carolyn Jong
English 255 B – Video Games and/as Literature
April 18th 2017
Pokémon and Diversity in Identity: An Evolving Connection with Pocket Monsters
Moving forward from my last analysis, I have decided to take a closer look at the phenomenon of personal identity in relation to the Pokémon franchise. This essay will be a close reading and exploration of Pokémon in relation to the class theme of narratives of subjectivity. In specific, this essay will explore how Pokémon successfully connects creatures with ever-evolving and diverse player identities. In this context diversity of identity refers to personality traits, gender and growing up with technology in North America. I want to stress that this is my own interpretation of Pokémon and why I believe it continues to dominate our culture.
Firstly, I believe that Pokémon supplies different platforms of interactivity, including games and cards, because diverse personality needs simply cannot fit into one category. Growing up in the nineties, I was directly exposed to the Pokémon phenomenon at the ripe age of seven. Specifically, Pokémon cards. I still have an Eevee card from my childhood sitting with my game collection in a plastic sleeve in pristine condition, Eevee’s luscious light ash-brown fluff was an indirect response to my obsession with being a brunette. In addition, my utmost divine memory related to Pokémon games was playing the one and only Nintendo 64 game: Pokémon Snap. Which brings me to my next point, upon analysis of personal identity in relation to video games, I’ve come to recognize that my own fascination with Pokémon Snap was the opportunity to visit each creature in its natural habitat without harming it, and taking photographs of it in order to admire how cute it is. From my own experience, collecting photographs was more appealing than collecting monsters through fights. As a young Canadian girl, I didn’t want my beloved creatures—especially Eevee—to fight because I couldn’t bare the thought of them being paralyzed, frozen or poisoned. Although Pokémon creatures gain strength through battle, it just wasn’t part of my upbringing, so I willingly skipped out on the Game Boy games in order to avoid battle. Therefore, I argue that Pokémon takes this intangible personality trait I possess into consideration and provides Pokémon Snap as a different way to collect pocket monsters. Author of “Portable Monsters and Commodity Cuteness: Pokémon as Japan’s New Global Power,” Anne Allison, explains how we become emotionally attached to imaginary creatures (Allison 382). For example, Allison writes, “Cuteness, as the Japanese cultural critic Okada Tsuneo states, is one thing that registers for all people,” displaying how these fictional creatures are like pets who can be carried around or harmed if we don’t watch over them. Moreover, while playing Pokémon Blue for this class, I felt relieved when Professor Oak advised me in advance about my issue with making these creatures fight, “To some people POKEMON are pets,” as this statement satisfied my own personal gaming intentions (Pokémon Blue 1998). In this context, my need to satisfy the urge to protect cute creatures from harm directs me toward the Pokémon Snap game, where I can collect them all but in photographic form.
Another reason why I believe Pokémon successfully appeals to identity lies in its gender diversity. With 150 original creatures to choose from, players can connect and identify with their favorite pocket monsters due to the fact that there are no apparent predetermined genders. Upon playing Pokémon Blue, no gender differences amongst the monsters seem to appear, I am simply provided with the Pokémon’s name and the opportunity to give it a nickname. When given the possibility to name my birth rival, I named the character WEX simply because I wasn’t interested in whether my rival was male or female, I wanted to step out of context by giving it a neutral name that would be hilarious to complain about as I play the game. Author of “The Problem With Videogames” writes the following quote to showcase a deeper need for gender diversity within video games, “What I want from videogames is a plurality of voices, I want games to come from a wider set of experiences and present a wider range of perspectives (Anthropy 8).” However, I believe that although Pokémon is a commercial franchise, it takes this want for variety into consideration by creating pocket monsters with indistinguishable gender. For example, a study conducted by Ogletree, Martinez, Turner and Mason published in 2004; examined children’s views on the roles of gender in Pokémon. Results show that, “87% believed that Pokémon could be either boys or girls (Ogletree et al 856).” These findings further display how gender is not directly addressed in regards to the pocket monsters themselves which adds to their appeal; anyone can connect and identify with the creature they find most cute and personable. A firsthand example of this is how I thought Diglett and Dugtrio were gravestones when I was young, so I favored them for sympathetic reasons. In being unable to distinguish Diglett’s gender through immediate appearance, my own imagination created a space for this creature that ultimately transcended predetermined character gender and responded to my human emotion; after all from my perspective, a gravestone creature shouldn’t possess a gender.
Finally, I want to discuss how Pokémon creatures have evolved with us over time; ultimately molding themselves to appeal to our diverse identities. What I mean by this, is as our desires evolve with technology, Pokémon creatures are right there beside us—or in front of us—within the virtual space of Pokémon GO. By overlapping our physical world with pocket monsters, players literally roam around town looking for these adorable creatures. As Daniel Golding, writer of “Gotta (Publicly) Catch ‘Em All: Pokémon GO” states; “Smartphones are blended into our everyday patterns—checking a social-media feed,” this showcases how Pokemon has made its way into our very own daily lives and habits. Furthermore, Golding writes, “Pokémon GO cannot sit idly in your pocket, quietly waiting for when you’re ready to pay attention,” to display a similar need to respond to our virtual pets as we did in the nineties, only now the game requires more dedication as it needs us to be at a certain place on time (Golding 127). My interpretation of Pokémon GO in this context, is as I look for these creatures through the filter of my smartphone camera, this gaming platform sparks memories from my childhood allowing me to keep in touch with a younger version of myself, who used to collect them all via Pokémon Snap. Not only am I immersed—through my own personal player experience in engaging with the interactive and physical space—in trying to catch the creatures that appear on my screen, I am further immersed in trying to locate my all-time favorite creatures including Eevee and Diglett. Ultimately, my interests have evolved, but Pokémon molds itself to my modern habits in order to remain relevant in my everyday life.
In closing, I want to emphasize how important it is that Pokémon offers different game formats such as Pokémon Blue on Game Boy and Pokémon Snap on Nintendo 64 in order to appeal to varied personalities and identities. Allowing players to fight or snap pictures in order to collect creatures ultimately permits players to interact with monsters in a more personable way. Furthermore, refraining from giving these monsters predetermined genders allows players like myself to interpret these creatures in a way that brings us closer to them in order to understand traits about ourselves. The creatures come in all shapes, colors and forms just as we do and this are a direct reflection of diversity amongst players. Finally, Pokémon GO brings us out into the real world to connect with these virtual monsters—and perhaps each other—as we go about on our personal quests to catch ‘em all; whoever we are and whichever way we see fit.
Allison, Anne. “Portable Monsters and Commodity Cuteness: Pokémon as Japan’s New Global Power.” Postcolonial Studies, vol. 6, no. 3, Nov. 2003, pp. 381-395. EBSCOhost, 0-search.ebscohost.com.mercury.concordia.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=12774352&site=eds-live.
Anthropy, Anna. “The Problem With Videogames.” Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form. New York, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2012. 1-21.
Golding, Daniel. “Gotta (Publicly) Catch ‘Em All: Pokémon Go.” Metro, no. 190, Spring2016, p. 127. EBSCOhost, 0-search.ebscohost.com.mercury.concordia.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=ufh&AN=119089821&site=eds-live.
Ogletree, SM, et al. “Pokemon: Exploring the Role of Gender.” Sex Roles, vol. 50, no. 11-12, 2004., pp. 851-859. EBSCOhost, 0-search.ebscohost.com.mercury.concordia.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edswss&AN=000221665400009&site=eds-live.
Pokémon Blue (Nintendo 1998)
Pokémon Go (Niantic 2016)
Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 1999)