Pokémon: Bad Influence?

Years ago, when I was playing Pokémon for the first time, a friend of mine, another grown-up gamer, asked me if I thought that this game was a bad thing to give to children on the grounds that it promotes slavery. I’ve pointed out before how the practice of capturing pokémon is pretty abominable: you beat them up and lock them away, and in the process they become your friends.

It’s more of an issue in the cartoons, where pokémon seem to have human-like minds, and the relationship between Ash and Pikachu is indeed one of loyal friendship. In the game, pokémon are more like animals, and are treated no worse than many domesticated animals in real life, and better than some. (If there are any types of pokémon that are routinely slaughtered for their meat, the game makes no mention of it.) Still, the game anthropomorphizes them somewhat. Some are literally anthropomorphic — the Mr. Mime pokémon is basically human in appearance, and the psychic Kadabra is a caricature of Uri Geller, complete with spoon. There’s also a plot event concerning “the ghost of Cubone’s mother”, a pokémon murdered by Team Rocket. By calling it “murder”, the game implicitly grants Cubone’s mother human status.

Even so, I can’t agree that Pokémon can be blamed for introducing children to the idea of slavery, because the idea is already all around them. The model for the master/slave relationship is the parent/child relationship. Just look at the rhetoric used to justify slavery when it was legal: “It’s really for their benefit. They’re like children. They need a firm guiding hand.” Pokémon is at least far enough removed from reality, blatantly bizarre enough, that it’s hard to imagine taking an explicit “They’re like pokémon” seriously.

IFComp 2007: Varkana

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