“Is this not the origin of an important theme, ‘the nomads as child stealers’?” (D+G 393)  
  [1] Pokémon, as a feature of material culture, has at its center, a convergence of multiple “games” (or discourses), which position children as its players, trainers, consumers, producers, and subjects. In the Pokémon collectable card game (CCG), “trainers” square off against one another through individualized decks constructed from collectable cards which serve as the fetishes for the imaginary creatures under the trainers’ control. On the other end, is the narrativized “game” of the cartoons in which the imaginary play is acted out by Ash Catchem and other trainers. The Nintendo Gameboy editions provide a portable electronic version of play against other virtual trainers while supplying an ongoing narrative that bridges the world of the CCG with that of the cartoon. The Nintendo 64 versions provide even further developments of the narrativized game with enhanced graphics and sounds that create a bridge from cartoon to Gameboy. Surrounding these four interpenetrating games are various toys, action figures, collectibles, soundtracks, strategy guides, webpages, meals, and merchandise which further connect the pieces to varying degrees. The implied target of this web of “games” is the child, as demonstrated in the person of Ash Catchem and the toyish nature of the merchandise. The age of this “child” is irrelevant, but the games do enjoy popularity with what we conventionally understand to be youth (for now, the “not-yet-adult”). Deleuze and Guattari discuss the exteriority of thewar machine” to the State apparatus,” proposing that “This exteriority is first attested to in mythology, epic, drama, and games” (351). Not that this is necessarily true, but taking this proposal as a point of departure for a discussion of capital, Pokémon offers an ideal context for an interrogation of the concept of an “exterior war machine” and its relation to the State.  
  [2] The intertextuality of Pokémon described above is best illustrated by opening moments of the first episode of the Pokémon cartoon, “Pokémon I Choose You,” which begins with an animated rendition of the Gameboy videogame display, which becomes the Pokémon Stadium (both a Nintendo 64 game AND an institution in the cartoon’s narrative), which becomes a TV show (either a “sportscast” within the cartoon’s narrative or a Pokémon cartoon within the cartoon’s narrative), and ends with a view of Ash (the cartoon’s hero) who is watching these layers unfold on his television, much like the “real-life viewer” watches the unfolding process transpire from one strata above Ash (unless of course, the show Ash sees is about us). The result is a relatively tight and coherent bundle of concepts that permit a great deal of “agency” on the part of the player, but only so long as the player generally interpellated through the competing poke-discourses. In other words, the game’s simulation engenders a “culture” which makes real many of the truths embodied in the game—the principles advocated in the show are functional.  
  [3] Before I proceed with this discussion, it might be useful to describe the different games that can be played, beginning with the Collectible Card Game. To play the game, each player uses a deck of sixty cards, which can be selected from a catalog of hundreds of cards, some of which feature one of the 150 pokémon that have been identified by pokémon researchers like Professor Oak. The goal is to construct a deck that contains an array of pokémon, energy, and training cards that will allow the “trainer” to draw the combination of cards needed to beat the other pokémon “trainer.” The specifics of the game are less important than the fact that decks are assembled from a large number of cards and that having the right cards will enable one player to vanquish another. As a result of this massive pool of cards and the variable nature of the game, the “ability” of the trainer relies heavily on the proper possessions:

In the Pokémon trading card game, one of your goals is to collect each of the cards, similar to your goal of collecting each of the Pokémon in the Game Boy game. But not all Pokémon cards are as easy to catch as others. The Energy cards are the most basic and most common kind of cards. Your Pokémon cards, Evolution cards, and Trainer cards come in four different varieties: common cards are marked in the bottom right-hand corner with a Common. Uncommon cards are marked with a Uncommon, and rare cards are marked with a Rare. In addition, some rare cards are printed using holographic foil. These "holo" cards are the hardest to catch and collect. In addition, a limited quantity of each set of Pokémon cards is printed with the First Edition symbol, which shows that those cards are first-edition cards from that set. The same cards may be reprinted in the future but never with the First Edition symbol, ensuring that your first-edition cards will maintain their value! (Pokémon Rules)

In other words, the CCG relies heavily upon the trainer’s ability to collect the pokémon. The capacity to collect involves a level of knowledge about scarcity, abundance, and demand. It involves the cultivation of a connoisseurship in regards to what’s a good deal, what cards work well in combination with others, and where to go to get the cards one needs. Similarly, the social nature of the game asks trainers to participate in an economy of trading, which involves not only getting a good deal on a rare card, but also completing a collection, and getting the right cards to make a strong deck.
  [4] As described in the rules, to collect pokémon cards is also to “catch” the pokémon themselves, creating a parallel logic between the CCG, the Gameboy version, and the cartoons. Interestingly, not only does the CCG insert itself into the world of the cartoon’s narrative, but the narrative reflects back upon the CCG in an interesting way. In the animated feature film, Pokémon 2000, the film’s villain explains how his descent into villainy began: “I began my collection with a Mew card.” At the height of the plot’s dramatic resolution, collecting emerges as a pathology. The villain who nearly destroys the world through his desire to collect the rarest pokémon, began his career with the collection of a rare and desirable Pokémon card. Not only does this muddle the boundaries between the narrative and spectator by suggesting that in the narrative world, as in our world, collecting Pokémon cards is a feature of everyday life; but it calls into question the difference between the “collector” and “trainer.” By demonizing the mere collector and affirming the power of the trainer, the film establishes an aura around connoisseurship in which those who care most deeply for their menagerie (real or otherwise) are the true winners. It’s not enough to play, the true trainer has to love.  
  [5] The Nintendo Gameboy version of Pokémon features an interactive narrative in which the protagonist (here the player selects a name for his or her virtual persona) searches for pokémon to capture and trainers to battle. This version loosely follows the narrative of the cartoon, but allows the player to choose the itinerary. After many hours of play, during which Willy (that’s my poke-identity) has been the loving trainer of a Bulbasaur (whom I have nicknamed Lil Romeo), I have found that aside from breathing life into the limited graphics of the Gameboy, the cartoon has provided a number of incredibly useful strategic hints. By imitating the cartoon’s Ash, my Willy has been able to defeat several of the trainers and collect some of the badges he will need to proceed to the tournament (which is also a reference to the CCG tournaments).  
[6] But the mechanics of the Gameboy itself provide an interesting means of replicating the logic of the narrative. The Gameboy is a small, hand-held device which can go wherever the “trainer” goes, enabling him or her to train at any given moment. By making play more mobile than the already mobile decks of cards (which require another player and a flat surface to play on), the game allows the player to move much like the characters themselves must move in order to capture more pokémon and fight more battles. Not unlike the cellular phone, which has liberated the white collar worker and service worker from the land line, this type of portable hand held technology is clearly a case of “the becoming of everybody/everything, becoming-radio, becoming-electronic, becoming molecular” (473). In the case of the Gameboy, the fictional warrior world of the nomadic pokémon trainer engenders a becoming- in which the “trainer”/player in becoming-Gameboy, is also becoming-“war machine." The result is a double process of becoming—a becoming-becoming-pokémon.5
  [7] Another feature of the Gameboy is that it can, through the aid of a cable, be attached to another Gameboy, permitting the two games to speak and interact, allowing players to trade pokémon from one machine to another, giving actions in the Pokémon narrative further “real-world” correspondence, for if the show is to be believed, trading is the way to form “Pokémon friendships” ("Battle Aboard the St. Anne," episode 15) in which sideways movement of pokémon from trainer to trainer could conceivably establish relationships worldwide (a sort of “six degrees of separation”). In addition, the Gameboy cartridges can be attached to the Nintendo 64 with the aid of an apparatus, allowing trainers to bring their Gameboy-trained pokémon into the world of slick three-dimensional renderings with stereo sound and fluid animations—a becoming-cartoon—a transformation of the ordinary pokémon images into the “animated substance” of the cartoon.  
  [8] The significance of the interplay between the various games being played is that they function to create multiple interfaces that can be implimented in a number of ways, both physical and metaphorical. In such smooth terrain, “A rhizome ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (D+G 7). Rather than force connections, the game designers, illustrators, writers, marketers, advertisers, and programmers, (themselves a complex machine) create the opportunity for multiplicity. Whether you see yourself as an Ash, Team Rocket (Pokémon villains), Willy, yourself, or even me is not important, it is only important to enact in multiples by becoming-pokémon (which itself becomes synonymous with collecting).  
  [9] The looseness (smooth space) that I’ve described here would seem in some scholars’ estimation represent a threat to the social order. To encourage this sort of “play” might seem subversive, especially when directed at children. And some conservative groups have responded through censorship and burning rituals directed at Pokémon as immoral (one group even issued a fatwa against Pokémon).6 Others, conversely, might see Pokémon as a form of Capitalist indoctrination, merely situating children within the economy of haves and have-nots while reinforcing consumerist tendencies. And perhaps both are right to fear Pokémon, but for the wrong reasons. Deleuze and Guattari share insights into the reason for this crisis, “In the case of the child, gestural, mimetic, lucid, and other semiotic systems regain their freedom and extricate themselves from the ‘tracing,’ that is, from the dominant competence of the teacher’s language—a microscopic event upsets the local balance of power” (15). Rather than reproduce points on existing trajectories (immorality, ideology), perhaps the child subjects are situated on a third trajectory.  
  “Enjoy your last moments of freedom Pidgee, because you’re mine” (Ash Catchem to Pidgee, “Pokémon, I Choose You,” episode 1)  
[10] The “child” which Deleuze and Guattari refer to is the same “child” towards whom Pokémon is directed. Rather than think in terms of years lived, although this childishness certainly demonstrates generational features, the new child is born of the coupling of technology and biology which is alluded to in both Pokémon’s form and content. The atrophy that follows the trainer-pokeball-pokémon assemblage, in which the pokémon are biotechnical extensions of the body’s own capabilities, produce an infantilization that sees its greatest fulfillment in what Virilio describes as: “No future – the eternal childhood of the Japanese ‘otakus’ of the eighties – refusing to wake up to a life by leaving the world of the digital imagination, by exiting from manga land” (The Information Bomb 94-5). This bodily “youthfulness” which is accompanied by the psychological youthfulness of consumer culture potentially positions all subjects to be victimized by the “nomadic child stealers,” but hardly in the conventional sense. Instead, the theft will be accomplished through the stealing enacted in the trainer-pokémon relationship in which childlike pokémon are abducted by nomadic trainers. The “children” of today are increasingly snatched up and nomadized within themselves, enacting the self-reflexive process of becoming-“war machine.” This deterritorilization breaks down the boundaries between the State and the war machine, not through an appropriation of a version of the war machine by the State, but through a process of double-becoming in which the State itself (as an organization of subjects) is deterritorialized through the “becoming-imperceptible” (through bodily atrophy) and the “becoming-animal”(the radical deterritorialization of the biotechnical body) of its subjects. The State itself is the source and container of the barbarian horde, the nomad is no longer outside.
[11] This new nomadicapitalist, emblametized in the person of the child, finds its expression recent surges and recessions in global capital and new treaties and associations of “States” in which states effectively abolish themselves in their own self-interest. The new barbarian, in search of smooth economic spaces to roam freely, is the embodiment of a sort of guerilla capitalist, with no allegiances, no ideology to guide or threaten, a mobile phone, and laptop. This new war machine will itself steal children, always colonizing, in search of “the special body, in particular the slave-infidel-foreigner, [...] the one who becomes a soldier and believer while remaining deterritorialized” (D+G 393). The new child-capitalist will not be without his/her pokémon.







Pokémon Center