Friday, April 9, 2010

"Do That Come Hither Thing…"

Perusing a few of the posts regarding the nature of the Pokémon franchise in the past week has compelled to me to make another post regarding the series (namely this & this). A sentiment rightfully held by the fans of the games is that the series main formula isn’t exactly broken, so there’s no pressing necessity to overhaul the mechanics, aesthetics, or just general premise of the game. The only one of those I personally take issue with is the last, as Daniel’s opening paragraphs signify a collective will amongst many Pokefanatics:


First of all, Pokémon is primarily a competitive video game - a rarity in RPGs. Like a sporting event, it occupies the same space as StarCraft, CounterStrike, and most fighting games. It's easy to eventually notice that those games don't change a whole lot over the years - each sequel isn't really a next level, but just a fine-tuning of existing mechanics.

-Daniel Sims

In essence I agree with this, but I still get thrown out of the boat from never having tackled any of the games in a competitive fashion (and the few times I have, they’ve never been my own creatures). Sure, I walk the path that the narrative leads the player through --- ambitiously besting gym leaders and whatnot, but I essentially fall into glorifying the titles as a ‘Journey vs. Goal’ experience. It sounds incredibly cheesy, but from my first outing with Blue to my recent sessions with Heart Gold, the games have been more about sport and not competition. Of course the two concepts are married, but they’re not so stringently tied together that someone like me can’t easily fall through the cracks and enjoy the game around on a more solitary standard.

Well, there’s one big problem right there. People who share my opinion are for the most part --- an extremely vocal minority. Considering how large the Pokémon fandom is and how much it generates Nintendo’s ‘bragging-rights revenue’, the company is only going to obey (and I mean that in the nastiest possible way) the flow of the interest in their product. This indirectly answers some of my musings in the last post, as the populous has now become so large, it’s accommodating a variety of game-players’ whims. This includes my own, which is mainly about the sport of playing --- seeing the world, traveling, and meeting challenges to overcome. With this overly large audience however, things get boiled down for facile measures (meaning sport and competition simply aren’t allowed to be separated).

Sport is a general and nebulous concept often idealizing the aforementioned actions such as wanderlust. Competition is a bit more potent and is often hyper-perverse in any aspect of its manifestation (e.g. see any major sport and all aspects that form them). Playing the same opponent over and over may yield different, refined, and even consistently enjoyable results, but it won’t match the joy or progress that comes from challenging a variety of opposition.

“Pokémon developer Game Freak is in the chocolate ice cream business, and years ago they discovered a foolproof way to keep us happy: preserve the basic recipe, but every 18 months or so, stir in a new ingredient to surprise us and subtly enhance the flavor. No overhauls; no substituting chocolate for butter brickle; no willy nilly dumping in M&Ms, cocoanut, gummi bears, and rainbow sprinkles. Just a little stir-in to help us pay attention to the difference; to savor the enhancement rather than sort through a mouthful of colliding new flavors.

-Michael Abbott

I’m the first comment on Michael’s blog here and as glib as that one sentence is, there is a reason behind it. Coincidentally, I was allergic to chocolate as a child, but as is wonderous with plenty of children, many of us outgrow childhood allergies (which in most cases shouldn't be classified as allergies to begin with, but that's another topic entirely...). So, being allergic to both chocolate milk and in love with it as a kid, I often drank large amounts of it out of annoyance at my own body. Luckily I was already well into outgrowing it by the time I made a moronic brute-force assault on my immune system (which is why I didn’t end up dead). This didn’t stop many months of sickly behavior however, which is what I’m reminded of with the current state of Pokémon. For the most part, I haven’t really grown up in the past eighteen years, and I’m still involuntarily (and forcefully) regurgitating things I don’t exactly agree with (in Pokemon’s case, the nature of its competition), but still love.

The more Pokémon grows in its own core premise, the more susceptible I’m going to become to this reality. Merely accepting the core games as is has become more difficult for me because three things have happened:

1 - The gamers driving the series have grown, and along with them, their understanding of the basic entrypoints.

2 - While the fictional world itself hasn’t exactly 'grown', its own impervious shell just keeps expanding, creating more room for ideas and venues. The simplistic nature of the game will become a vacuous burden if this continues too.

3 - I’m a lot more pissed off now.

Now perhaps Nintendo will live up to everyone’s expectations and continue to churn out horrible network play under the guise of their own flimsy disciplines, but I’m going to remain stringent on their easiest path being a Pokemon MMO. It doesn’t have to be some overhauled 3D engine, but I’m sure the Wii would be just fine at spitting out what Heart Gold/Soul Silver displays with higher and smoother effects. Considering how much the aesthetics define people’s time with the game, simply blowing it up would most likely be the best possible solution (if of course, we’re assuming the series’ stagnation is indeed a problem to be addressed).

So Nintendo, while I don’t expect much, I still maintain that you take luck into your own hands; leaving it to heaven has just left me in hell.

*Update* The ultimate irony would be the Pokemon games that finally to make significant changes being titled ‘Black & White’. Heh…

~sLs~