Pokémon: (Yes, Pokémon)

As a quick background, Pokémon is based on catching, raising, and battling various fictional creatures, each having unique battle move-sets. Some Pokémon transform into new forms when they are raised to a certain level (called “evolving”), usually becoming stronger when they do so.

I could say 151 things about Pokémon (even though there are now 649 different Pokémon!), but I can’t talk about everything at once. Our class discussion on World or Warcraft made me think about capitalism (why do you “gotta catch em all”?) as well some concern about animal cruelty (so you capture these wild animals… to make them fight each other? Sounds a little like cockfighting…), but I’ve decided to focus on something more positive.

There is a surprising amount of cultural and scientific richness built into the game and its various Pokémon. Many of these references are to Japanese legends and fables, but the references expand beyond this into other cultures and into science as well. Here are just a few examples:


Magikarp and Gyarados:
Magikarp is a fish, which when leveled up through enough battling and experience becomes Gyarados, a powerful serpent-like Pokémon. This transition is based on the Japanese legend of the koi fish (also known as a carp), which upon successfully climbing a waterfall, would be transformed into a dragon. This legend has associated the koi fish with perseverance against adversity, and is incidentally also why tattoos of koi fish are so popular.

This Pokémon is based off the Japanese kitsune, or fox. Japanese folklore says that the more tails a kitsune has (the maximum being nine), the wiser and more powerful it is. Some consider them to be deities.

This Pokémon’s original design had to be altered, after a controversy involving its similarities to the 19th century entertainment form blackface, in which white men would dress up as stereotyped caricatures of blacks.

Science and Technology:

Multiple Pokémon also model the biological systems of symbiosis, metamorphosis, and evolution. The games could introduce children to these real world concepts by simplifying them into aspects of the games mechanics.


Mew and Mewtwo:
In the games, Mewtwo is the dangerous result of a genetic experiment-gone-wrong in which the DNA from Mew was altered to make it more powerful. Here we see a cautionary statement against the improper uses of genetic engineering and biological manipulation.

I know that was a lot, but there are many more references, and both good and bad aspects to the games. I’m curious as to what you think: do the cultural/scientific references and messages outweigh the concerns about animal cruelty? What other cool symbolism is there? So please comment!


  1. spenway said:

    What I find so interesting about Pokemon is the culture and enormous media franchise the game established as a result of its creation. After it was introduced in 1996, the Nintendo-owned video game became the second most popular video game-based media franchise in the world (according to wikipedia)! Comic books, trading cards, television shows and other Pokemon themed video games swept the globe. As a kid, I remember my younger brother begging my parents for anything with an image of Pikachu on it (the main Pokemon). The game truly made an impression in popular culture and I believe it was because it was really the first of its kind in the U.S. Creating such a detailed universe seemed to draw kids of all kinds toward the game.

  2. khausoul said:

    I never realized the cultural links found in this game. I was always under the impression that these creatures were all made from scratch. Then again, I highly doubt that the 4th grade version of me is attempting to spot cultural similarities and cues. As far as animal cruelty goes, I do not think that Pokemon crosses any lines. Even though the trainers treat them as pets, they are almost seen as monsters. Just as shooting someone in a video game is acceptable behavior, so is capturing, training, and fighting these creatures. I highly doubt that there is any angry uprising about Pokemon being insensitive toward this issue.

  3. talchild said:

    Your bringing up of Mew and MewTwo as you did got me thinking about the two and their unique relationship within the Pokemon universe. Its interesting that, though the evolution is artificial, the evolution of Mew into MewTwo is an example of true evolution, as we in the real world would call it, as opposed to the kind of advanced growth-spurts that are “evolution” as it is commonly used in the Pokemon universe. I also always thought it odd that in the PokeDex MewTwo comes before Mew. Although usually it would just arise in my questions as to what ordering system the PokeDex’s work off of, within this frame it makes me wonder if the choice in ordering has to do with advancement and obsolescence.

  4. jrtuc said:

    What I found interesting about your post was how you discussed the cultural links between each Pokemon. I remember when everyone collected the Pokemon cards, and the significance people felt when they had them. I think it was the real connection to culture that made them so unique and left the impression that they were rare. Kids would trade the cards around school so even non gamers would become interested in the phenomenon. I think the popularity it developed through the cards and the show helped the game itself tremendously. It wasn’t just another video game, it had cultural meaning and kids felt cool when playing it. To play Pokemon, you were apart of something bigger than just any other game.

  5. allangolden said:

    I want to be the very best

  6. jmtroop said:

    Like no one ever was

  7. aishamalek said:

    One of the most interesting aspects of Pokemon is, as you bring up in the post, its representation of evolution. I remember the controversy brought on by pro-creationists who disapproved of their children being exposed to the proposition of Darwinian theory in such a simplistic, child-centered form. However, as mentioned in one of the comments, the evolution in Pokemon doesn’t have the same parameters as actual evolution. In the end, if worried creationist parents asked their children, “What is evolution?”, the vast majority of them would likely respond, “Stronger Pokemon.” So, I don’t really see why the transformations of mythical monsters would be a legitimate evolution/creationism issue.

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