From humble beginnings as a video game launched in the mid-90s, Pokemon has become a global entertainment franchise, even reaching into the real world with “augmented reality” via the mobile game Pokemon Go. Nakazawa argues that the Pokemon worldview is the best contemporary example of Levi-Strauss’s “savage mind” (la pensee 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 Pokemon recreate deep-rooted social patterns. When characters capture monsters, carry them around in “Poke 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 Pokemon: Video Games and the Savage Mind is both a work of game criticism revealing la pensee sauvage within today’s video games and an examination of Japanese culture as the context from which the Pokemon phenomenon was born.