The Pokémon Dream World
As many of you may be unaware, the 90’s collection craze, Pokémon, had a life cycle outside of the frantic era of slapping its brand on everything from plush toys to pop tarts. In this essay, I plan to look at the fifth iteration of its video game series (Pokémon: Black/White) and how it demonstrates Transmedia storytelling. Sadly, there are no Pokémon pop-tarts this late in the franchise and I can’t look for additive comprehension in the Pikachu marshmallows. Instead, I’ll be breaking down the Dream World, a feature added to Black/White to act as an online companion to the primary video games.
A brief background to Transmedia storytelling might be in order first though, so I’ll keep it short. Transmedia storytelling is the act of telling one story through multiple media outlets. That is to say, a video game, a web companion, and a TV show all focusing on a central universe would be Transmedia storytelling because they all expand on your understanding of the narrative and the fictional world the author has created.
The Dream World demonstrates this Transmedia aspect for the Pokémon Video games in multiple ways. Most importantly, it offers new narrative. In the Dream World, Pokémon go to an alternate reality when they sleep, where they can make friends with other sleeping Pokémon, go on adventures, find treasures and even customize a little home. This is a great example of what Henry Jenkins calls additive comprehension, described as “ways that each new text adds a new piece of information which forces us to revise our understanding of the fiction as a whole.”(Jenkins) In this regard, Dream World is a paradigm shattering piece of additive comprehension for fans of the franchise. Up until now, Pokémon had effectively been weapons in the series, taken out of for battle and stored away again until the next battle arose. Especially considering PETA’s attacks on Pokémon at the time (see; Pokémon: Black and Blue) the fact that Pokémon have another purpose other than just fighting is crucial to becoming friends with your little elemental pets and therefore becoming more immersed in the narrative as a whole.
Exiting the realm of narrative and considering Transmedia in the real world, we see another feature of the Transmedia narrative, migratory cues. When telling a story across multiple platforms, it’s necessary to guide your audience to the other platforms in a way that keeps the current medium a sovereign story on its own. This can be as subtle as a TV character saying the name of the show’s website so you know it exists and look into it, or, if you happen to be the Pokémon Company, it can be so blatant they could more easily hit you with a hammer that had “migratory cues” written on the side. Playing through your Black/White version you’ll see the narrative central to the game. Pokémon rights, world domination, all the usual suspects in a video game. But throughout the rest of the game, countless characters throughout the game will offer you taglines like “Technology is amazing, did you know we can now see a Pokémon’s Dreams?” or “professor Fennel told me I can use my computer to visit my Pokémon in its sleep”. Real subtle stuff. Even in the previous game released years prior, one character’s only purpose was to tell you about his “device that visually reproduces the dreams of Pokémon”. Janet Murray calls it the active audience, saying “when the writer expands the story to include multiple possibilities, the reader assumes a more active role.”(Murray 38) migratory cues work in tandem with the active audience to lead you to the new feature Pokémon company designed to add more possibility as you play to enrich your experience, while being (just) vague enough to make your current experience not feel empty without exploring the other mediums.
Continuing in the real world, Transmedia is also characterized by cultural attractors. Jenkins describes a cultural attractor as “drawing together like-minded individuals to form new knowledge communities,”(Jenkins) loosely drawing on this, Dream World provides cultural attractors as well. In the Dream World, you have the ability to make Dream Pals who go onto a stored friend’s list. Dream Pals can see each other’s customized space and can trade useful item with one another that will help further progress in both the Dream World and the main Pokémon game. In this sense, it clashes with what Jenkins says; the Dream World doesn’t share raw knowledge or the building of ideas, but does allow users to share in accomplishments and work together to reach common goals, which is collaboration none the less. If anything we could call it cultural incentive. A community driven by like minded individuals to reach shared goals.
All in all, Pokémon and its Dream World application are an excellent example of Transmedia storytelling. The application enriches the Pokémon game you enjoyed anyway by giving you a more complete understanding of your companions. Dream World is a game on its own where you can play minigames and make friends with similar interests, and will play off your existing knowledge of the franchise. Together they give you a complete understanding of the most primary characters in the game.
Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101.” Confessions of an AcaFan. N.p., 22 Mar. 2007. Web. 27 Feb. 2014. <http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html>.
Murray, Janet Horowitz. “Harbingers of the Holodeck.” Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace. New York: Free, 1997. 53. Print.