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!