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Pokemon's place in video game history

Discussion in 'Orange Islands' started by noobcubed, Mar 10, 2014.

  1. noobcubed

    noobcubed

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    So, it's been a few months since my last thousand-word vanity post in Orange Islands, and this is something I've been thinking about for a while. Because, it seems to me, Pokemon's influence on video games is a little hard to qualify, considering it is the second best-selling series of all time and thus presumably must be there. It's not a genre codifier (ie it didn't spawn a sprawling plethora of inferior limitations). If someone says "JRPG" to me, I think Final Fantasy - and I've never even played a Final Fantasy game (crucify me if you must). It didn't really change anyone's perceptions of gaming outside people in my generation, and for people of my (our?) age, it was quite possibly the first game we ever played, somewhat akin to the Walt Disney of video games.

    And yet it's been so successful that it must have had some impact. So here is my attempt to describe that impact:

    1) It cemented Nintendo's position as king of the handhelds. Well, granted, at the time there wasn't much competition (N-Gage, anyone?) but the original Pokemon Red and Blue still gave a shot in the arm to the ailing GameBoy and probably added a year or two to the console's life span. It truly was a killer App for the system, as indeed the entire series has been through four subsequent devices, during which systems like the PSP have failed to break Nintendo's dominance. I guess mobile phones (or cell phones if you prefer) are really emerging as the main competitor but even now the 3DS is holding its own and Pokemon X and Y is amongst the top games on the system.

    2) It introduced a unique aspect of socialisation into gaming. Up until Pokemon, player-player interactions had been limited to standard versus and co-op multiplayer modes. Online PC gaming hadn't really gotten off the ground yet because no-one had the Internet speed, and online console gaming was lightyears away. It was unique at the time for a player to have to interact with other players in order to unlock in-game content, and yet now that system is everywhere, particularly in the rapidly expanding free-to-play/social markets. Ever been forced to drag your friends into helping you out with your Farmville account? That started here.

    3) Pokemon has extended beyond video games into an entire franchise. Perhaps no other video game series has given birth to quite such a wide variety of spin-offs and merchandising, and the sheer volume and the extent to which it enveloped kids' lives in the late nineties has made it culturally transcendent. There are a bunch of people who have never played a Pokemon game, watched the anime or anything else, who still recognise a Pikachu. I'm pretty sure no-one my age will ever forget the first-series anime's theme tune - in fact, I bet even as you read those words the first few bars are playing through in your head, and you're thinking to yourself, "Hell yeah!" Even years after its heyday it's still firmly engrained in the public consciousness, which is probably part of the reason that Twitch Plays Pokemon has been such an enormous success.

    4) While not the root cause, the Pokemon series is a shining example of games becoming easier, but in a not-bad way, because they retain depth. Compare Yoshi's Story, also released at a similar time, pretty dang easy, and, ostensibly, for kids. In Yoshi's Story you just collect fruit until the level ends, and sure you can extend the game by going for the melons if you want but there's really not much to it. Meanwhile, in the Pokemon games, even though you can still complete them in our sleep, (or even with a hundred thousand other people fighting over your controls), you have team choices to make, puzzles to solve, and increasingly, a plot to follow. Moreover, there's far more to do than just completing the main game: there's filling the Pokedex, maxing your Battle Maison streaks and mastering the competitive metagame. In my view this is the way modern games should be - by making them easy to complete but difficult to 100%, and by giving the player a lot of different things to do, the makers are catering for the whole spectrum of players in terms of skill, dedication, and what the player wants to get from the experience.

    So anyway, that's what I mostly got out of this, but I'm sure there are other ways Pokemon has influenced gaming, especially, your perception of gaming as a whole or how it has influenced you tastes. Any ideas below.
  2. Hulavuta

    Hulavuta You're quite bad!
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    I strongly agree with the socialization bit, but you left out what I believe is a big part of it: Pokemon as a form of self expression. There are just so many choices in the game, so that each person playing through the exact same game will have a very different experience from everyone else playing the same game. First you have to name your character; some will go for their real names while others prefer to create some sort of their own original character. You choose six of your favorite Pokemon for your team, which, even in the first game, means that you will likely have a different team than everyone else. You also get to nickname each of your Pokemon (unless you are lame and don't nickname for some reason) which further characterizes these Pokemon as "yours" and different from everyone else's. Then you get to share your unique characters and experiences with all of your friends.

    I read on Wikipedia that anthropologist Joseph Tobin theorized that the appeal of Pokemon was as a way to claim identity (more so in children) and to express individuality while being accepted as part of a group. We are all Pokemon fans, but we all have our own unique opinions on which Pokemon we like and which Pokemon we dislike. This gives us a sense of community and commonality because we are all Pokemon fans, while also giving us all unique identities based on our personal preferences.

    This is all not even mentioning the extreme potential for original content. Fanart, fanfiction, fan games and the many fakemons and original characters are all great examples of the huge amount of art and self expression sprung from Pokemon. And of course, when you've created art, naturally, you want to share it! The Pokemon universe is just something that is naturally inspiring. A lot of people have beef with Pokemon having a bad story in general...but I don't see this as entirely a bad thing. While the stories aren't really deeply developed, the premise and the setting are, basically giving you a world and characters and letting you make them do whatever you want. Really, the only example I need to give of this is the recent Twitch Plays Pokemon Red...just look at all of the great original content and engaging story that came out of that, when the game itself was no different from the same Red that you played.

    This is basically what I think of when I think of how Pokemon impacted socialization. It wasn't only just from having to meet other players to complete 100% of the game, but also from the huge amount of art and self expression that it enabled.
  3. chaostothemax

    chaostothemax

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    I think a lot of what made Pokemon a smash hit was the sheer variety. 150 different monsters, each with unique stats, movepools, and some able to transform into others, was almost completely unheard of at the time of Red and Blue's release. It's ridiculously collection-based; for a self-classified hoarder like me, it's pure bliss being able to gather together the now 718 Pokemon in a single cartridge. It showed the world that, no, you don't have to be limited in what you include in the game.

    Another part of it is the openness of the world. When it came out, it was like the Skyrim of it's day: a comparatively enormous world to explore, lots of glitches to investigate and exploit, and a seemingly limitless amount of potential. It may seem small by our standards today, but back when it was released, it felt like there was no end to the combinations of Pokemon you can play through the game with, and no way to find everything there was to find. This led to a near-infinite replay value, especially for back in 1997.

    I also agree with Hula's statement above about self-expression. Like I said, there was seemingly no end to the Pokemon combinations; especially with EVs, every single run was practically guaranteed to be different. The lack of story, like Hula said, helps the player to overlay any conflict they wanted over the actual story of the game; for a modern example of this, look no further than Twitch Plays Pokemon. The actual story has little to no bearing on their playthrough; instead, they've built up entire religions, established a god vs. god conflict (Man vs. god in the Crystal run), and a backstory for nearly every Pokemon they caught. Every time you play through Pokemon, you build lore up around your team. In my first run of Pokemon White, I established an entire hierarchy among my team members: Serperior was the self-crowned king, Darmanitan was the passionate warrior, etc.

    There is literally no end to the variety of Pokemon, and I think that sends a message to the rest of the world: Dream big. Never say, "We can't add any more characters, or it'll get crowded". Make your games deep in mechanics, but accessible by all; even with the insane amount of variety, Pokemon is still easily played by children around the world. From my perspective as a game design student and kind-of-sort-of author, this is what I take away from the Pokemon games.
  4. noobcubed

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    Oh... well, I'm already a twenty-two-year-old discussing Pokemon, so I guess I don't have much to lose in the lameness department...

    Addressing the self-expression that you have both touched upon, I guess in a way, the first Pokemon installment was more open-ended than any preceding RPG, and that came through the fact you could pick your team. Like chaostothemax points out, whereas in traditional RPGs, particularly Japanese ones, the characters would be really fleshed out, you play a mute protagonist and your accompanying pets have even less personality, allowing you to project personalities onto them - which is yet another form of self-expression. This style of RPG (less plot, more player choice) seems to have become more prevalent in recent years but I'm no genre expert. That said, had the game not had the trading features it had, players might never have shared their self-expression with others, and it wouldn't have generated the whole universe it has done.

    With regards to the potential for original content, I guess this is part of my original point (3), that Pokemon has gone beyond a series of games. The potential for fanart comes from the sheer number of Pokemon, the sheer number of things you can draw, I guess. I've never read any fanfiction (from any parent work) so I can't really comment, but again the fact that the stories are relatively threadbare in the games allows for alternate interpretations. (Fanfic for me is like cocaine - even if I wanted it, I would have no idea where to find it.) That said we need some fanfic based on the alternate character interpretations in Twitch Plays Pokemon.

    On variety, this for me goes hand-in-hand with the (lack of) difficulty. If the games had a really steep level curve then players would end up having to use the best in-game Pokemon, which destroys the point. The games are designed so that the player can decide how he beats the game, rather than taking the "best" path, and that is where the fun comes from. Moreover you can take such an idea the other way - set yourself a deliberately difficult path (ie a Nuzlocke, which by the way I should get round to doing at some point). Loads of games nowadays have these sort of ideas going around, but at the time, not so much.
  5. Age of Kings

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    A couple of things that haven't been touched upon that are mostly concerning the fantasy genre in general:

    1) It's one of the few media franchises that takes inspiration from cultures around the world. You have real life animals, Japanese (and pan-Asian) mythology, Western mythology, indigenous cultures, science, household objects, and everything in between. I was never satisfied, for instance, with the world that Tolkien created, because it borrows so heavily from cliched motifs from Anglo-Saxon and Nordic mythology. Pokemon promotes multiculturalism and one can argue that it spurred a revolution in media that not only opened the West's eyes to Japanese pop culture, but the East to ours. Braviary = 'murica!

    2) It's not (as) human-centric, which is great because even most fantasies cannot break away from rampant specieism (most criminal offender: if you've ever played Alliance in WoW, Alliance lore is literally 80% humans and a tad bit about night elves but fuck everyone else). I've seen JRPG elitists complain about how Pokemon is "poorly written", but those people are completely missing the point. The point is to immerse yourself in the beauty of the world and the creatures that live in it. No one loses sleep over who the PC's dad is or what the PC's background is. But you do care about where Pokemon come from; there are fan theories into oblivion about when Mew came into the equation after Arceus created Dialga, Palkia, Giratina, and the lake pixies. Or did it come at the same time and it wasn't mentioned in Sinnoh's creation myths? Did Ho-oh resurrect Entei, Suicune, and Raikou that way, or were they Eeveelutions when they were killed in the Burned Tower and Ho-oh can change species when it resurrects things? When you caught a Rattata from a wild, did you separate it from its family? I could go on. Just like in real life, we are not alone; there is so much beauty and mystery in the world and we are doing ourselves a disfavor by ignoring it.

    Maybe you really are a kid if you're still under the impression that it's rare for adults to be playing Pokemon...
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2014
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  6. CJorex

    CJorex

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    Pokemon is the 2nd-best selling video game franchise of all-time... 'Nuff said
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  7. noobcubed

    noobcubed

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    Hmm, to be honest the multiculturalism in Pokemon is a more recent thing I think. It wasn't until BW that any of the games were set outside Japan. It might be just because GameFreak had exhausted Japanese folklore with their Pokemon designs and needed to look elsewhere. In addition, for years and years I have played these games and never really thought about where the designs come from, probably because I see them as Pokemon and not designs, the latter of which breaks the immersion the games are trying to
    achieve and I am trying to submit to. PS, now you've pointed out that Braviary is an American eagle I want a British bulldog Pokemon. Make it happen GameFreak.

    I didn't say it was rare, I said is was lame. And I was half-joking (at least), you know.
  8. Age of Kings

    Age of Kings of the Ash Legion
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    Gens 1 & 2 were steeped in Japan as far as environment, but Pokemon designs come from all over the world and not just one culture. Some examples:

    Gen 3: The trio of Groudon, Kyogre, and Rayquaza were based off the Jewish mythology monsters Behemoth (the land monster), Leviathan (the sea monster), and Ziz (a monster of the sky that blocks out the sun). Rayquaza's design looks very much like depictions of the Mesoamerican serpent deities, while Kyogre looks like orca spirits/gods from the mythology of Arctic peoples. The Regis are based on mythological golems. Salamence is based on a European dragon.

    Gen 4: Arceus is a mishmash of all sorts of things. Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina are based off concepts of physics which are not specific to any culture. For every Froslass the yuki onna, Spiritomb the jibakurei, Rotom the tsukumogami and Bronzong the dotaku, you have Bibarel the national Pokemon of Canada, Gallade the knight, Lucario the Anubis, Mismagius based on Western witches and banshees and Shaymin the Chia pet.

    That being said, regardless of when you feel the effect started (as you said yourself you prefer immersion rather than analyzing real life parallels, I admit I like to overthink things), it doesn't change my point. My main point is that Pokemon takes inspiration from everything, not just East vs West. Hell, even interpretations of the same thing can differ vastly: compare Psyduck with Ducklett, Seel with Spheal, Mankey with Aipom, and Squirtle with Tirtouga.

    And also, a personal pet peeve: saying Gamefreak has run out of ideas for designs in any context. Please don't go there.

    P.S. was going to do gen 2 but going through every design would be too lengthy. I hope I chose good examples in the meantime; I tried to specifically point out the designs that didn't take from "generic" influences.
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  9. BaffleBlend

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    Also...

    -It assisted Final Fantasy VII (which cane out around the same time) in cementing the RPG as a serious genre in the West where it had previously been a niche

    -It was one of the first handheld titles period that wasn't just pick-up-and-play; it was as deep and lasting as any console game at the time despite being two generations behind in terms of power (For comparison: The Game Boy came out in 1989. The NES largely lasted until 1994. Pokémon Stadium was for the N64.)

    -Indigo League, along with Dragon Ball Z and Sailor Moon (which aired around the same time), popularized the Anime medium in the West throughout the all-important growing demographic at the time
  10. noobcubed

    noobcubed

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    Good point. Thinking about it, many of the lauded RPGs that had been around before, eg Chrono Trigger or EarthBound, which receive wide praise today, (possibly even from people who have never played them,) have since died out as franchises. Only Final Fantasy is still around really. Oh, and Dragon Quest, but that has never done well outside Japan AFAIK.

    I don't really want to drag this into a JRPG versus WRPG debate, but in many ways I suppose Pokemon, despite being a product of Japan, is actually quite Western in that it seeks to give the player a lot of choice at the expense of telling a good story. (Think Elder Scrolls versus Final Fantasy). Perhaps that is why it took off with Western audiences in a big way.
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