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Hi there, my name is Sian. I'm a Communication Studies graduate from Australia. Recently I wrote a thesis on how Csikszentmihalyi's Flow theory can be applied to video games, in order to explain how games can contribute to happiness.

Currently I'm writing video game articles to get a foot into the industry. I'm particularly interested in the role of women in the game industry and how video game play influences our physical lives.

Like most of the other articles discussing the past, I have a special place in my heart for Pokemon. On my birthday, I received a purple translucent GameBoy Colour and Pokemon Gold, along with a little black backpack to keep it all in.

I never, ever left the house without that backpack.

Pokemon of course, is incredibly successful. Some would say that it even created its own genre. In Genre and game studies: Toward a critical approach to video game genres, Thomas Apperley examines how video games are organised according to genre; claiming that doing so prevents video games from being examined as their own media form. Rather, he claims that video games are compared to other forms of texts such as film and literature. Here I will examine some features of genre according to the Pokemon series, and how they have (or have not) changed over time. I own Pokemon Blue, Gold, Ruby, Leaf Green, and HeartGold, so my discussion will revolve around these games; Pokemon’s both distant and fairly recent past. Despite all of these games containing the same basic, central mechanics, the whole series is of course incredibly popular. As Apperley notes, ‘the expectation is that the stability of genre will be tempered by innovation; this innovation may be technical, not necessarily stylistic’. The Pokemon series of games has experienced innovation both technically and stylistically over five generations of games since 1996, allowing the majority of its audience, including myself, to be satisfied. Firstly, as for technical changes, the Pokemon role-playing games have been released on Game Boy, Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, and the Nintendo DS. Each new release has displayed an increase in the quality of the output, in colours and screen size. The DS was the biggest step forward, featuring a touch screen and microphone input. More recently, the 3DS allows for three dimensional functionality.

However, I do believe that technical changes are not the most important aspect of the games. Pokemon is an interesting series to me, because of how the gameplay has stayed fairly uniform over time, with only minor changes. However even small changes seem to be deliberated over, as if Nintendo wasn’t sure whether they should be kept or not. For example, consider the day and night differences in Generation Two, which were taken out in Generation Three and reintroduced in Generation Four. This seemed an odd decision to me, as in Generation Two Eevee gained the ability to evolve into either Espeon or Umbreon depending on the time. Furthermore, it just was an impressive extra feature that facilitated immersion! Why would they take it out? Especially when events such as the tide changing in Shoal Cave in Generation Three would have benefited from some visual differences between day and night. I never really found many answers to these questions, but I certainly wondered about them, even as a child.

Route 29 in the morning (yellow tint), New Bark Town in the day, and Cherrygrove City at night (Bulbapedia)

Berries are another example of this trend of switching around. They were introduced in Generation II, in which they were rare and the trees immovable, the berries respawning at midnight every day. Generation III significantly improved on the system, introducing a wide range of berries and giving players the ability to plant and harvest them at their will. They could be grown in ‘soft soil’ and depending on the berry, they would take varying times to be ready. However this soil was only available in the Hoenn region; when accessing Generation I’s Kanto from Generation III, no such soil was present. Furthermore, in FireRed and LeafGreen, Generation III remakes of Generation I, berries could be obtained in a certain forest; Sevii Island’s Berry Forest. However they could not be found elsewhere. The introduction of the berry mechanic certainly added an interesting feature of gameplay, but its implementation in the game series has at times been confusing. Similarly to the night and day mechanic, Nintendo seemed to be unsure as to how exactly the mechanic should be utilised.

Each new generation brings with it a new set of Pokemon to catch, battle, and trade. A new season of the TV show is released in conjunction with each game, relating to Apperley’s point of how ‘video games…are understood intertextually, through other media texts and through the shared experience of gaming’. The anime functions as a method of teaching players what the new Pokemon are, their types, and abilities. Furthermore, characters and events from the anime series are replicated in the games, supporting a storyline and setting that generally matches up with the games. Areas such as Slowpoke Well are a testament to this; episode 142: A Shadow of a Drought focuses on how the people of Azalea town believe that Slowpoke to be sacred, as their yawn can summon rain. In HeartGold and SoulSilver, it is said that ‘locals believe that a Slowpoke's yawn summons the rain. Records show that a Slowpoke's yawn ended a drought 400 years ago’. The Pokemon anime did and still does function as an educational tool to encourage players’ understanding of Pokemon; how they act, what moves they learn, and so on. It also educates players on the Pokemon world; regions such as Kanto and Johto, and what can be found within them. Aside from the anime, in fact, the trading card game contains an image of Slowpoke Well; again reinforcing the intertextual nature of the Pokemon series. The Pokemon trading card game, films, soundtracks, and manga constitute a wide range of Pokemon products that aim to broaden the Pokemon world.

Slowpoke's Well as seen in Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, A Shadow of a Drought, and the Trading Card Game.

When applied to the Pokemon series, Apperley’s game genres provides an interesting example of how innovation can alter a video game, and how the series relies on intertextuality to establish the legitimacy of its game world. Even my simple examples of how I viewed the games as a child validate this; focusing on how each game differed, and how they connected with the animated series. Regardless of the changes to the series, each game always returns to an established setting and story built into the franchise. The Pokemon game series certainly overtook my childhood, and like many, as an adult I am finding that it still captivates me at times; it will certainly be interesting to see if the games change dramatically in the future.
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I started my very first World of Warcraft character in an unusual place- the university computer room, surrounded by other students in my class. Amid everyone else complaining that ‘this is too nerdy’ and that they ‘have no idea what to do’, I quietly smiled in glee when I found that upon selecting a hunter class for my night elf, a white tiger appeared! Perfect, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I happily started the game, running around with my new tiger and learning to shoot things with a bow. But then, I decided to choose a profession.

‘As a culture we believe in letting nothing go to waste. When we are forced to slay a creature we take what we can to make sure its sacrifice was not in vain. If you wish to learn the proper way to take the skin of a slain beast, then seek out Eladriel in the Craftsmen’s Terrace.’  – Darnassus Sentinel

I quickly decided that I wanted to learn a trade, and skinning and leatherworking were my main options. Leather is not only good armour for hunters, but also sells well on the Auction House. However, I found myself in a huge dilemma I never thought I would be in- I felt seriously uncomfortable with having a personalised game character skinning and crafting items from the carcass of an animal. This escalated the point that I spent an hour on the phone to my partner, trying to convince myself that it is okay. My train of thought was all over the place-‘I wouldn’t skin an animal!’, ‘how can I have a pet but kill other animals?’, ‘Night elves are connected to nature – would a night elf be a leatherworker?’ Asking these seemingly pointless questions eventually made me consider why I was having a problem with this. My partner is vegetarian! So why does he not care while I do? Most importantly, why is this the one and only time I’ve felt seriously concerned about my in-game actions?

Most gamers understand that when taking on the role of a character in a game, we identify with them and see the game world in our own personal way. Some researchers believe that when we identify with a game character, we perceive their attributes to be our own in reality too. So maybe my concern stemmed from the fact that I can honestly say that I could never skin an animal, and would struggle to even watch someone else do it. Keep in mind here that this is my first ever MMO character and I hadn’t really encountered roleplaying or much customisation in games before.

Similarities between the physical and game world also affect the extent to which players feel emotional responses. Some scholars believe that gamers can find it very difficult to completely separate games and reality if they have many similarities and connections, which can make the player feel strong emotions in response to in-game events.  While I certainly agree that game events can emotionally affect the player- I’ve experienced this many times- I think that gamers are usually more self-aware in that we are capable of differentiating between reality and the game world. Especially considering how World of Warcraft isn’t very visually realistic; skinning involves a scraping sound while the animal’s carcass simply fades away. Still, I don’t wholly disagree with this claim; the same scholar believes that gameplay can be liberating and facilitate self-development, as it facilitates real emotional responses. In this sense I would say that my experience encouraged me to really consider how I feel about animal products – from eggs milk, and meat, to leather. In a sense, becoming a leatherworker in World of Warcraft forced me to come to terms with where real leather comes from, rather than just conveniently forgetting its origins.

Similarities and differences between game worlds and reality have been studied specifically in relation to taboos, such as killing. The theory of ‘sanctioned equivalence’ explains how certain taboos are allowed under certain conditions in reality; people as enemies in war, and animals as pests, sources of food, and resources. These actions are acceptable in reality, so it is less emotionally straining to undertake these activities in a game. Skinning and leatherworking are obviously sanctioned in reality, but I am uncomfortable with it in-game. After consideration, I would say this is because I am suspicious of the way the industry is run, I am leaning on the vegetarian side, and frankly, don’t have any elves to ask their opinion! I am trying to both play myself and as a night elf; if I am not comfortable with skinning and leatherworking, then the elf character had better be. 

I really surprised myself with how uncomfortable I felt when choosing a profession in World of Warcraft. I have never had any qualms before; sure in games like Fable I almost always choose the ‘good’ option, but I’ve killed hundreds of guards in Assassin’s Creed without hesitation. The personalisation of avatars and more self-directed gameplay in World of Warcraft fosters an emotional connection with the game, to the extent that I treated the idea of my character skinning and leatherworking as if I was really doing it. Simply choosing between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ actions can be simple in video games, but when it comes down to greyer areas, I considered what I would do in reality. From this experience, I believe that in some circumstances, gameplay can truly make us consider issues that may not be vital as a whole, but allow us to develop and learn a little more about ourselves.
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