Have you ever started writing with a point in mind, and noticed by the time you finished writing you’d never really gotten there? Earlier this week I wrote a post about mourning monsters–reflecting on the inspiration that childhood pastimes like Pokemon and Digimon gave me (and continue to give me)–but that hadn’t been my intent.
Not my original intent anyways.
Instead I wanted to write something wild. A story of man against nature.
Growing up, I had about the same plethora of pets that most children have: We had goldfish (that all died) and sea turtles (that met a similar demise) and some small birds we had to give away and guinea pigs that also passed away. And we had dogs. We still do have dogs. Never cats, though, since my mother’s allergic.
Outside we had about the same experience: There was running aimlessly in the yard, there was pacing in imagination up and down the driveway or riding bikes and roller skating. There were winters spent trekking through the snow and sledding down hills and up snowbanks until we were sent hurtling backwards into the snow (and then left lying there holding conversations with a particularly old and interesting oak tree). There was a fort in the woods built of downed logs and playing in mud puddles and dancing in the rain, chasing after rainbows down streets I’d never even heard of before.
So maybe my adventures in the wild weren’t exactly ordinary. I highly doubt most kids these days have the same freedoms I had then–the same freedoms that never really seemed all that free when my friends, so many of them, did so much more.
Nonetheless, for all it’s given me, the outside is a part of me. I might hate the heat and swear of sweating to wait inside, but I love nothing more than walking through a beautiful plot of land and just lavishing in all its riches. The way every leaf on every tree somehow has its own shade of green. How the light falls through the leaves, casting shadows that dance a delicate dance in the breeze. Nature speaks to me. It might all be drivel, but I’ve written more poetry about nature than I could ever try to share.
So where in this is Pokemon?
There has always been something strangely natural about Pokemon, I wrote in Mourning Monsters, something pristine and innately wild that has forever tied the beauty of being outside to the decidedly man-made experiences of these so-called Pocket Monsters.
Every game begins with one intangible fact: You are presented with a Pokemon from a professor named after a tree. In this image there are two facts to be realized: First, human wisdom is a reflection of nature–precisely, synonymous with trees, tall and sentient beings that rise over us, providing us shade to sleep in and biology to study. This is repeatedly and particularly reaffirmed in every generation–first with Professor Oak, next with Professors Elm, Birch, and Rowan, and finally with Professor Juniper and the yet-unnamed professor who’ll begin our adventures in Pokemon X and Pokemon Y.
The second fact, even more egregious, is that they present you with a Pokemon. It’s a staple right of passage, this presentation, that simultaneously asserts a child’s entering adulthood and gaining the necessary responsibility and independence to venture–alone–into a dangerous and wild, wild world.
Let’s look at this scenario more closely: A figure representing wisdom and the watchtowers of the natural world presents to a young child, affirming their individuality and ability, a token embodying a force of nature–signified as a beacon of water, fire, or grass–in the shape of an animal. This is a beast essentially, a dangerous creature capable of mastering the elements, fighting other beasts of equal and greater power, and emerging victorious, capable of evolving into greater forms with even more devastating abilities.
Capable of evolving into greater forms, I said, ignoring the small but crucial fact that this evolution is only possible in tandem with the simultaneous growth of the Pokemon Trainers, who must pace their journeys without rushing too far ahead (lest their beasts betray them, acting uncontrollably) or lagging too far behind (lest they fail to defeat their next adversary–adversaries, I might add, who take the form both of other trainers and wild Pokemon themselves, signifying yet another instance of transcending the forces of wild and urban domains).
Two addition facets of the series further establish this innate connection between nature and Pokemon. The first of these is the adventure itself: Not only are forests and fields common pathways between cities, trainers are required to plunge into caves and sail across rivers and seas. Although cities and towns form the stopping points and resting places of a skilled adventurer, it is always the space between them that make the adventures unique–the Pokemon you encounter along the way, those you defeat and those you fall to, and especially those you recruit to join your party and adventure alongside you. Via a journey through nature, fighting against and alongside nature, personal growth is attained.
These stages of personal growth are marked by Pokemon League badges. There are always eight in each region (and for the time being I’ll disregard the spacial significance of the number eight and its inherent connection to the natural world), and each is granted after defeating a Gym Leader. Each Gym Leader, in turn, is a professed master of a particular element or fighting style, and so one must overcome this personified messenger of the natural world in order to progress. From the basic badges of the Indigo League–Boulder, Cascade, Thunder and Rainbow–to the more mechanistic badges of the Unove League–Bolt, Quake, Jet and Legend–each badge demonstrates a certain mastery, nay, a certain unity with the natural world, and in so acquiring them, that element of the natural world becomes an inherent part of the trainers and the players themselves.
As a child playing Pokemon, it often seemed to become Pokemon Master it required a certain sense of man versus nature–and to attain mastery, man had to overcome nature, overpowering it and making it submit.
As an adult playing Pokemon, I see this symbolism clearly for what it is, and I know now that becoming a Pokemon master does not mean triumphing over the natural world, but instead harnessing its power and becoming so ingrained into the natural world that the division between man and nature slips away.
Part of my continued love for the Pokemon series is found in this unification of man and nature, this raw act of taming the wild, and finding the wild within the tame. This post fails to foresee the further implications such a profound connection can create–fails to ask what becomes of us when we realize this unity in a virtual world and wish to find it alive in reality–but all that seems for a moment secondary to the revelation itself.
Pokemon isn’t about conquering nature and becoming the best.
Pokemon’s about growing in nature through nature.
What could be a more powerful revelation than that?