by: Alexa Zakaib
“Got to catch ‘em all” is a widespread and one of the most recognizable catchphrases in the media industry. The colorful creatures known as Pokémon have indeed invaded our childhoods and our economies in a significant manner, where all would dream to have them all. This dream, however, is linked with a very specific marketing strategy that would propel consumers to “buy” them all. From games to anime series, Pokémon has navigated across media platforms in order to become a raging success. For Thomas Apperley, though, this “global scale of transmedia storytelling takes on drastically different stakes in the context of [Venezuela’s] localized study” (Apperly, 1). In Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide, Apperley deconstructs the concepts of supersytems and transmedia in order to show how these types of methods can cause an uneven playing ground for financially disadvantaged countries. In this short essay, I will argue that Pokémon is an example of this exclusionist transmedia, because of its relation to consumerism and the “supersystem”.
Before showing how this franchise excludes struggling economies, I will demonstrate how the “supersystem” is at work within it. Apperly discusses Marsha Kinder’s notion of the supersystem. For Kinder, the supersystem is defined when “one text leads to directly to another through deliberate intertextual linkages” (Apperley, 2). Is there then a real linkage between Pokémon card games, videogames, and anime series? Just as Henry Jenkins had shown how The Matrix franchise made products “containing deliberate lacune that are filled in by other The Matrix products” (Apperly, 2), Pokémon has undeniably used the same stratagem. The anime series flows new information, as for example, introducing Togepi to consumers. The video games are training grounds for players to get experience battling with CPU’s. Finally, the playing cards allow social interactivity that can truly fulfill the dream that the Ash character instills in the minds of consumers, seen both in action and in the main theme song of the anime: being “the very best, that no one ever was”. We can therefore see the supersystem at work.
Now that we understand how this system goes to work, we can see how it exploits our capitalist society by propelling consumers in a vicious cycle. With the card game, a forceful capitalist movement commences. In order to get all the cards, you would first need to buy some. You could then spend money until you have obtained all of the cards, which are usually sold in booster packs, therefore randomizing your purchase getting you to buy more until the odds are in your favor. On the other hand, you could trade them with other players. The problem arising with trading is worth of the cards. In order to get a better card, you would need to trade multiple cards of lesser value. Not only would you then have to purchase more cards in order to have a proper deck, but you would still need to get those cards of lesser value back in order to have them all. As for the videogames, some might assume that the Gameboy Red and Blue versions of Pokémon do not have as strong of a capitalist influence, for once you would buy the game, you could catch them all and have the inner fulfillment that you have finished the game without taking any other consumerist action. However, according to StrategyWiki and supported by my own experience with playing both Pokémon Red and Pokémon Blue, it is impossible to finish the game without TRADING POKEMON WITH YOUR FRIENDS. Omitting the Gameshark cheating device, the Blue and Red versions of the game do not contain every Pokémon. You therefore have to know one or more player that has a certain literacy and skill in playing videogames, for they would need to have reached a certain point in the game in order to capture the Pokémon that you would need. This would be in line with Kinder’s idea that “the key innovation of videogames are the choices and challenges posed to the audience through interactivity” (Apperly, 1). This would nevertheless imply that two different parties purchase different versions of the game as well as a cable that allows the two Gameboy devices to connect with each other for the trading to be possible. For the television audiences, as mentioned before, the anime series is an information source. New information is constantly thrown at viewers. The producers therefore have the potential to introduce new characters, adventures, but most importantly new sets of Pokémon that will allow the circulation of games and cards to continue for as long as their imaginations are fruitful.
We therefore see how financial resources as essential in order to get the complete experience of Pokémon. It is because of this that I argue the Pokémon franchise of being exclusionary. Apperly mentions how Jenkins analyses convergence in a sphere where “audiences outside the “developed” economies often have access only to the films and in some cases, only to pirated copies that have scenes missing” (Apperly, 3). Since Pokémon does work with a supersytem method, consumers only engaging with one media platform will miss a great deal of the experience. Globolization is pressuring countries such as Venezuella to keep up with not only one, but multiple media platforms at the same time.
In conclusion, by creating “lacunes” in products of each media platform that can only be filled by products of other platforms, and by creating products that require continuous financial funds in order to achieve the goal of the game, Pokémon is retailing to a specific affluent market audience that thus excludes “underdeveloped” economies.
Apperley, Thomas. “Citizenship and Consumption: Convergence Culture, Transmedia Narratives and the Digital Divide.” IE ’07 Proceedings of the 4th Australasian conference on Interactive entertainment. Eds. Martin Gibbs and Yusuf Pisan. RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia, 2007.
Pokemon Red or Blue (Nintendo 1998)
Pokemon anime series (1997-present)
Pokémon Red and Blue/Catch ‘Em All, [on line], http://strategywiki.org/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_Red_and_Blue/Catch_%27Em_All (Page consulted on March 11, 2015)