Video games are often thought to draw children out of nature and into isolated, closed spaces. In The Lure of Pokémon: Video Games and the Savage Mind, however, Nakazawa Shinichi shows how the Pokémon series of video games, far from standing in opposition to nature, actually seeks to represent the true, hidden essence of the natural world.
From humble beginnings as a video game launched in the mid-90s, Pokémon has become a global entertainment franchise, even reaching into the real world with “augmented reality” via the mobile game Pokémon Go. Nakazawa argues that the Pokémon worldview is the best contemporary example of Lévi-Strauss’s “savage mind” (la pensée sauvage).
As the natural environment is transformed around them, the author suggests, children that would once have directly observed and explored nature encounter it through technology instead. Contemporary games and other narratives can often be viewed as attempts to reconnect the human unconscious with nature, undoing the separation effected by the scientific, rational thought of Western modernity.
Nakazawa also shows how games like Pokémon recreate deep-rooted social patterns. When characters capture monsters, carry them around in “Poké Balls,” and swap them with other characters, they are part of a tradition in which trade is more than just the exchange of goods. Barter is a much more profound form of communication in which each participant also receives part of the other.
The author supports his argument through close analysis of the history and even prehistory of video games in Japanese culture. Drawing on mythology, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis, and other resources, he explores cultural touchstones like Space Invaders, Ultraman, and the RPG as a genre, showing how their rich, direct expression appeals directly to the urges and impulses within children themselves, helping them come to terms with their place in the world.
The Lure of Pokémon: Video Games and the Savage Mind is both a work of game criticism revealing la pensée sauvage within today’s video games and an examination of Japanese culture as the context from which the Pokémon phenomenon was born.