Pokemon in the Library? Controversy, Content & Literacy.
I’ve written a basic intro to Pokemon for teachers and librarians, a more in depth look at gender roles and violence in the game, and lesson plan ideas using Pokemon as a tool to teach “habitats”. With the USA release of Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver coming on March 14th, the time is definitely right for another post.
Let’s start with the controversy. This controversy transcends Pokemon. The controversy is: “What does Pokemon have to do with reading!?” Or, on that larger scale, “What do video games have to do with literacy?!”. This is the stigma that libraries face not only with video games, but with many forms of media. This is why we have Banned Books Week; this why we are constant advocates for our own roles as librarians. What the controversy almost always entails is a single person (or group of people), without a proper understanding of the specific story’s context of the content they oppose, trying to censor material from all users of a public or school library. The outcome of most of these well-meaning censorship attempts is that the person who tried to censor the material reads it, understands the content in the context of the story, and actually likes the story and withdraws the censorship attempt. This is a very frequent occurrence and I think that Pokemon’s detractors would feel the same way if they spent time within the story, playing the game.
That brings us to content. As a follower of Marshal McCluhan, I always try to hip people to the fact that a distinction must be made between the content of media and the media itself. In this case, the media is “video games” (arguably, “handheld video games”), and the content is “Pokemon” (and more specifically, “The story contained within Pokemon HeartGold”, or whatever Pokemon game you are speaking about). If we understand this distinction between content and the media transmitting the content, we have already raised the legitimacy with which the “gaming-in-schools-and-libraries” discussion takes place.
And as that discussion is raised, it reaches the level that OTHER media has reached in schools and libraries: the literary value of gaming. I don’t need to rehash it completely, but games now have a plot, character development, thematic elements, and interactive narrative devices. This is why the Pokemon franchise can release Pokemon Silver in 2000, and release Pokemon SoulSilver in 2010: SoulSilver is a game with a similar plot and theme, retold using the new character development & narrative devices possible that technology allows for 10 years later. THIS is what Pokemon and gaming-in-general has to do with reading. 8bitlibrary’s Craig Anderson has written more on that subject in LibraryGuyCraig’s review of Batman: Arkham Asylum.
As a little addition to the article (I didn’t know where else to put this), I think the release of HeartGold and SoulSilver is an interesting one. As technology moves forward and more can be “done” with video games, Pokemon as a franchise has taken to “retelling” stories. HeartGold and SoulSilver and RETELLINGS of the stories contained within Pokemon Gold and Silver, which were released for play on the “inferior”-to-DS hardware system Gameboy Color. These new game are not really “remakes” of the old games; these are new games telling the same story. This reflects the true nature of video gaming: a modern storytelling medium. One of the library’s most important roles in the community is “storyteller”. From baby storytime lapsits to book discussion groups for seniors to archiving the local history of the community, libraries are a place to tell story. This is why Pokemon belongs there.
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