Pokémon after Pearl Harbor
This chapter uses the mobile game Pokémon GO as a case study of how video game developers have successfully harnessed the self-centering power of ludo-Orientalism, using augmented reality and GPS technology to construct virtual spaces ripe for playful exploration as well as economic exploitation. In focusing on Nintendo’s sophisticated marketing and aesthetic strategies to erase all signs of Japanese “cultural odor” from its games, scholarly appraisals of the Pokémon franchise have largely followed the traditional reduction of race to an explicit visual or linguistic feature of games. This chapter instead uses Pokémon GO’s seemingly inadvertent exposure of U.S. racial fault lines as an opportunity to explore how race is not erased but rather embedded in the game’s disorienting technology. It reveals the unacknowledged legacy of Japanese racial ideologies, imperialist ambitions, and atomic history that lurk beneath the game screen. The chapter argues that this illusion of ahistorical universality crucially buttresses the fantasy of Pokémon GO as a truly “free” game, masking the invasive and dehumanizing data mining structures that make it enormously profitable for its developers.
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