Pokemon as urban top predator

So the next generation of Pokemon games (black and white, US release in March) has a few features that are designed around Japan’s densely populated commuter culture. Actually previous versions had some of these, but I never put it all together before: with Japanese schoolkids spending up to an hour on the train each morning to get to school, suddenly the DS’s proximity features (peer-to-peer wireless communication apart from wifi, onscreen chat with up to 8 other nearby units) make a whole lot more sense. And trains have been getting wifi, so you can also get onto a global net (to trade pokemon asynchronously or do synchronized battling). But the new games’ features are starting to sound like a bldgblog near future post:

the ability to upload Pokémon into a digital cloud called the “Dream World”; and passive wi-fi functionality that allows commuters to peek into other games

Talk of clouds is so last year (though I confess I still don’t really know what the practical implications of the cloud are) and wifi hotspots on trains and planes are hardly news, but then this infrastructural footnote hits:

In addition, a hot spot service might be offered similar to the Poké Power Spot initiative currently in place in numerous Japanese stores and restaurants.

So Geoff Manaugh would say “the really interesting thing is when everyone is networked all the time and the park becomes your office as much as Starbucks, and then we have to redefine home again.” And maybe the smartphone is already that. Kinda. But I’m most interested in the exclusivity of Nintendo’s network. It’s opaque to parents, to users of other games, selectively to wifi. You don’t use it for email or music or youtube (though I guess with the DSi you can get up to phonecam shenanigans – another network I’d been ignoring). It is only for circulating Pokemon in-game tokens and reputation. And it seems to be able to support near ubiquity on that basis.

And it exists because of the infrastructural landscape of Japan, which potentially allows for different groups of kids meeting on the train every day, exchanging game tokens like the infamous azure flute from player to wireless to hotspot to cloud, forming tribes and optimized battlegroups with community-held powered-up Pokemon and taking on the kids of Osaka and building reputation on a national scale. The Pokemon Company’s US spokesman tries to put a brave face on his localization task: he points out that American schoolkids may not ride trains in large numbers but they do ride buses, but the stumbling block for the Pokemon franchise outside Japan is obvious. New York schoolkids on their banana bus might have a couple of wireless battle partners, but they have no chance of happening across power spots or pokemon-dedicated wifi nodes around town. The social opportunities of their pokeworld are comparable to a small suburban cul-de-sac in a desert, while the Tokyo pokekid lives in, well, Tokyo.


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