Is Pokémon Childish?

Many, perhaps even most, older Pokémon fans tend to avoid making their liking for the franchise too public, in various ways ranging from just not mentioning it unless they know they're talking to another fan to specifically hiding the games and only playing them in private. Pokémon tends to be a bit of a 'guilty pleasure', something they feel ashamed to enjoy. Why is this? Because society at large perceives the Pokémon franchise as a whole as being 'kiddy', and they fear being judged as immature or even mentally retarded.

I am not going to try to pretend that the Pokémon franchise is not marketed towards children, both because it is and because I feel that is missing the point. The question we should be asking ourselves is not, "Is Pokémon really meant for kids?" It's "Why does that mean I shouldn't like it?"

This might seem like an odd question at first, but really, think about it. Society has a kind of stigma associated with everything kid-friendly; teens and adults are not supposed to like anything that is "for kids". Why, fundamentally, does this stigma actually exist? Why should an adult not be able to find something enjoyable just because a kid can find it enjoyable too?

The answer to this question lies in certain prejudices about children's entertainment. The thing is that there really is entertainment that can reasonably be said to be nearly impossible for adults to enjoy in the same way as a child could, thanks to some of the fundamental differences that exist between children and adults:

  • Children's brains, especially the parts concerned with logical thought, are less developed than those of adults. Something that is "obvious" to an adult might not be so to a young child; likewise, subtler aspects of fictional works will probably fly right over children's heads, and very complex plots are difficult for them to handle.
  • Children have a shorter attention span than adults. A child will become bored during a long conversation she doesn't fully understand, for example.
  • Children have less experience with the world than adults. If something could blatantly never happen even with reasonable suspension of disbelief, or is just a bit too lucky, or a character is over-the-top perfect, a child may not be able to tell, while adults are likely to shake their heads.
  • Children have less familiarity with other entertainment than adults. If a piece of entertainment intended for adults invokes an extremely tired cliché or blatantly rips off something else, adults will probably cry foul, while a child might not recognize it.
  • Young children don't mind having things repeated to them (in fact, they often need a bit of repetition to get things fully), while excessive repetition quickly becomes very painfully redundant to an adult.
  • Young children lack all sorts of basic education - e.g. counting, reading, doing basic math - that adults have.
  • Young children can appreciate entertainment that does not have any actual plot or conflict, which an adult generally has a difficult time of.
  • Children are innocent to a certain degree - they generally think in black-and-white terms and are unable to truly appreciate things like moral complexity in characters.
  • Children generally have a lower standard of general quality than adults. They don't really care about things like bad acting, poor animation, fake-looking CGI, conspicuous zippers on costumes and so on, while those would definitely bother adults.

Some children's entertainment deliberately exploits these facts to make something that can be sold to a child but not to an adult - it might revolve around painfully simple mysteries whose answer is obvious to any adult, nab the plot of a recent film to make a story about new characters, center itself around teaching the viewer how to count, have painfully perfect main characters or feature completely talentless actors. But not all of it does, and it does it to varying degrees. The only actual limits placed on children's entertainment in order for it to be considered appropriate for children is a lack of sexual or overly violent themes, a plot whose basics are reasonably easy for a child to grasp, and pacing that is fast enough to keep a kid interested - and none of this should in principle make it any less enjoyable to an adult.

To go a bit deeper into this, what tends to make adults enjoy entertainment? In any form of fiction, an intriguing plot can do that, as well as likeable or interesting characters. In books, a readable writing style helps. I personally have a thing for works with some degree of original worldbuilding. In video games in particular, you have entertaining and involving gameplay, strategy and so on. Note that none of this is prevented by the limitations on children's entertainment - plots can be intriguing without being especially difficult to follow. Moreover, even where some of these aspects are lacking, just one of them done sufficiently well can often sustain an adult's enjoyment, making even less reason for children's entertainment to be unenjoyable by adults. Thus, in principle, there is no reason adults should be ashamed of liking entertainment created with children in mind - there is plenty of children's entertainment with well thought-out plots, well-written characters and so on, just as there is plenty of it that does these things poorly and is unlikely to appeal to adults.

So which group does Pokémon fall into? It is easy to point out that the games and anime have weak, simplistic plots and rather little in the way of characterization (though recent spin-off games and the movies can be significantly better in these aspects) - but ask a large number of Pokémon fans, and they are very unlikely to say that they like Pokémon for the plots and characters (in fact, most Pokémon fans cheerfully acknowledge that they are lacking). There must be something else that is appealing to us all, then - what? I've written slightly more lengthily about this in the Why Do We Like It? article, but to sum it up, most Pokémon fans enjoy the franchise for the potential for complex, strategic competitive gameplay, the way that the games use the open-ended monster-raising format, the appeal of the monsters themselves, the compelling world portrayed by the franchise or the creative potential inherent in the Pokémon world.

All of these things can easily appeal to adults and do not exploit any of the differences between child and adult minds. Society at large, however, tends to look down on video games, animation, fantasy creatures, worlds and fandom as being inherently childish even though there is no objective reason why children ought to enjoy them and adults should not. Tellingly, all of these things do enjoy immense popularity among adults - in fact, I am willing to bet that many readers will immediately think, "What? Video games and fantasy are considered childish?" (And yes, they are, by a large portion of the older generations that have never played video games or enjoyed well-made fantasy or animation.)

In general, I believe that entertainment for children ought to be held up to the same standards as entertainment for adults - to exploit children's inexperience in order to sell them something that an adult could never enjoy on its own terms is both lazy and disrespectful. However, at the same time I firmly believe that the fundamentals of the Pokémon franchise that the fans like it for measure perfectly up to these standards and that there is no reason for liking Pokémon to be considered indicative of an immature mind.

Page last modified August 12 2016 at 22:34 GMT