Annotated map of the virtual Field Trip.
Tuesday 21 September 2021

Gotta Grow em’ All: Let’s Play Pokémon Environments

Lauren Watson, Matt Barr, Timothy Peacock

In August, the Games and Gaming Lab hosted “Gotta Grow ‘Em All”, a livestream virtual, environmental field trip inside the game Pokémon Shield. Even a brief analysis of the commentary provided during the trip reveals the wide range of climate questions which may be prompted and addressed through such games.

The commentators, Dr Tim Peacock and Dr Matthew Barr, approached the stream with differing levels of experience with the franchise. The new Sword and Shield games however provided a novel experience for both. The stream featured the protagonist’s journey between Professor Magnolia’s house on Route 2, and their first time arriving in Motostoke, the industrial city at the end of the first ‘Wild Area’. The livestream was also recorded, available here.

The field trip began with brief discussions on the origin of Pokémon, before moving into the parallels the Galar region has with the landscape and architecture of the British Isles. This was supplemented by the visuals of the forest around the first main rival battle, as well as Professor Magnolia’s English Tudor-style house. Frequently, the environment was a prompt for branching discussions on numerous topics, as is tracked on the annotated Galar map. Recurring themes included the Pokémon world’s economy and infrastructure; Pokémon’s forays into Augmented Reality games and their impact upon environmental exploration in real life; terrain design; game mechanics; and changes in worldbuilding in the games over time.

Discussions on local environments and travel arose (in virtual and real life), in particular during the player’s journey through paths that lead into the smaller towns. Other topics, such as animal/Pokémon habitats, climate change, and nature conservation, arose in the more open world Wild Area. The Wild Area demonstrated the game’s distinctions between residential towns and open fields of wild Pokémon, prompting conversation on the human relationships to the creatures and how they are domesticated, as well as their jobs. This conversation evolved further upon reaching Motostoke city, a place clearly influenced by British industrial heartlands such as Manchester. With the reveal of large stadia replacing the older and smaller gyms, one saw how environmental themes became intertwined with human infrastructure. As Pokémon have roles and jobs outside of battle, so too has the world expanded to show off spectatorial and economic (e.g. advertising/sponsorship) elements of large Pokémon battles, evolving with the franchise’s popularity.

The livestream revealed how Pokémon games are inextricable from Pokémon’s wider media output. When discussing pollution and industrialisation, reflected in the Pokémon Koffing, or Grimer/Muk, the commentators further considered the anime and card games. Many of the discussions thematically inferred Pokémon’s worldbuilding, especially where game mechanics and art design were the prompts. As such, Pokémon’s newer regions are not self-contained, and are informed by other entries in the franchise and even different canons, such as the central anime series. The commentators also highlighted the Pokémon Corsola’s alternate form, reflecting Coral bleaching as a result of global warming in our world, showing how virtual environmental design can be relayed to the player outside of the main narrative through the appearance of the Pokémon themselves. 

As such, the livestream embodied a dual reflection, upon how the current state of our real environmental issues is prompted by and intertwined with the game, and upon a long-running franchise deeply entrenched in environmental themes. As one of the sets of song lyrics from the series put it, ‘we all live in a Pokémon world’.

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Gotta Grow em’ All: Let’s Play Pokémon Environments