a, Opinion

Nostalgia, commodified

On Oct. 12, Nintendo released Pokémon X and Y for its newest portable platform, the 3DS. The game, the Pokémon franchise’s first foray  into a platform with completely 3D polygonal graphics, sold four million copies worldwide in two days since its release.

Pokémon X and Y is a big break for Nintendo—sales of its portable gaming devices, such as the DS lite, DSi, have slumped significantly since 2008. This was due to competition brought by games and applications on the plethora of new smart phones in the market. The company that brought us the classic Gameboy color is trying to keep up in the new digital age by playing to an old card—nostalgia.  Many critics have attributed this to Pokémon  X and Y’s success.

Media theorist Henry Jenkins discusses the concept of “affective economics”—a new configuration of marketing theory which seeks to understand the emotional underpinnings of consumers as a driving force behind viewing and purchasing decisions. Media producers attempt to commodify consumer desires to create products that arouse emotional attachment. Jenkins sees this commodification as a form of exploitation; in his view, consumers given unique childhoods and experiences. Rather, the symbols and memories that you personally associated with your childhood are actually meticulously calculated by marketers.

After all, this is the same company that conceived the original series, creating the characters and games that we fell in love with as children. Nintendo’s products—lovable characters such as Pikachu and Jigglypuff, have successfully found a safe place in the hearts and minds of consumers as remnants of childhood. If we decide to apply Darwinism to the video game market, the Pokémon brand has survived and found its place in the ecosystem. Nintendo is more than entitled to reap the fruits of its past branding success.

I personally enjoy battling with other Pokémon using my childhood favorite critter on a fancy three-dimensional gaming device. I don’t mind marketers plucking my heartstrings so long as I am fully entertained by their products. Media products, such as video games, movies, and television shows, are distinct from other commodities in the free market in that they “mediate” between audiences and other realities, fictional or otherwise. The exchange value of the media product (i.e. its retail price), will never fully reflect the product’s psychological or nostalgic value. I am sure that a one dollar VHS copy of Back to the Future at  the Salvation Army would have  signifigant nostalgic value to anyone from our parents’ generation.

No commercial media product is produced without a careful calculation of what consumers like and do not like. If producers are not sure if their product will appeal to consumers or not, there is no incentive to invest vast capital in creating new gaming platforms, and hiring artists to design breath-taking digital worlds and compelling story-lines. Quantifying consumer wants is a pervasive practice that defines the media industry. To call it ‘immoral’ would deem all media products as extremely problematic, rather than benign forms of entertainment.

Despite Pokémon X and Y’s nostalgic value, its target market is the new generation of young gamers. Will the reputation of Pokémon and Nintendo’s gaming devices last another generation of children, or become only a fond memory of the past? Only time will tell.

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