Unless you’ve been cast away on a deserted island for the past few years, even if you don’t know what a Pikachu is, you can’t miss them. Much like the Cabbage Patch dolls and Tickle Me Elmo, Pokemon and all of its 151 creatures are the flavour of the season.
There is only one man to be blamed for this, Satoshi Tajiri. Born in Tokyo on August 28th 1965, he was considered a bit of a misfit as a young boy. Tajiri had an interest and concern for the creatures and nature that surrounded his home, just outside of Tokyo.
His other abiding love was for video games. While in college, Tajiri and his friends began to publish a magazine in which they publicize tips and cheat codes of their favorite video games.
In 1991 Tajiri came across a Nintendo Game Boy. When he saw that two Game Boys could be linked with a cable, inspiration struck. "I imagined an insect moving back and forth across the cable," he recalled. "My idea was for information to go back and forth, to be shared." He pictured his insects of old being traded across different Game Boys and evolving into new and better things.
This is why it was important for him that Pokemon not be violent. It wasn’t a coincidence either that the monsters don't 'die' when they lose a battle. They just fade away.
Although nobody at Nintendo was initially too excited by Tajiri's strange new game, they decided to take a chance on it anyway. They released Pokemon in Japan, and slowly but steadily sales started increasing each month.
This phenomenon soon spawned an animated TV series, comics, a slew of movies, merchandise and even a trading card game. There was even a case of unintended publicity when a number of children were hospitalized after watching an episode on TV that featured a number of flashing lights.
"I imagined an insect moving back and forth across the cable. My idea was for information to go back and forth, to be shared."
After going global, Pokemon was recognized as part of popular culture when it was presented as a $500,00 question on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Unfortunately for the contestant and to the chagrin of children everywhere, the contestant decided to take his $250,000 and run because he didn’t know the answer.
Pokemon has also been satirized recently on South Park as well as being mentioned by talkshow hosts like Jay Leno and Conan O’ Brian. In it’s opening weekend, “Pokémon: The First Movie” raked in over US$32.4m. Worldwide, the Pokemon craze is worth an estimated US$5 billion.
With the release of Pokemon Gold and Silver cards and their horde of 250 Pokemons to collect, it is unsure if the craze is dying. Although reports are of a general slowdown in Pokemon sales worldwide, the appeal of a little yellow Pikachu cannot be discounted. – Ken Wong, ZDNet Asia