Thursday, September 3, 2009

Tougher than diamonds, rich like cream

I mentioned earlier that I thought that Pokémon, especially in its newest incarnation, was an excellent game. Now I find I have to qualify that: In many ways it is an average game.

You schlep forth, in true RPG fashion, armed only with your hopes, your dreams, and a dude in a little red ball. You force this dude to fight against other dudes – progressively bigger and badder dudes – sometimes besting them by using moves, but other times simply by hitting them until they stop moving. Ultimately you best the baddest dude yet. Congratulations! Now you’re a bad enough dude to rescue the president!

Oh yes. A thousand times yes.

After your victory, you’re treated to a speech about why you were able to climb to such monumental heights. It’s explained that your power is powered by the most powerful power of all – the power of love. Not the love between a man and a woman, or indeed, like the love between a man and a fine Cuban cigar. No, the love between a man and the vicious critters he’s trained to fight. Nowhere is it mentioned that hitting your opponents until they stopped moving might also have been a deciding factor. Your victory, you are told, is all about the love.

Yes, this is the plot of every Pokémon game, but to be fair, it’s also the plot of roughly every shonen fighting manga ever conceived. All you have to do is replace the little red balls with tremendous swords or tremendous hair or even tremendous flavours, and you’re set. Considered in a vacuum, Pokémon is just another iteration of the same game people have been sleepwalking through over and over. This doesn’t make it bad. This makes it perfectly fine – just nothing to blog home about.

The rub, of course, is that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. So, Pokémon may be an average game. But it is an excellent metagame.

A while back, I had mentioned I would be looking at the various ways in which games fold back upon themselves, or draw from some essential element of play. It strikes me that Pokémon is a perfect place to start, if only because a decade’s worth of popularity has transformed it from a simple game into a play phenomenon in its own right … a huking juggernaut of funtimes.

I’m interested in the ways in which our attitudes about games and gaming directly impact how we might navigate a game like Pokémon, and the ways in which these various styles of play intersect. Within a game so widely played, fueled by merchandizing blitzes, major promotional events, and a robust tournament scene, there may not be one sphere of metaplay, but several.

To wit: Pokémon is large. It contains multitudes.

Thank you, Walt Whitman, for your contentious poems about fighting electric mice.

I'll be looking at the instances of metaplay in the next few posts... hopefully without getting all meta on you. I'm not really inclined to just hit it with theory until it stops moving. Mostly, it'll be a labour of love. And as we all know, love is powerful, with a power more powerful than other powers. But what powers that power?


- Rook

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