While the video game industry is still in it’s infancy, it has found many ways to educate us, be they in a positive or negative way. That said, being so young, it tends to borrow from existing media forms when creating content. The special thing about video games is that they are much more interactive than other forms of media.
While most media forms are ones that are created and then distributed or simply derive their significance from the referenced medium(such as watching a TV show or stating opinions online about that movie you just finished), these media forms generally cannot be changed when you receive them; that movie will always play out the same no matter how many times you play it, and that TV show will quickly become dated as it is most likely rooted in then current culture. Video games, on the other hand, are much more malleable in terms of how the experience plays out, especially on repeat plays. While no two reactions to the same movie or TV show are different, the experience that is provided by the medium itself(before being mediated through social location and such) is always the same. With video games, no two playthroughs will be exactly the same, neither will each player’s reception toward that playthrough. This variety in both given and received experiences separates video games from most media forms, mainly since the delivered content can’t be changed.
Metaphorically, it’s like filtering light. Most media forms have a single message that they transmit, like a colored laser.
The gaming medium, by contrast, can alter it’s presentation, like a laser that could change color each time it was fired. Overall, this would indicate a wide(ish) array of creative options when designing a video game. While they can havetheir target audience, they also have the ability to captivate the interest of demographics outside their own, deliberately or otherwise. While this wouldn’t mean much for those brands that see only one game and aren’t thought of again, this may be different for those franchises that have aged, especially as that age grows.
For the rest of this piece, I will be looking at the aging of the Pokemon franchise across it’s 20 year history, specifically looking at the increase of adult/mature/dark themes/tropes and how this relates to the age(s) of the franchises’ growing player base. To do this, I will be looking at several themes, including why the average age of gamers in general is where it is, what keeps gamers interested in long-runners, what kinds of mature innuendo makes it into games, and how this increase in maturity has bled into other properties associated with the franchise in particular.Literature ReviewAs for why the average age of gamers is what it is, a study conducted on about 4000 Hungarian gamers(Nagygy 2013) related age with gaming habits both spending and time investment, preference by genre, and proficiency(amateur or professional), while (Lawson, 2007) related age with compassion for virtual pets. The Hungarian study determined that, among other things, real-time strategy game players tended to be older, while role-playing-gamers tended to sink the most time into their games, while women tended to play games that didn’t go into any of the major genres studied (First Person Shooter, Role Playing Game, etc.)This may simply be due to the general size of RPG’s while RTS players tended to sink time as a means to improve at the game. That said, many RTS players’ age and preference may be linked because they have the flexibility to play whenever, a luxury which many young gamers can’t afford, likely due to nothaving the time necessary to devote to the task, while (Lawson, 2007) found a strong correlation between younger age and compassion for virtual pets, citing the successful marketing campaign of virtual pets to young children as proof. This would line up with the idea that audiences’ social location impacts how they approach a work and how they gleam meaning from it. This trend maycause audiences to tend to cluster around certain features of a work they like (creating fan art or interpreting what content means and sharing their findings). While these groups tend to overlap, there are still more isolated sectors of these groups that, given the examples above, either don’t care about fan art or can’t be bothered to process the complexities of their content.Some reasons why gamers tend to stick with long-running franchises are provided, though not directly, by a study regarding TV ratings surrounding soccer games( Mutz and Wahnschaffe 2016) and how they fluctuate over the course of the game. They found that the levels of excitement (suspense, uncertainty, What’ll happen next?) were driving factors when connecting the gamestate with ratings. If applied to gamers and long-running/older franchises, this can play out when a new installment of a franchise comes out, and the adopters of the previous iteration or fans from the old days gain an interest in the next one, asking what’s different about this one? or excitement over what has succeeded, sparking a new interest wave for adopters old and new. If the game does well among fans, it will continue to garner attention from said fans, alerting the developers/publishers what has worked so they can implement these successful designs into future creations.There has also been a disparity in what kinds of mature/adult/dark themes make it into video games.
While there is a rating system in place to inform consumers on what content they can expect to find in the game, these ratings are rather flexible in terms of what is acceptable in agiven game. (Haninger, Thompson, 2004), (Thompson, 2001), and (Downs, 2010) highlight some of these instances by compiling every instance of gameplay mechanics and/or presentation that warranted an ESRB content descriptor. They found that most of their samples contained violence, blood, or sexual themes, and female characters were likely to be sexualized over male ones, among other things. This is despite some of the games either having no descriptor when there is an instance or the researchers not finding an instance during their data-gathering sessionsdespite the content descriptor being attached. To be precise, it is those instances that don’t have descriptors assigned to them that I intend to focus on for this piece, as these are references that either weren’t deemed strong enough to warrant a notice or that escaped the eye of the censors. Some examples include the occasional blood splatter in a The Legend of Zelda game or a game that rewards player experimentation in very… erotic ways.
Seeing as this was one of the few readily available forms of erotic material, younger people jumped at the opportunity, and several convoluted methods were found to access these naughty pictures that the developers had put in as a reward for discovering this convoluted method. (Owens, 2012) examines the general impact of porn on young people. While these aren’t the only things that can slip past the censors, it generally shows what can. I’d theorize that developers put these kinds of easter eggs as rewards for exploration or to increase the audience that will derive enjoyment from the product by catering to their sensibilities and/or tastes. Finally, there has been some bleeding over from medium to medium regarding franchise content. For this line, we look at (Lapite, 2012) who examined sexual implications fromthe cartoon that the Pokemon franchise is derived from. Often times, the cartoon’s seasons tend to follow the same iterative pattern as the games, but the games are often ahead of the cartoon.
This has generally allowed for the plots of the cartoon to be much more developed than those of the then current iteration of the games. While it’s a different example than what the analyzer looked at, this one still illustrates the point; in the Sun and Moon iteration of the games, death is often not brought up in a direct manner.
Instead, it is often aluded to, although it is sometimes more obvious than others. IN the cartoon, however, the topic of death has already been discussed and depicted far more realistically, and two times at that. To return to the example being analyzed, the iteration of the games that that particular episode takes place in doesn’t have much in the way of objectionable content, while the cartoon that most likely came long after the games came out has far more eyebrow-raising themes despite both franchise branches being about the same age. This would indicate a very different target demographic between the cartoon and the games. This would again uphold the concept of social location shaping audience’s responses to media and how the writer/developers approach these interpretations. In the case of the cartoon, the themes that get presented are those of a rather amorous nature, while those presented in the game are of a more violence-implicative nature, which translates to what audiences tend to engage with the medium, and so developers/writers start to cater towards this new subset more and more, until heavy subjects like death and crippling failure are brought up regularly.Data/MethodsMy data gathering methods were quite simple. Using Google Scholar, I searched for terms such as Mature Content in Video Games and Content Ratings in order to narrow down research that pertained to the inclusion of mature content in video games whose target audience wouldn’t be able to perceive their significance.
For my media examples, since I have personal experience with the Pokemon franchise, I took rather basic plot summaries from a community-driven agrigation site known as Bulbapedia, as well as another community-driven website known as TV Tropes, a site dedicated to writing and storytelling conventions spanning every known medium. Given that these are subject to the pitfalls associated with community input, these examples are merely a starting point for locating such subversive content in the various Pokemon games listed, as well as providing some background for the more plot-relevantexamples of mature content. My coding scheme was very similar to (Haninger, Thompson, 2004)’s, where they classified various instances of violence, sexual themes, profanity, and substance use. The only deviation from this model is the inclusion of allusions to the above themes, as that type of innuendo is what usually makes up most of the examples.Findings As for what my media examples have provided in the realm of why older people are gaming more, this can be attributed to a few things; either those that played the games are staying with the franchise, or people that were exposed to the franchise’s popularity at an older age have come in with the introduction of Pokemon Go!, a mobile phone game based on the Pokemon games. We can see this with the release of Pokemon ?Let’s Go!’, an attempt by GameFreak, the source of the Pokemon games, to bridge the gap between Pokemon Go! Players and those of the main Pokemon games, combining old and new in an effort to unify the community.As the Pokemon franchise has gone on for over 20 years, there must be something that’skeeping the older players engaged enough to want to pick up the latest game. Like with the soccer ratings article above, we can see that the later games include many new features and/or quality-of-life improvements, as well as homages to the previous games. The main draw, however, is the Pokemon themselves.
There will usually be about 100 new Pokemon added to the list inn every new iteration, and most of the anticipation for that next iteration comes from what these new Pokemon are. Luckily, we are actually in an iterative shift, as the next major game to start the next iteration of the game series is due in late 2019, allowing for much anticipation/excitement to build. The games themselves also tend to retain interest by making callbacks to previous games, usually by connecting major characters or plot points from previous games to the current games, or by flat-out having previous characters make a return in some capacity. With this continued stream of interest, it’s no surprise that the franchise has continued for so long, and I see an equally long future ahead.Now for the interesting part; what kinds of mature content get’s included in these games.
Simply put, the amount of content that alludes to or outright states something that may be objectionable has steadily increased with the age of the franchise itself. We went from a loneold man exclaiming that a Pokemon Gym(not the workout kind) was great because …it’s full of women! to an old man whose wife recently died and is looking for some company in his remaining time because he’s just that lonely without his wife, to a group of old people who wax philosophical about the inevitability of old age and/or death including their own, with one old woman stating that, while she’s gotten a lot of plastic surgery and such to look as youthful as possible, her bones remind her of her true age, and an old man who compares life to the sun’s rising and setting. While these games have been rated E for Everyone(ages 6+) only older players will be able to truly grasp and/or appreciate the weight of what is being delivered to them. As noted by the team that content-analyzed Teen rated games, these allusions and philosophical statements aren’t seen as strong enough to warrant a content descriptor, despite how mentally exhausting it must be to process such themes as death, failure, and lingering regrets. This ultimately plays into what the developers want to do; reach a wider audience. If not directly through serious/complex plot threads, then through rewarding exploration and interaction through the interesting side missions like the one that features our philosophical elders from earlier or one that tasks you with returning a Pokemon that once belonged to a nowdead grandfather to his granddaughter for her to raise. This is the type of gameplay that many RPG players live for, as seen with ( Mutz and Wahnschaffe 2016)’s analysis of gamers and their place in the gaming community. While younger players may find the time to be able to partake in long play sessions that allow for exploratory periods, it is the older player base that are more likely to embrace an entire side story, while younger players may see only the reward at the end of a side mission or such.With the media bleeding effect discussed earlier, we can also see the increase of mature content when the game material itself is adapted into a cartoon form.
Pokemon Generations, an animated series of mini-episodes created to celebrate the franchise’s 20th anniversary by showcasing key moments across the games’ history, expands on some of the plot points from the games that they came from. In Pokemon X and Y, much of the main conflict is centered around AZ, an ancient king whose Pokemon wife(strange as it sounds) died during a war, and hisstruggle to live with himself after creating a machine to resurrect his wife using the life force of many Pokemon, only to convert it into a tool for ultimate destruction after his resurrected Pokemon left him in horror of what he had done in order to restore it, bringing the war, and many more lives, people and Pokemon alike, to an end in an instant. In the Pokemon Generations episode that focuses on this event, the story that was told in all of about 2.5 min. inthe game is played over a battle that the main character has with AZ at what is meant to be the end of the main game. This story is far more detailed and/or horrific, most likely owing to the fact there is actual voice-overs for it when there was none in the game.
This would indicate that even between faithful media adaptions, there can be an increase of the content’s maturity just by how that content is presented.ConclusionIn conclusion, we can see through the Pokemon franchise that while media creators can target a particular audience, they will try to appeal to a much wider audience than that target, and will often do so by incorporating content and/or allusions that would fly over the heads of the target audience while hitting those demographics that are also likely to consume that media, be it due to brand loyalty or because of simple curiosity. We can see this with media forms apart from video games, as the soccer TV ratings ( Mutz and Wahnschaffe 2016) and Pokemon cartoon (Lapite, 2012) analyses can attest to. With that, we can see how this, and other long-running franchises, can persist despite their aging roots. This will help in understanding the general life cycle of such long-runners, and may aid in standardizing the criteria for assessing what could make a good long-runner, allowing media creators to better expand their creativity to produce more complex, yet still manageable, franchises that adopters old and new can enjoy.
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