Monday, March 21, 2016

On Pokemon and Fandom and the Genre Ghetto

So, in the last blog post, I promised I’d talk about Pokemon. And I’m happy to oblige on that front, because it’s my weakness. It’s the only “real video game” I still play, and I have since I was a kid. I was raised firmly in the arms of the Pokemon Generation. I watched the show, played the games. I even had the board game and the novelizations. One of the first things I remember saving up for was a poster that showed the first 150 Pokemon. I sat and stared at that and memorized the entire thing, too (Don’t ask me to recite it, now. It’s been too long.).

With the next main series games coming out this year, I figured this was the time to talk about it if I was ever going to. I won’t go into my journey with it or how I got into it, what changes I want to see in these games, theories about the way this world works. That’s all been covered by hundreds of other fans, and so much more than that, so you can turn to them if you want all that. I wouldn’t do nearly as good of a job at it.

If you’re this far into my blog, and you somehow haven’t noticed, I’m a writer. I’m also a massive geek. But the thing is, some of this geeky stuff people like me love so much moves beyond being just this niche thing. I’m looking at Harry Potter and Star Wars and things like that. There are plenty of books and movies about wars in space or magical schools, but they mostly stayed firmly settled in SF/F fandom. In the same way, Pokemon has moved far ahead of other similar works. These are things that are objectively geeky and nerdy. Space and wizards and dragons and mice with electric cheek pouches.

It’s the kind of thing I like to bring up to people when I get into conversations about nerds and geek and SF/F culture. I’ve said for years that everyone is actually a nerd. Everyone who liked The Hunger Games or Harry Potter or The Magic Treehouse. They’re all undeniably SF/F, but they become accepted for one reason or another. I think there’s good and there’s bad in situations like this. I’ve spent a lot of time considering this type of thing, and a lot of time drenched in fandom. So here’s my take on Pokemon in particular. The basic ideas apply to anything that breaks out into popular culture, but I’m going to focus on this one franchise this time through.

The Good: The clear good that Pokemon brings is togetherness. It’s for everyone, and the Nintendo Direct video where they announced really focused on that. It showed all different types of people playing and enjoying Pokemon together. When something breaks out of just being for SF/F fans, it opens the doors a little more. More people getting into SF/F, and possibly moving past their one thing. It gives people a common baseline to discuss things. Google “Games Like Pokemon” and you’ll see that. Common language, common thoughts. Even people who know nothing about gaming or SF/F or anything like that can get an idea of something from the baseline of “Pokemon,” because it’s a part of the culture at large, now. And that’s beautiful and brings people together, which we can always do good things with.

The Bad: Now, this is no fault of the Pokemon franchise. This is a cultural thing, instead, but it’s something that definitely applies to the franchise. SF/F writers are all very familiar with what’s known as the “Genre Ghetto.” Essentially, there are real books, and there’s sci-fi and fantasy. That’s a problem in itself, but that’s not the part I’m covering here. The thing is, when an SF/F book does well and breaks out, suddenly the people in power aren’t as willing to mark it as science fiction or fantasy. Look at Fahrenheit 451. It’s a sci-fi classic… but it’s bundled in with literary fiction.

That’s the bad. A game like Pokemon breaks out of being “just for nerds” and is suddenly held up as a standard of video gaming. This problem isn’t as prevalent in gaming, from what I can tell, but it’s there. Games are already for nerds, but some games are particularly nerdy (Starcraft, anyone?). And of course, the people who really geek out about the popular things are always going to somehow be seen as lesser. In Pokemon, those are the people who breed for IVs and EV train, but also the people who compete in the battles and write out team strategies and that sort of thing. They’re the nerds that casual fans don’t want to talk about as much, because they’re “too into it.”

I love Pokemon. I always will, and the good it does is amazing. Seriously. I about shit myself when I found out they were doing Gen 7 (Or 6.5 or whatever you want to call it.). 20 years of Pokemon. 20 years. That’s most of my life by a huge margin. But I think it works to expose some of the issues that genre artists and fans see and, as I said, it’s a widely-accepted piece of work. It’s a baseline people can work from.

I’m a small enough fish that I’m pretty sure that most people who are looking at this are already geeky in the more “traditional” sense. They get it. But I like to draw attention to this aspect of geekery, because I think it’s important. It’s important for the SF/F fandom to acknowledge that this happens, and it’s important for people who don’t see themselves that way to maybe take a peek at this side of the equation.

Because fandom is for everyone.


No comments :