Pokemon creator inspired undergraduate

Sean Yap.

Undergraduate Sean Yap, 24, is on a mission to raise awareness of local biodiversity by showing how similar Pokemon characters are to native plants and animals.

His inspiration? Pokemon creator Satoshi Tajiri, who in 1990 came up with the idea for the game of collecting virtual monsters based on his childhood interest in insect collecting.

Mr Yap said: "I was inspired by Mr Tajiri, who created Pokemon to share his childhood joy of nature with the new generation of city kids who spent a lot of time indoors.

"A lot of the Pokemon were based on real-world animals and plants, and many of them can be found in Singapore."

Mr Yap likewise hopes to get others to appreciate local biodiversity by riding on the current popularity of the mobile game. His project, Real Life Pokemon of Singapore, can be found on his Facebook profile.

Mr Tajiri, now 51, grew up in Machida, a suburb in western Tokyo that gradually underwent urbanisaton. "There were rice paddies, rivers, forests. It was full of nature. Then development started taking place and, as it grew, all the insects were driven away," said Mr Tajiri in an interview with Time magazine back in 1999, when Pokemon mania was sweeping the globe.

Urbanisation meant there were fewer places to catch insects. Mr Tajiri added: "Kids play inside their homes... and a lot had forgotten about catching insects. So had I. When I was making games, something clicked and I decided to make a game with that concept."

Mr Yap has so far matched about 40 out of the 721 characters in the Pokemon universe with native flora and fauna. He hopes to do so for as many Pokemon as possible.

He points out: "There are certainly more than 700 species of plants and animals in Singapore, and while it is a daunting task, scientists here are trying their best to compile a comprehensive list of local species, complete with images, DNA sequences and other information."

The Singapore version can be found at the Animal and Plants of Singapore's website at nathist.science.nus.edu.sg

Audrey Tan

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2016, with the headline 'Pokemon creator inspired undergraduate'. Subscribe