Mapping Kanto Region Over a Town Near You: Pokémon Go and Fantasy in the Everyday

Curator's Note

From November 20-26 of 2017, Niantic hosted a Global Catch Challenge. Pokémon Go (PG) players earned incremental in-game benefits, but the major prize for catching 3 billion pokémon was to have Farfetch’d, typically contained to East Asia, spawn around the world for 48 hours (East Asian players could catch Oceana-contained Kangaskhan). This promotion was accompanied by videos of YouTubers traveling around the world playing PG.

The Pokémon franchise uses spaces analogous to real regions of Japan, Europe, and North America. Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri decided to portray the real Kanto region of Japan in its bucolic 1960s version over the urban sprawl of the late 1990s. PG then overlays that fantasy in our everyday spaces. The game turns my own dense century-old neighborhood into a field. There are no potholes or noise pollution. No one is complaining about stray pokémon on Nextdoor. Creators often use real places when world building, adapting those spaces for specific purposes. PG nostalgizes place, taking everywhere back to an earlier, less industrial time, even as it uses developed city centers as localized hubs.

The advertising for the Pokémon Go Global Challenge feeds into this same fantasizing of real places. In the clip provided, the team visits Nara Park in Kyoto, Japan. We see a diverse group of young players enjoying references to historical Japan. The video sticks to the temples, woodland, and adorable deer of Nara Park, skirting around more developed parts of town (Similar practices happen when visiting Tokyo). The videos invite us to see Pokémon Go players as worldly (but maybe not cosmopolitan?). However, as many players mentioned in the comments, these videos belie the appeal of the challenge itself--the opportunity to catch a Farfetch’d for players lacking the means or availability to travel to East Asia.

Ultimately, the mapping of nostalgia asks us to consider places as they once were in a half-remembered past. In the United States, PG relies heavily on houses of worship as landmarks, considering these open and inviting spaces. But raiding parties I have queried have mentioned having been kicked off church properties. Likewise, wealthy neighborhoods across the US have requested gyms be removed from local parks. Cultural understandings of ‘public’ space do not always align with the ideals of Pokémon Go.


This theme of nostalgizing place seems to be present across many of Nintendo's core franchises. Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Zelda, filled the land of Hyrule with memories of his childhood explorations of rural Sonobe. He once referred to the world as “a miniature garden that you can put into a drawer and revisit anytime you like" - as if the game serves as a portal to the less-industrialized, simpler times of his youth. It is interesting to consider how fantasy reinforces this nostalgia. As you mentioned, Pokemon Go imagines a somewhat modern setting where industrialization and urban sprawl never reached the level where it is today. Zelda takes things one step forward, turning the forests and neighbourhoods of 1950/60s Japan into a sprawling fantasy kingdom.

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