The months preceding the release of Pokémon Sword and Shield, which occur in Galar, a Britain-inspired region in the Pokémon world, saw one of the biggest controversies in the franchise’s history. Game Freak declared that not all of the Pokémon from the previous games were going to be included, thereby reducing the National Pokédex, the Pokémon encyclopaedia. The developer explained that there weren’t enough resources available to model and create over 1000 creatures, and that their time frame would not allow it. Fans were outraged and coined the term Dexit, in reference to the Brexit dilemna.
Petitions were organised, screenshots were shared, and some even accessed the game’s database to prove Nintendo wrong. In a matter of days threads were fuelled with images and fan-made comics joking about smuggling forbidden Pokémon through the Galar border. Pokémon were disguised as other Pokémon, yielding both convincing and absurd results. Many were painted, others bundled, and most championed camp and extravagant looks. Witnessing this movement among the Pokémon community, I couldn't help but wish that young people be as invested in Brexit as they were with Dexit.
While these transformations are meant to be funny, they also disturb and play with each creature’s defining traits. Seeing a Gyarados channelling their inner Caterpie resonates with my perception of queer drag – it is not about the illusion, but the deconstruction. Letting the grotesque take the spotlight, these memes illustrate how the carnivalesque power of dressing up shakes, even for a brief moment, our understanding and perceptions of appearance, and its relationship with our society’s strongest beliefs. Coupled with a narrative which echoes contemporary stories of immigration, the Galar border memes constitute a humorous example of a harmless trend with strong political resonance.
Of course, one should not attempt to compare directly the real-life hardships that many migrants face on their (attempted) journeys to Great Britain. However, this ‘Pokémon in drag’ trend provides social commentary, even if shared by unwitting fans. It shows a queer politics of resistance, imbued with a cultural power that reminds us that there is only a fine line between Internet meme culture and real-world politics.
Pokemon in Drag
I had not heard about this controversy till now. Pokemon dragging pokemon is really fascinating. I do not know enough about the Pokeverse to say right now, but it would be interesting to further lean on how the memes push or replicate certain gendered/sexualized norms (perhaps inadvertently borrowed from drag). A "powerful" creature disguised as a "weak" creature, for example, is gendered in a particular way. Again, lots to think about!
The Evolution of the Poké fan
An exceptional and original argument. I played Pokémon as a child and I noticed that the Pokémon (in the context of dexit/your entry) were dressing up as a "weaker versions" or earlier stages of themselves in their evolution lineage. I think there is a lot to be said about how Pokémon fans are able to demand more from the creators as we are now in a digital age and thus it is easier to gain their attention via twitter, reddit, etc. When I was a child in the 90s I played Pokémon Blue (U.S. release date was 1998, but the game was released earlier in other countries) and there probably were not online spaces (or many spaces...that would also be interesting to investigate: chat rooms in the 90s. Were fans discussing Pokémon online then?) to discuss the carry-over of Pokémon from one game to the next (Pokémon Gold, released 1999-2002 depending on the country, followed Pokémon Blue, and I am also unsure if every Pokémon in blue was added to the roster in Gold). In the current online age where Pokémon has established fan favorite names, it is interesting to note that the creators have created Pokémon that disguise themselves as other Pokémon. There is a Pokémon devoted to dressing up as Pikachu due to its "hideous form." Its name is Mimikyu. So, there may be something there. Pokémon "performing" in drag was a thing in the Poké universe and it became much more pronounced in this meme culture/rally against Game Freak/Brexit era. Very interesting argument!
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