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Monday, May 28, 2012

Bio-Art: Pokemon?

Look up at the title. Then look back down there.  Yep, it's time for another Pokemon-related theme week, this time "Who's That Pokemon: Unova Edition." It then occurred to me that some of my readers might not have a very good sense of what Pokemon is - either because they did not grow up in the 90's or because they're only familiar with the POS of an anime that the fans of the game are now stuck with. This entry exists for your convenience.

There was a bunch of cute...then, Gyarados.


Pokemon was conceptualized in 1996 by one Satoshi Tajiri. He wished to bring his childhood hobby of bug catching in the grasses of Machida, Tokyo to the youth of increasingly urban environments. He furthered the idea when he had a vision of a bug crossing the cable between two linked Game Boy systems. Of course, people also fight bugs in Japan, so taking tradeable monsters to those heights was a logical conclusion. Since then, it has evolved into a massive franchise that eats other monster franchises from the inside-out like a cute, cuddly virus, all the while being crack in Pikachu form.

I'm a little on the fence about whether Pokemon is bio-art or not. It's more like an obscure training tool for budding field scientists mixed with monster battling. It's based off of real things that happen in nature, but it's gotten so fantastic that one wonders whether it can still be considered science (or even pseudoscience). Aside from things like breathing fire and manifesting things like levitation, however, Pokemon is actually pseudo-scientific. Pokemon really boils down to collecting data, selective breeding, and getting a real kick out of doing it all with cockfighting monsters.

It's a chicken, I tell ya! A fighting chicken!


Let's put aside the monster battling aspect for a bit. When one focuses on the catching and breeding aspects (which intertwine according to the best of trainers), Pokemon suddenly becomes less fantasy and more science. The anime is absolutely horrible at presenting this side of things, so we'll have to pretend it doesn't exist for the bulk of this entry. Instead, we'll focus on the games.



Each of the games start with a professor explaining the world they live in. In this world, people live in harmony with super-powered animals called Pokemon - "Pocket Monsters" if you happen to live in Japan. They will go on to explain that people play with Pokemon, keep them as pets, or, most popularly, battle with them. In the first few minutes of the game, you meet this professor again, and are presented with something called a "Pokedex" that records information on the Pokemon you've seen or caught. Bear in mind that seeing something grants only its image in the Pokedex; you have to actually catch a Pokemon to get its data in your Pokedex.

To recap: The real goal of this game is to collect live specimens and data for a professor. Welcome to the thankless work of an intern! 



The mini-series Electric Tale of Pikachu goes into more depth of what it might be like to live with Pokemon than any other adaptation - even the original games. Pikachu, the cute little rodent mascot of the franchise, gnaws on wires just like a real rat or rabbit. Trainers (read: ten-year-olds) have to take a competence test to handle superpowered monsters. The Pokemon in this mini-series actually bleed in battle and otherwise look kickass. If you want to get your friends hooked on Pokemon, start here or with the games. Period.

One would think that the relationship between monster battling and science stops there, right? Wrong! A lot of Pokedex entries have semi-detailed biological information. For example, Pikachu's electric sacs are in its cheeks. Flareon has a fire sac that lets it breathe fire. Spoink's heart stops beating if it ever stops bouncing on its swirly tail. There is an explanation for why Latias can take human form, but I don't quite buy it, and it's kinda creepy how interested she was in a relationship with Ash in Movie 5.

Pokemon are also breedable, meaning that if you have a compatible male and female, you can breed them into even more efficient fighters. There's a whole system of Pokemon genetics that affects how good a particular monster is. No two Pokemon are exactly alike.

Pokemon are among the few battling monsters that actually have genetics. These come in the form of Individual Variations (IV's). Until Gen IV (HeartGold and SoulSilver, to be precise), it was not easy to breed good IV's onto the offspring; one had to, to quote a friend of mine, "pray to the random number gods" in order to get a good Pokemon before that. Since IVs are now linked to personality traits ("characteristics"), it could be argued that we're now breeding for temperament as well. It's just like with real animals, only color changes are now completely uninheritable (which makes NO sense).

Although I may debate whether or not Pokemon relates directly to our science, Pokemon certainly has its own science - a science in which dragons, strange growth stages, and psychic powers are all more or less commonplace. It's based off of a hobby that most of us should do more often: Go outside and look at all the wonderful animals. It's such a shame that Tajiri's plan backfired; now, more people know about Pokemon than the backyard critters they were based off of. Let's fix that right now, shall we?

6 comments:

  1. Thanks, I grew up before there were video games. I was one who enjoyed collecting bugs. I had no idea Pokemon was based on that activity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Grew up before there were video games?" I'll be honest: I've never heard anyone say that. I've heard of people who grew up before Pokemon, but not before video games (aside from my own parents, really).

      Delete
    2. I'm OLD. I can remember a time before dial phones. When you picked up the receiver the operator said, "Number please." Thanks for sharing your world with me.

      Delete
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