Monday, September 1, 2014

Pokemon Dittos American Ideologies

in three parts

Gaming has become an almost fundamental part of the daily lives of American children. That cannot be denied (however much one might want to). One of the most widely played games among American children and teenagers is not, by origin, an American game: Pokemon. There are three areas that can be explored in reference to these games: gender, race, and sexuality. The games are making steps to liberalism, but that is not what American children may take away from them.

Pokemon: X and Y chromosomes in Black and White: A Study of Gender Roles in American Ideology

Pokemon was one of the first of an increasing number of games that allow players to choose the gender of their character as opposed to defaulting to a male hero. Despite that seemingly liberal move, there is an odd dual message regarding gender roles presented by the games, in particular the games Black and White. When playing as a girl, Pokemon is highly empowering due to the defeat of overwhelming, male, enemies, and the existence of Cynthia, but when playing as a boy, the game is nearly misogynistic, as shown by the female characters usually taking the role of 'heart center' or 'healer' and because of the defeat of Cynthia.

As a girl, Pokemon is awesome to play. You get to defeat both enemies and friendly rivals. By the end of the game, the player is the strongest trainer in the region. Training Pokemon is also a wonderful experience, and the player often finds themselves incredibly attached to the animals that amount to nothing more than a few pixels on a screen. Pokemon also has a tendency to preach fair treatment to animals – even despite the fighting element. That is pretty rare for a video game. Though wonderful, that is beside the point. The point is that for both genders Pokemon is an empowering experience that is undeniably well loved. When playing as a girl, it's practically feminist. Regardless of the messages Pokemon may or may not send to their male fans, it is something that every girl should play.

In the games Black and White, when one is playing as a girl, the female player is constantly defeating the male rival, Cheren, and saving Pokemon and the world from Team Plasma. The female Bianca is, nonetheless, the weakest link in the trio, however with the massive fem power of a female lead, this isn't so much of an issue. But when playing as a boy, the player still constantly defeats the powerful Cheren and saves Pokemon and the world from Team Plasma, but the player does this all as a boy. This means that the only female of the main cast is Bianca. She acts primarily as the 'heart center' and the 'healer' and is a particularly weak fighter. When playing as a girl, as already stated, Bianca acts simply as a character that doesn't like to fight. For male players, however, Bianca’s weakness is a problem, and it deeply perpetuates the idea of women being emotional and weak amongst the youngest members of our society.

One can't outright claim the boy-oriented storyline as sexist because of the character Cynthia. Quite literally, Cynthia is the most powerful trainer in the region, having defeated every gym leader and the champion before her. Regardless of the gender played, the player defeats Cynthia at the end of the game. Again, this is not an issue when playing as girl, because the female player defeats another powerful woman. When playing as a boy, however, the male player might find the message that even the most powerful of women can be defeated by the right amount of testosterone. Is this really the message portrayed? Most players would probably say no, but societal ideology is rarely a conscious thing. Such portrayals profoundly affect those exposed – even without their knowledge.

Pokemon is wonderful, even with the sexist elements that run through it – in the end, it's all about being a critic and not a consumer. If one can see the negative ideologies that run through something, they will avoid the ideas pounded into the collective skull of American society. Yes, things are presented differently to the genders. Though it's not perfect – at least Pokemon makes an attempt to bring about further sexual equity. Pokemon is absolutely amazing – and even genre savvy girls will likely enjoy it for the positive aspects. In the end, if one is a perceptive critic, one can take the good things from something and leave behind the negative. Maybe. In the case of the Pokemon games – it is more than worth a try.

Black and White in X and Y: Ideologies of Race
There are other problems with the games, and here I will diverge from the usually necessary formality of educational writing - too much of this is based in personal experience. Black characters are only a recent addition to the games, and it wasn’t until Pokemon X and Y that players could select an appearance that wasn’t the preset Japanese characters. Players could could choose between being brunette or blonde or typically Japanese. There was another option that looked like the designers might have meant for her to be black, but being mostly Mexican and German (with a little Irish and French thrown in) and being on the light tan and gold/green spectrum of olive, that was the character that looked most like me.

Having been to Japan, having studied in Japan with my high school, I have to take into account Japanese demographics. The only people of non-asian origin at the school were exchange students. Among them, there were only four that were black, one who was Pakistani, and the other twenty eight students were either white or Hispanic. (twenty six of those students were from my high school, the other two were from Florida and Europe respectively). The four hundred some-odd students who attended the school full time were all Japanese (with a few that looked like they might be mixed with Chinese and Korean). I didn’t see any other black people until we visited the Harajuku district of Tokyo. There was a small contingent of (maybe twenty) Jamaicans who seemingly lived and worked in the area, all who spoke Japanese, English, and some sort of French creole. However, they were in the vast minority. In Japan, the ‘race issue’ isn’t really an issue because of the immense homogeneity of the country. In fact,the Asian/white to black ratio in the game is actually reflective of the ratio in Japan. American demographics of the same are vastly different, so for an American playing the game, not thinking of the game’s origins, black people are sorely underrepresented and that enforces the American ideology of white superiority and denies black children representation of themselves in a game that they too play and love.

Sexuality in Pokemon: A short comment

In most games there is very little representation of the LGBT community, Pokemon included. In fact, the creators seem to very pointedly avoid discussing sexuality in their games. However in Pokemon X and Y there seems to be a transgender character. This is interesting, because the character is simply there. Her transformation is mentioned, and then done, with no dwelling on it whatsoever. The trainer battle commences and that’s that. You can access a thorough discussion on that in the link above.

It seems that progress is happening, however slowly. In gender roles, racial issues, and acceptances of ‘T’ in LGBT. Children still receive mixed signals from the media and that won't change for a good long while. Pokemon sends some iffy messages, yes, but the creators are trying to make the games more comfortable for a vast audience. Progress is progress, ne?

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