Have you ever collected lightning bugs on warm summer nights or collected stamps, rocks, even dirt from places you’ve been? If you don’t know the wonders of collecting, think twice about not only the kind of joy it brings to people but how that very concept helped launch the biggest game franchise in history.
There are many things people can collect in this world but, in the virtual Pokémon World created by Japanese video game designer Satoshi Tajiri, you can compete to collect all 801 Pokémon or at the very least, become the best Pokémon Trainer/Gym Leader of them all. Though 801 is a daunting number, Pokémon did not start with that many. It didn’t even start with the name Pokémon.
When Satoshi Tajiri was a high school student, he was a prime gamer. He didn’t achieve high honors in his classes but his fanzine Gamefreak, first published in 1981, became a top seller in the dōjinshi (doh-o-jeen-shee (1))-self-published magazines- shop of his hometown Machida. His fanzine, handwritten and edited by him, gave other gamers tips and tricks on how to collect highest points in popular video arcade games he played, like game creator Tomohiro Nishikado’s 1978 game Space Invaders and Japanese developer Namco’s 1982 game Dig Dug, who’s namesake was the cover of Tajiri first fanzine (2).
Ken Sugimori, a fan of the zine, contacted Tajiri about collaborating and so, he became the illustrator of Gamefreak. In 1986, Tajiri and Sugimori, decided to use their gaming skills to create a video game of their own. Thus, Gamefreak turned from fanzine to video game developing company (3).
The word Pokémon is the hybridization of the English words pocket monster spelled in katana -the Japanese alphabet used to spell foreign words. Poketto monsutā was then shortened to Pokémon (4). Tajiri got the idea for Pokémon from his childhood adventures of collecting bugs. He believed others could experience his joy of exploring and collecting. He worked on the main programming while Sugimori illustrated all 150 Pokémon. They pitched their game idea to game publisher Nintendo and were granted money to start creating the game for Nintendo Gameboy. After many delays due to programming bugs, Gamefreak, in collaboration with the art studio Creatures, finished the first generation of Pokémon within six long years.
Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green were published in 1996 for the Gameboy system. A last-minute Pokémon was added to the game which turned the total of created Pokémon to 151- but it was never meant to be released and it was never mentioned to the public when Nintendo published the first generation games. However, some sold games contained a programming bug that ended up releasing the added Pokémon named Mewtwo (5). This unintentional move is was turned the Pokémon franchise into a cultural phenomenon. It created a myth about mysterious Pokémon and sparked a continual interest in playing every game in order to catch the rarePokémon (6). Every generation after Pokémon Red and Pokémon Green now includes one unique Pokémon only obtainable by trading with other Pokémon players who are playing the opposite “color” of their game.
Each Pokémon game with the same Pokémon (apart from the different rare Pokémon) are one generation. Any game with new Pokémon creations becomes the start of a new generation. The Pokémon franchise is now in its seventh generation with its 2016 release of Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon for Nintendo 3DS handheld system (7). However, the generations are not the only things creating the franchise $1.5 billion annual earnings (8). It also consists of the Pokémon spin-off games, like Pokémon Pin-Ball (Gameboy Color) and Pokémon Snap (Nintendo 64), and the animated show Pokémon (released in 1997 and still airing new generation episodes today (9)). The animated show follows 10-year-old Ash Ketchum from Pallet Town, in his pursuit of becoming an elite Pokémon Trainer. Due to the popularity of Ash and his electric mouse Pokémon Pikachu, the special edition game Pokémon Yellow (Gameboy Color) was created.
Pikachu is to the Pokémon franchise what Mickey Mouse is to Disney (10). Not only is Pikachu an adorable rare Pokémon but his personality on the show also makes him unique. He is a stubborn and loyal friend of Ash. He and Ash have a unique relationship where even the show’s supporting characters point out its weirdness: Pikachu does not live in his poké ball, the item used by Pokémon trainers to catch and store their Pokémon. He instead walks freely next to Ash and Ash respects his decision to do so.
In the famous episode, Electric Shock Showdown (11), Ash and his friends, Brock and Misty, travel to Vermillion City to battle against Gym Leader Serge for a Thunder badge. Pikachu is beaten by Raichu, the evolved version of a Pikachu. While in the Pokémon hospital recovering, Pokémon nurse Joy gives Ash a gem that helps Pokémon evolve. However, Ash chooses to leave the decision of evolving to Pikachu, which is a rare move. It is common and often sought by Pokémon trainers who want to be top Pokémon Gym Leaders, to evolve their young Pokémon into a stronger stage of its life. By Ash letting Pikachu decide, it solidified him as not only a caring Pokémon trainer but a true friend to his Pokémon. Pikachu, by choosing not to evolve, became the icon of the strength one has even if you are at a young stage in life (in the episode, Gym Leader Serge continuously calls Ash and Pikachu “baby”).
Months before the release of the 2016 Sun and Moon generation, the Pokémon franchise went to a different level of playing by adapting itself to the world of ARG (alternate reality game). In collaboration with Niantic- an American software development company- they created the downloadable phone application, Pokémon Go. By using the real world as its playing field, players can now search and compete with Pokémon in their own backyards. The current daily active players of Pokémon Go globally is 5 million people (12).
With the Nintendo’s newly release system, Nintendo Switch, there is much anticipation on what is to come from the Pokémon World franchise.
- AnimeNewsNetwork. http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/lexicon.php?id=16
- 2004 interview with Satoshi Tajiri, part 1: the beginning of Game Freak. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBULijYK6wI
- Pokémon: The Story of Satoshi Tajiri. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h1tOsta5z5Q&t=3s
- Steinmetz, Katy. July 19, 2016. The Surprising History Behind the Word Pokémon. http://time.com/4411912/pokemon-go-word-origin/
- Cartoonami. February 29, 2016. An Oral History of Pokémon. http://www.ign.com/blogs/cartoonami/2016/02/29/an-oral-history-of-pokemon
- Cartoonami. January 12, 2016. Fixing the 20 Years of Pokemon Timeline. http://www.ign.com/blogs/cartoonami/2016/01/12/fixing-the-20-years-of-pokemon-timeline
- Lamoreux, Ben. July 13, 2014. The Pokémon Company Generates $1.5 Billion Annually. http://www.gamnesia.com/news/the-pokemon-company-generates-1.5-billion-annually
- Thomas, Lucas M. February 10, 2011. The Pokemon TV Retrospective: After 14 years, Ash Ketchum’s cartoon quest is still going strong. http://www.ign.com/articles/2011/02/11/the-pokemon-tv-retrospective
- Minotti, Mike. February 29, 2016. How Pikachu went from rare rodent to media icon. https://venturebeat.com/2016/02/29/how-pikachu-went-from-rare-rodent-to-media-icon/
- Pokémon Tv.Pokémon Episode – 14 “Electric Shock Showdown” (2/2). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKSsxrMUhmE
- Smith, Craig. April 19, 2017. 80 Incredible Pokemon Go Statistics and Facts (April 2017). http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/pokemon-go-statistics/