Saturday, November 19, 2016

PokéNatomy Re-Imagines Pokémon Through The Lens Of Modern Biology

In the four months since its launch Pokémon GO has extended itself into more than just gaming - into the course curricula of at least two Poké-Pioneering universities, and as a transformative educational art project. Entitled "PokéNatomy - An Unofficial Guide to the Science of Pokémon," the book dissects, expands, and explores the original 150 Pokémon in breathtakingly beautiful and detailed illustrations. 

PokéNatomy re-imagines Pokémon through the lens of modern biology. According to the project's Kickstarter page,"Now, for the first time ever, you can get the incredible scientific world of Pokémon in print in a high-quality, fully illustrated, unofficial guidebook, designed to help people of all ages understand the power that's inside!" With one week of the Kickstarter campaign to go, 376 backers have so far pledged $20,117 of the $20,000 goal.

In the exclusive interview below, Christopher (Chris) Stoll, the creator and illustrator of PokéNatomy, talks about about Pokémon GO beyond gaming, and PokéNatomy as a bridge he between pop culture and the life sciences.

Pokémon GO is worth studying

"I believe sincerely that Pokémon GO is worth studying, the free to play augmented-reality game has been downloaded almost half a billion times and become an incredible success for its small studio, Niantic. The game can serve as an example for aspiring game developers, and it certainly made enough money to capture the attention of entrepreneurs," said Chris.

He continued, "It is easy to scoff disdainfully at gaming trends, but I believe we must not avert our eyes from properties that capture the popular imagination, no matter how crude or simplistic they may appear. There is real merit in studying the success of Pokémon GO and aspiring to understand how the application gamifies physical activity, using reward systems to encourage exploration. Pokémon GO may well be the first step into a world where powerful game-like incentive systems integrate into every aspect of our daily lives, encouraging good nutrition, exercise, and intellectual exploration. I believe the game should be studied in academic settings, and its merits, risks, and limitations understood by a new generation of designers and inventors."

Chris concluded with a warning, "I don’t, however, believe that studying the game exclusively involves playing it. I hope that these courses involve serious discussion of the game’s technology, cultural significance, and incentive systems. If the game is merely being participated in, rather than being examined and discussed, I’d consider these courses terrific wastes of fertile young minds, money, and time."

Bridge between pop culture and life sciences

"I believe we are at a point in time where the public wants science to be a part of the entertainment landscape," Chris said, continuing, "More and more, scientists who tackle difficult and unintuitive subjects can use pop culture to communicate with the public, and especially with young people. However, there is a danger here. In a world where astrophysicists are regular consultants on science-fiction movie sets, and anatomical diagrams of Pokémon can amass tens of millions of views online, the boundary between real science and popular entertainment is thinner than ever."

He elaborated, "In the push/pull of science and entertainment it should be science that influences popular culture, and not the other way around. There are already perverse incentives in place for aspiring researchers to capture the public’s attentions and imaginations, and earn funding through popularity. If we are not careful pop culture could come to dominate scientific discussions and direct the attentions of the public towards entertaining, but ultimately unscientific, endeavors."

Basic understanding of Biology required

On the topic of some scientific knowledge required, Chris said, "To me, popular culture needs to be supplementary to a foundation of scientific understanding. My Pokénatomy pieces require a basic understanding of biology to be enjoyed. Each Pokémon is based upon real-world organisms, and only once I have a grasp of each organism’s basic scientific principles do I begin to tease out the more fantastical elements. These illustrations are intended to reward and engage with viewers who have an understanding of basic Biology, and are rooted in real scientific principles." 

Chris continued, "This is not always easy, as some Pokémon possess bodies and abilities that totally defy the laws of physics as we understand them. There’s always a temptation to just invent an organ and label it the “fire sack” or “psychic gland” and leave it at that. I try to resist that unscientific urge wherever possible, and in those cases where hard-science is unavailable I try to present interesting and alternative perspectives on these characters based on the theoretical rather than the outright fantastic."

 Untapped public desire

"I don’t believe that my work strikes the perfect balance between science and popular entertainment, but it seems to me that there is an untapped public desire to see these elements mixed. I hope that in some small way, my Pokémon illustrations contribute positively to this trend," he concluded.

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