Pokemon widens reach to young and old

A giant Pikachu hanging from the ceiling at the Walter E. Washington Convention Centre in Washington for the Pokemon World Championships in August.
A giant Pikachu hanging from the ceiling at the Walter E. Washington Convention Centre in Washington for the Pokemon World Championships in August.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • Pokemon is the highest-grossing entertainment franchise of all time.

Having acquired a whopping US$90 billion (S$122 billion) since its conception in 1995, it continues to grow in popularity, its demographic constantly widening at an unprecedented rate.

Consider the case of veteran actor Bill Nighy, who played Clifford Enterprises founder Howard Clifford in the film Detective Pikachu (2019).

When speaking about his time on set, Nighy remarked he had been "generationally disqualified" from Pokemon in the franchise's early days, but had since found joy in discovering the wonders of the encyclopaedic Pokedex book.

This affection, fostered at the age of 68, is a sign of a broader trend: It is simply impossible to escape Pokemon this year.

It is an entity that has deeply affected universal society - arguably for the better - connecting people of all ages and from opposite ends of the world to one another for more than two decades.

It is a game, a world, that is founded upon fun, discovery, exploration and what it means to wonder, imagine and dream.

As the franchise has grown, the fictional world of Pokemon has become ever more intertwined with people's own.

Once, the franchise was just an anime series, a trading-card community and a pair of ambitious games for the Game Boy Classic.

Now, there is a mobile game played by millions of people all over the world, with last Friday marking the behemoth series' first mainline venture onto home consoles via the games Pokemon Sword and Shield.

Pokemon are no longer merely a figment of the imagination, some intangible fancy pondered by youngsters as their imaginations blossom. The franchise permeates the boundaries between people's worlds, subsequently uniting generations in a shared passion for something wholesome, positive and deeply invested in community.

The augmented reality of Pokemon Go is the bridge connecting the real world to the virtual one of Pokemon.

Nowadays, simply looking through the lens of a mobile-phone camera can reveal a Pidgey nestled amid autumnal foliage, a Squirtle riding the inward tides or, terrifyingly, a Mr Mime comfortably plopped on your living room couch, sizing you up with those ghastly eyes.

However, it is the community behind Pokemon Go that truly makes it special.

For example: Although game-maker Niantic recently announced it would be introducing an official PVP League to Pokemon Go early next year, dedicated fans have made do since the app's launch in 2016, with popular Pokemon resource community The Silph Road having arranged The Sinister Cup, an annual competitive circuit designed by the fans for the fans.

Meanwhile, official events known as Go Fests have been held in cities all over the world, inviting folk of all ages and backgrounds to congregate and share their passion.

Pokemon Go has also increasingly integrated real-life activity into its progression systems.

You walk to hatch eggs, select a buddy Pokemon to gain more candy and undertake specific field research tasks in your local area to net significant rewards.

The accessible world of Pokemon Go is a prototype of the congenial societal make-up of Rime City from the film Detective Pikachu, which grossed more than US$430 million at the box office.

Rime City is a place where people and Pokemon live in harmony - not as master and pet or whatever you call a Pokemon companion, but as colleagues, neighbours and fellow citizens.

Now, in the real world as in the fictional metropolis, Pokemon extends far past the boundaries of media, permeating reality as an inescapable global phenomenon.

Now, as Pokemon becomes even more intertwined with reality, that effect, that capability to unite people, is increasing at an exponential rate.

Whether one is a 70-year-old actor or a player roaming a remote island, choosing to spend time with Pokemon is choosing to share joy with others.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2019, with the headline 'Pokemon widens reach to young and old'. Print Edition | Subscribe