Playing Pokémon Black and Blue: Gotta Free Them All! at first made me nostalgic for the days back in my childhood when I used to play the game old school on my brother’s Game Boy color and later on, on my own Game Boy Advance, collecting the different cartridges—Pokémon Yellow, Red, Blue, Ruby, Sapphire, and Crystal spending time well-wasted on collecting badges and pokemon. Encountering it again on my desktop in a newer repackaged form is a weird mix of pleasant and unsettling, especially considering the ways in which it is reworked.
The newer online game has been modified in a few but significant ways from the original. It is much shorter than the extended quest of the original but is more advanced in terms of interface and graphics. However, as producers of this newer edition of Pokémon-of-sorts, PETA seems to essentially hijack the content of the game so that it can be made to say something about its campaign against animal cruelty; in other words, it has been reappropriated to say something in support of an organization’s slogan. Although the player understands what the newer version is trying to convey, looking closer at the aspects in which the game has been tweaked is perturbing. Reading the game as text would point out the clear intention to spread PETA’s message for the fair and humane treatment of animals, as shown by the title Black and Blue—implying the subject of abuse as well as the reversal of the original catchphrase “Gotta catch ‘em all!” to say something against animals in captivity. Early on in the game, it is made clear that the target demographic are children aged 12 and below, roughly estimating. As with any reboot of a game, there are positive and negative spins on the gameplay—and more importantly, which is often taken to issue with video games—the content.
For instance, an interesting feature of the PETA version of the game is the aggressive approach in which the dynamics of Pokémon are changed—but this is not completely surprising considering PETA’s well-known enthusiastic activism. On the one hand, PETA utilizes the game in such a way that overtly addresses real world issues such as violence in video games and animal cruelty:
“Children learned about dominance instead of compassion and started bullying each other”
“Pokémon existing for no other reason other than being used and abused by humans”
“Remember: there’s no place in this world for the mistreatment and exploitation of Pokémon!”
With that in mind, the presentation of antagonistic trainers and uncompassionate animal-testing scientists is understandable even though the gameplay emphasizes the deranged nature of pro-animal-cruelty stereotypes in the trainers and portrays a heavy-handed emphasis on violence against animals in the attacks that the player’s Pokémon goes up against. The manner in which the video game re-represents the Pokémon franchise is shocking because it reflexively and overtly points out the ways in which violence is naturalized in the system of the game as well as in the context of culture.
One of the interesting moments in the game is when the player completes one of the battles; one of the rewards is a (shameless plug) video of animal cruelty, which is good because it increases awareness, but also in a way assaults the player/viewer of real-world issues that are not usually explicitly forwarded in games. Speaking from an objective standpoint (and as a fan of Pokémon), the critique that PETA deploys about violence could also be read as misappropriation. Although the relevant connection between pokéballs and animals in captivity is valid, the abusive trainer the aspect of the game that demonizes Ash Ketchum as selfish, attention-seeking, and mercenary is not really true to the ethos of the original game. The exaggerated portrayal of injured and abused pokémon is also excessive; while I understand the point that PETA is trying to get across, as a fan of Pokémon, I find it too belligerent and extreme. Furthermore, in the game the relationship between trainer and Pokémon isn’t actually coercive and violent. In the Yellow version for instance, Professor Oak suggests that Ash keep Pikachu beside him because it seems that Pikachu dislikes being in a Pokeball (although Professor Oak originally captures wild Pikachu, but this is more of domestication and not related to abuse which PETA critiques): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qghGW7LSdNk.
Video games as part of new media is susceptible to a two-way process of constructing and critiquing modes of experience in the real world. Perhaps one of the reasons that organizations and companies choose to communicate ideas (whether implicitly or explicitly) in this medium is the way that it re-imagines in a particular way the realities we face. Whether it’s to say something about animal cruelty, to reinvent the story of the hero (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDX1m0Y2Vkg) or just to reminisce about what Pokémon has meant to one’s childhood personally, it is important to take these representations and portrayals with a critical and open perspective.
TED, which stands for technology, entertainment, and design, is a foundation that holds global conferences and believes in the power of ideas to change the world and shape the future. TED’s tagline and commitment is to “Ideas worth spreading.” (http://www.ted.com) Although it has been around since 1996, in recent years it has been gaining popularity and attention and three reasons come to mind: first, because of its creative, insightful, and innovative speakers; second, its diverse content, and third, that it is available for free online (under the Creative Commons license) giving TED videos a capacity—and other people permission—to share these ideas and make them viral. There is something daunting and exciting about having the power to germinate the seed of an idea in cyberspace from any point in the globe. TED videos are on YouTube, and are creating buzz in the blogosphere (http://www.youtube.com/user/tedtalksdirector, http://www.youtube.com/user/TEDxTalks, http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/tedtalks), http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/tedx); it is the advent of a thinking mob mobilizing speakers and viewers towards rethinking our society through ideas. Interactivity, decentralization, anti-hierarchical: the ideas behind TED videos and how they are promulgated resists cultural hegemony, employs decentralized dissemination, selects ideas from different schools of thought, and ultimately uses this not so much for the sake of the organization itself but in the cause of plurality of ideas and dialogue. Forbes published an article last year that talks about the appeal and hype around TEDTalks (http://www.forbes.com/sites/markfidelman/2012/06/19/heres-why-ted-and-tedx-are-so-incredibly-appealing-infographic/) and points out an important aspect of why TED is relevant to our world today:
“The other main ingredients involve the careful curation of both speaker and audience. “We’re looking at the audience as much as we’re looking at the speakers. We have an audience submission chart. We’re weeding out marketers. We want the right types of people in the room to be able to listen to and engage with our content… They find, coach and provide a platform for people that are doing remarkable things or have big ideas that would never be recognized any other way.”
And it isn’t just people in the conferences—people in their rooms across the world are also paying attention. TED is a paragon of using new media to revolutionize the online discursive field in its embroilment with technopolitics and embraces globalization from below; it broadens the purview of political and cultural dialogism that happens online, tackling global issues and attempting to understand and unravel them. As an online culture, TED can be said to be innovative and at the same time subversive. It pools together people who are interested in various fields—technology, business, science, design, entertainment, and global issues—the progressive attitude of change through the power of ideas that TED tries to forward indirectly persuades its viewers of the notion of an idealized community or society and can be said to adhere to utopianism in its belief in the power of ideas. It provides an online platform for addressing issues that don’t normally have an audience offline, fostering affinities in a cyber-community that are previously geographically beyond the bounds of possibility. In its global thrust, TED also situates and relocates cultural, social, and political geographies in an online space in its implicit project of (global) social revitalization to harness the theoretical critical power of ideas to contest real power relations. It is in this way that TED is also engaged in the production of knowledge as a means of counter-ideology. Ideas contain within them the possibility for action and are the foundations of concrete realities—they can influence how we think, change the way we live, and ideally reconstruct how organize our society and its structures. They are abstract and intangible but malleable and powerful in the way is endorsed and cultivated by TED’s activism of ideas in the information age—all it takes is the inception of one idea to begin (r)evolution.