The Surprising Cultural Stamina Of Pokemon

Play associated audio

Fifteen years ago, pocket-sized characters known as Pokemon arrived on American shores from Japan. The cute creatures were suddenly everywhere: television, video games, card games and a movie.

When the Pokemon cartoon theme song first hit American TV airwaves in 1998, "Gotta catch 'em all" became a mantra for kids. But few people imagined that in 2013 the stars of this cartoon would still be going strong.

"Pokemon's a more than billion-dollar business each year," said J.C. Smith, the marketing director for the Pokemon Company International. Fifteen years ago, the makers of Pokemon made a bet that releasing a video game, card game and cartoon all at once would launch a franchise that could stand the test of time.

For now, the bet is paying off, as the second generation of Pokemon players watches the cartoon and takes up their game consoles and cards.

"We do benefit from having been around as long as we have because there are dads who are playing with their kids now; these dads grew up with it and love it," Smith said.

On a Sunday afternoon at Game Empire in Pasadena, Calif., one of Los Angeles County's biggest game stores, two generations of Pokemon card players — ages 8 to 38 — gathered for friendly competitive play. Together.

Nine-year-old Mark, who was testing his skills against a player almost three times his age, explained the basics: "First of all, you have to have Pokemon that have high attack power."

Mark said Sweetcoon was a good Pokemon character. "[He] has a really good ability, safeguard, that means it can't be damaged by E-Xes."

I had no idea what that meant. But it's the depth of the game, both in terms of rules and storytelling, that keeps people interested

I asked 23-year-old Taylor Jansen, who runs the card-gaming group, to explain the ties between the card game and the video game (which is made by Nintendo). The video game, he said, leads the way.

"So when a new game comes out, that's when new Pokemon come out, and new mechanics come out and stuff," Jansen said. "So that trickles into the card game and that same marketing gets a bigger base for the cards and the game."

Sales of the latest edition of the video game released in October were brisk. Nintendo sold 4 million games worldwide on the first weekend.

But some gamers are skeptical this can last. The video game part of the franchise relies on old-school devices, namely Nintendo handheld consoles, that are being quickly replaced by smartphones in gamers' pockets.

And that's the catch. Nintendo is stuck wondering if letting Pokemon roam free on phones will wipe out the handheld hardware market. The answer to that question will determine what a second 15 years of Pokemon will look like.

Noah Nelson is a reporter for Turnstylenews.com, a tech and digital culture site from Youth Radio.

Copyright 2013 Turnstyle. To see more, visit http://turnstylenews.com/.

NPR

'Rolling The R's' Is A Story About Coming Of Age And Coming Out

Rolling the R's tells the stories of restless teenagers in the disco era in a gritty neighborhood in Hawaii. Author R. Zamora Linmark discusses the book's impact, 20 years after it first came out.
NPR

'Sweetbitter' Is A Savory Saga Of Restaurant Life And Love

Oysters, cocaine, fine wine, love triangles: Stephanie Danler's debut novel Sweetbitter follows a year in the life of a young woman working at a top-tier Manhattan restaurant.
NPR

Trump Rolls Into Washington For Biker Rally

The presumptive Republican nominee for president addressed Rolling Thunder, the annual gathering of motorcyclists, on Sunday. The group seeks to raise awareness of veterans' issues.
NPR

After Breast Cancer Diagnosis, She Channeled Her Ups And Downs Into Texts

NPR's Scott Simon talks with Natalie Sun about her project, textingwithcancer.com. The website won a Webby award, and documents her pessimism and optimism while undergoing chemotherapy.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.