Why Do We Like It?
What with the unwarranted social unacceptability of liking something like Pokémon past a certain age, fans tend to keep their love for it ever more to themselves as they grow up, especially when in the company of those too old to have ever liked it themselves. If you happen to mention it, it is usually met with either open derision (less common as you age; I haven't encountered it in years) or a polite but quizzical look of puzzlement. The message is clear: all most people know about Pokémon is that it's some kids' cartoon about cute electric mice beating each other up, and they're having a hard time understanding why you would like something like that. I mean, only kids would enjoy that, right?
Most of the time, attempting to explain it to them would just come off as silly and defensive, but there are occasions when an actual answer is called for. So what, indeed, is it about Pokémon that appeals so powerfully to so many of us even when we're far past the age where liking it is 'normal'?
#1: The Strategy
The Pokémon battle system is my personal favorite battle system in any video game. I'm not much of a serious gamer, so this isn't saying too much, but this was one of the very first things about Pokémon that sucked me in the first time I played Yellow, when I was still determined to dislike it (I disliked everything popular when I was a kid; I only tried Yellow because my cousins made me). It's very simple and straightforward in its basics and takes only minutes to grasp and become familiar with, but the huge variety of different monsters, moves, types and abilities creates a fascinating complexity. Though the in-game challenge level is gentle and allows even an inexperienced player to breeze through the game by just leveling up enough, the competitive Pokémon battling scene - where all Pokémon are level 100 and the only prior advantage one player has over another is in their choice of Pokémon and moves - is intensely strategic and takes years to master, while getting refreshed with new moves, monsters, strategies and often game mechanics whenever a new generation is released.
#2: The Gameplay
Separate from the competitive strategy involved is a simple preference towards the general style of gameplay in the main series Pokémon games. There are hundreds of unique monsters; any monster you battle that you like can also be caught and raised by you; every Pokémon learns different interesting moves; you can breed and train Pokémon to be even better fighters than otherwise; you can grow to love and cherish your team; the plot is light and open-ended and leaves plenty of varied, interesting and fun things to do after completing the main storyline; the battles are turn-based, allowing them to be casually played while doing something else and thus extending their appeal; no two playthroughs are the same because you can catch such a wide variety of different monsters and train them in such different ways, making for great replay value. These aspects don't necessarily appeal to everyone, but they definitely appeal to a lot of people as far as video games go.
#3: The Monsters
There are nearly six hundred and fifty different Pokémon. Every design is unique, unlike many games where one monster might just be a palette-swapped version of another. Every species has its own quirks: it might have anywhere from one to three evolutionary stages and possibly multiple possibilities for the same stage, with the evolutions happening in different ways; they learn particular moves at particular levels, different TM, HM and breeding moves; they have different stats, drastically affecting the way one might use them in battle; and they're portrayed as wild creatures rather than simply battling tools, with Pokédex entries describing their behaviour and habitats. They range from the sickeningly cute to the just plain badass, from the animal-like to the utterly alien. In this large variety of monsters, almost anybody can find several that appeal to them design- or concept-wise, allowing almost anybody fond of fictional creatures to enjoy Pokémon just for that.
#4: The World
One of the aspects of Pokémon that fascinate me most today, as an adult, is the rich world portrayed in the various media. It is not just a world of endless fighting with battle-monsters: it is a world where humans and hundreds of different other sapient species live together in harmony, where there is battling with monsters but there is more to it than that: a contract of trust between species. The relationships between Pokémon and humans are fascinating and often touching (at least when the viewer isn't nonsensically dismissing them as brainwashing and slavery), and all in all the Pokémon world is, at least to me, a pretty interesting place, prompting thoughts such as my fictional History of Pokémon Training.
#5: The Creative Potential
Tying in with the point above, many Pokémon fans look at this world and see immense potential for original creation in it. The Pokémon canon is very loose and open-ended, revolving around the setting more than the characters and storylines portrayed in any individual medium, and because of the unique setup of the world itself, it is ripe with opportunities for fans to expand upon it. Fanfiction, fan art, fake Pokémon, fan-games, crazy theories or explanations... there is room for infinite expansion, and creative minds can feel right at home with the Pokémon fandom.
Page last modified December 26 2010 at 02:11 GMT