Pokemon is a franchise that perfectly illustrates the effects of globalization. It started off as the video games for Gameboy (Pokemon Red and Blue) published by Nintendo in 1995 in Japan. The games were hugely popular in Japan and were adapted for the global market. Their success allowed for them to explore other commercial avenues such as a trading card game, TV shows, feature films, manga, and toys. Its global reach has created a fan base that identify with the culture and the franchise itself.
The fan community that arose have allowed the franchise to be considered transmedia storytelling as it encompasses such a large area of interest. The game and the playing cards allowed for the community to feel like they were a part of the story that was being told. The community also proved itself to be media literate with their participation in storytelling. Fans were able to express themselves by writing fan fiction, creating hentai, sketching their favorite Pokemon, and creating the widely popular “Twitch Plays Pokemon” channel where viewers on the Twitch stream control Red in Pokemon Red via the chat. This influenced the creation of the “Fish Plays Pokemon” channel on Twitch where Red moves according to where a goldfish swims in his bowl. This can be seen as what Jenkins refers to as convergence culture. The audience participate beyond consumption, and the community has even created theories about the game including one surrounding the presence of female Hex Maniac in Pokemon X/Y. She is later seen again in the subsequent Pokemon Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire (remakes of the older Ruby/Sapphire games) that had fans speculating more about who she is and creating more detailed theories about her.
The globalization seen with Pokemon is different from what most people associate with globalization. Globalization is often thought of as Westernized culture spreading from America outward, but Pokemon spread Japanese culture to America. Their success was largely due to Nintendo seeing the failure of US-based companies attempting to spread their products and changing the business model to include exclusive titles rather than poorly made third party games. As a Nintendo exclusive, Pokemon did fantastically well. Tomlinson sees this spread of culture as one that allows for alternative “lifeworlds” to be shared by the deterioration of geographic and social cultures that results when they’re intermingled with others. This is an idea of cultural hybridity and it helped spread the Japanophile phenomenon. Pokemon especially helped spread it to the younger generation in the mid-late 1990s. South Park even touched on their popularity in an episode called “Chinpokomon” in 1999 that saw the characters become obsessed with a Japanese cartoon with embedded marketing that made them want to buy the merchandise. It was also subliminally anti-American with the intention of converting the children to Japanese child soldiers. While this is satire, Tomlinson does acknowledge that corporations aren’t innocent in how they try to shape global culture.
Ultimately, Pokemon is still prominent and hugely successful. Its global reach allowed it to become a transmedia franchise with popularity in all forms of entertainment. It also helped to spread the Japanophile phenomenon which has successfully mixed Japanese culture with Western culture, allowing fans to identify better with the product and share in its process.
– Richard Parker
Kerr, Aphra and Roddy Flynn. “Revisiting Globalisation through the movie and digital games industries.” Convergence 9.1 (2003): 91-113. doi:10.1177/135485650300900106.
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)