Worldbuilding Pokemon: The Power of Science

Pokemon started out as a JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game) series, similar to games like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Fire Emblem. Playing through Pokemon, you may notice that the world is a lot different. There are no magic spells, or castles. Unlike other games, which were based in fantasy worlds, the Pokemon series has always taken a more grounded approach in its world development.

When the original series first came out, in 1996, the team must have been influenced by the dramatic change that was going on in the world at that time. The Internet had only just started, and its potential was only just starting to be discovered. Mobile computing had finally gotten to the point where devices like the Game Boy (first released in 1989) were available to consumers. This was the same year that Dolly the sheep was born.

Screenshots from Know Your Meme: https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/643013-pokemon

The team at Game Freak decided early on that science would serve as the basis for the world. Pokemon don’t cast spells; their attacks are natural parts of their species. They evolve as part of natural biological processes, or perhaps through the energy of radioactive stones. In the games, characters right outside your house will express astonishment for the state of the art.

This is not the only place science comes into play. In Red and Blue, you find Bill. He is the one who invented a storage system for Pokemon. They are converted from matter into energy, and then into digital data without loss.

The games include some synthetic Pokemon, like Porygon, made by humans.

There are Pokemon which were extinct, now able to be synthesized from fossils. Aerodactly is one example of this.

Grimer are apparently formed from the x-rays from the moon.

Clefairy is strongly implied to actually be an alien Pokemon.

Eevee is a Pokemon that has a lot of evolutions. This is because it has an unstable genetic sequence which can cause it to mutate into different forms when exposed to radiation from rocks such as a water stone.

Of course, there is Mewtwo, who is the result of genetic engineering.

There are plenty of examples like this from the first generation and in future generations.

Scientific reasons were not just used for flavor. The present-day backdrop of the games are used in many other aspects of gameplay.

Every generation, the player has the latest game console, such as the SNES in Red and Blue.

Gameplay elements often model the state of the art in devices. The PokeGear in Gold and Silver was a tool that could be used to call characters in-game, check the map, and listen to the radio. It resembled the type of mobile phones that were available at the time.

Player’s house contains an SNES

The Pokemon series has not just been on the forefront of science within the games. They have innovated in many ways in the real world. Players from the start of the series could play together using a link cable, to trade or battle. The wireless adapter, which enabled players to interact without a physical cable, was bundled with Fire Red and Leaf Green in 2004, which was later superseded by built-in wireless of the Nintendo DS.

With the Diamond and Pearl on the Nintendo DS (released in 2006), games could connect to the Internet, allowing players to trade and battle with anyone in the world. Interactive capabilities continued in following generations, adding new ways for players from around the world to have collaborative and competitive experiences.

Peripherals sold with games were also on the forefront of modern trends. HeartGold and SoulSilver included the Pokewalker, a pedometer that allowed players to gamify their walking experience. This device was released in 2009, not too long after the start of the ‘Quanitifed Self’ movement, to use data to improve your life. This was on the forefront of gamifying exercise, rewarding players for real-world activities.

Pokemon Go is a more recent example of rewarding players for real-world activities like walking and exploring new areas. In the game, players can see the Pokemon in the real world using AR (augmented reality). The technology to make this happen is state of the art, and though Niantic isn’t directly connected to Game Freak, has continued to push Pokemon on the forefront of technology.

A recent demo of AR occlusion shows how they’re able to understand the real world position of their character and block out parts of the character based on what may be in front of it, obstructing your view.

“Technology is incredible” stated a random NPC in Pallet Town in Pokemon Red and Blue. This simple phrase has been at the core of the Pokemon franchise: build a fictional world grounded in science, and pursue the state of the art in the real world.

Social Media Expert -- Rowan University 2017 -- IoT & Assistant @ Google