The World in Your Pocket: Pokemon and Planet Management

Within popular culture the flames of planet management ideology continue to grow. The series Star Trek included a machine that made meals instantly out of nothing, explained to be invented so the “senseless murder of animals” could finally be stopped once and for all. The film Soylent Green has us imagine a world where all the problems of resources have been solved by a magical soylent algae that grows in the oceans (the movie later reveals the truth that “soylent green is people”). In almost any show that deals with fantasy or science fiction, in almost any futuristic pop-culture fantasy you can look up in the TV-Guide, you can find that the idea of Planet Management has sunken its roots deep into our minds, showing how all the problems we face today will be solved by scientists in laboratories and their fabulous new machines. The “technology conquers all” spirit is well alive in the television we watch, and even the games we play, and amongst all these texts, Pokemon, the Japanese franchise spanning multiple forms of media, seems to be the most subtle and yet also most powerful example of Planet Management Ideology in pop culture.

The small details of planet management pop-up everywhere in the Pokemon universe. The towns are clean and unpolluted, the forests are tame and accessible to humans, and the food seems to come out of nowhere, just like in Soylent Green. The world has been domesticated to the point that children are free to roam wherever they will without any fear of harm. In fact, they are encouraged to wander off as much as possible to build up their collection of Pokemon, or Pocket Monsters, and participate in Pokemon battles both with “wild” creatures and other children. Nature, in this world, is no longer a barrier, nor is it a place man fears. It is a place where children wander off in search of resources in the form of little battling pets and find no shortage of them. If a child finds him or herself overwhelmed by these adorable little beasts, he simply walks out of the fields or the forest and back onto the path, a safe zone that magically guarantees that nothing wild nor vicious will come his way. It can be assumed by these details that man has developed nature in such a way that it has become a children's sport. Grasslands and forests are not wild and chaotic things, they are small squares on the map leading onto the next city.

Taking a deeper look into the ecology of Pokemon, one can see that things go much further than the simple creation of Arcadian landscapes. The entire structure of these wild creatures' lifestyles reflect that of a perfect and yet simple system, simple enough to be memorized and used by the child combatants of the Pocket Monster universe. For the uninitiated, the Pokemon found in the game and the popular cartoon series follow a kind of rock/paper/scissors system. Pokemon come in all different types: water, air, ground, electric, fire, and many others. Whenever a Pokemon of one type faces one of another type, for example a grass type vs. a fire type, the Pokemon with the dominant characteristic will normally win, in this case the fire type would easily burn the grass type. These characteristics are typical of a kind of Lego ecosystem that can be built block by block. In this world, an animal's inherent nature is so obvious and easy to understand that a kid could take advantage of them and use them to their fullest potential. A reflection of this kind of thinking occurs in this world under the guise of the Biosphere 2 project. In Biosphere 2, animals were chosen from different habitats based on their characteristics in order to build an artificial stable ecosystem (Luke). In all of their attempts, these scientists have failed to tie up every loose string and build the perfect self-sustained environment. Yet in Pokemon world the rules are simple enough to understand, and it is surmisable that if such a project took place in the Pocket Monster universe where the features of the animal can be narrowed down to one “type,” it would easily be a success.

The examples of a purely domestic earth and of the Pokemon's inherently “useful” nature don't definitively lead to the conclusion that the world of Pokemon is one ruled by planet management. The keystone in this argument is the method in which “wild” Pokemon are domesticated. In order to capture a Pokemon, one must sic his or her own Pokemon on the desired creature until that creature is nearly defeated. Once that cuddly little monster is almost incapacitated, the Poke-Poacher tosses a Poke-ball, a device used to instantly capture Pokemon. The most important detail here is not how a Pokemon is caught, but rather what happens after it is caught and put in its tiny spherical cage. After being caught, the “wild” Pokemon is instantly domesticated and can be used in battle for its master right away. In other words, man has the power to dominate and control nature with little or no effort. The instant domestication of the Pokemon represents the idea that nature lends itself to dominion by man. To add to the easy domestication of Pokemon is the fact that they aren't very “wild” to begin with. The Pokemon live in the places that man has left for them. A grassland or a forest is nothing more than a vending machine for poke-merchandise, easily obtained as long as you pay the fee with your Poke-ball.

The final nail in the coffin of Poke-Gaia lies in the bastardization of evolution present in the Pokemon universe. In the real world, evolution is a response to the kill or be killed nature of the planet. Species evolve to better fit the available niches left in their ecosystems and to better survive those ecosystems. In the Pokemon world, however, species “evolve” only into similar but slightly more powerful versions of themselves. Pokemon never change on their own, only after they have been domesticated, and they always change into something that would be more “useful” to their human masters. Not only does evolution constantly work in man's favor, but man has the ability to control it so that a Poke-master doesn't want his Pokemon to evolve, he can simply press the “B” button to prevent it from doing so. Evolution, in the traditional sense, is turned upside down here. The best example of this lies with the Pokemon “Magikarp,” who cannot fight and so serves no purpose in battle. But if a Poke-Master takes the time to give his useless Magikarp enough battle experience, it will turn into a ferocious and highly powerful Gyarados that is hard to defeat in battle. Here man has taken something useless to him, a fat flapping carp-like fish, and turned it into a giant sea monster. That isn't evolution. That's genetic engineering.

The world of Pokemon isn't necessarily a bad one. All things considered, it would probably be nice to live there. The land is clean and livable everywhere, nature gives it's fruit away to mankind with no foreseeable repercussions, and everything just seems to come together for the people who live there. The Pokemon world is a man-made Arcadia, and almost a man-made Utopia. The important thing to note, however, is that Pokemon is an over-simplification of an already over-simplified science. We can't use magical cat-like creatures with electrical powers and high marketability to power our cities. We have trouble keeping species in our own country, let alone keeping them in their own separate grass fields. In Pokemon, nature lends itself to be domesticated. In the real world, nature fights our domestication and tries to weave its own tune. In this way, Pokemon truly is the perfect fantasy of the modern day planet manager.


In the context of this essay, the concepts of Planet Management and Arcadia come from Eisenburg's The Ecology of Eden. Information on the Biosphere 2 project comes from Luke's “Environmental Emulations: Terraforming Technologies and the Tourist Trade at Biosphere 2.” Information on Magikarp comes from the New Pokedex, an online encyclopedia of all Pokemon and their powers.

Works Referenced

New Pokedex. February 3, 2005. January 15, 2005.

Eisenburg, Evan. The Ecology of Eden. New York: Vintage Books, 1999

Luke, Timothy W. “Environmental Emulations: Terraforming Technologies and the Tourist Trade at Biosphere 2.” Ecocritique. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press 1997. 95-114.


A paper I wrote in College which reads the game "Pokemon" as a loveletter to the human desire to control the planet. Posted here in its entirety to the left purely for the hell of it.