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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 1

    For a minute, it seemed like Pokémon had been relegated to the history books. Established in Japan in 1996 as a video game for kids, the idea of catching and training digital creatures seemed stale—gone the way of Neopets or Tamagotchi. But don’t underestimate millennial nostalgia, or the power of augmented reality.

    The vast Pokémon universe is the most lucrative franchise in the world. And, more than two decades after its monsters broke out of their Poké balls and onto the world stage, it’s still going strong. Light-years beyond paper trading cards or even the 8-bit GameBoy, the latest developments, like the Detective Pikachu movie and Pokémon Go app, continue to put up numbers. Do you want to be the very best?

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 2

    890: Individual pokémon across eight generations of games

    $92 billion: Estimated value of the Pokémon franchise

    24: Pokémon movies to date

    28.5 million: Daily users of Pokémon Go at its peak in 2016

    $20 million: Advertising budget for the original Pokémon anime show—about four times more than Nintendo’s typical budget

    319,000: Followers of the Twitter account Out of Context Pokemon (@OoCPokemon)

    37: Total sounds made by the original 151 pokémon in the Red and Blue games

    $100,000: Value of a mint condition 1998 Pikachu Illustrator card, known as the “Holy Grail of Pokémon”

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 3

    The entire franchise—whether it’s the basic trading cards, ever-evolving video games, or latest movie—is based on the relationship between “pocket monsters” (or poké-mon) and their human trainer, who gives them love, attention, and a serious workout regimen. Every trainer’s goal is to be the very best, but that requires capturing wild pokémon, typically when they’re young and weak, and developing their skills over time. As your pokémon battle against a wide range of other monsters, and you provide them love, care, and medical support, they learn new fighting skills and eventually evolve into bigger and, theoretically, better creatures. (A tiny Pikachu, by way of illustration, becomes a beefy Raichu.) With persistence and a good heart, you may just become a multimedia pokémon master!

    But the twee training-montage-ready plotline belies a cold, hard truth: This game is about making trades. “At some point, hunting wild Pokémon stops making economic sense,” J.C. Herz wrote in her 1999 New York Times review of the game. “You can get so much farther as a day trader, churning high-growth Pokemon on the open market. At lunch. Recess. On the bus. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or even a fourth grader) to figure this out.”

    Nintendo encourages this kind of savvy. It releases every game in two forms—red and blue, or, most recently, sword and shield—each with slightly different Pokémon, to encourage trading. In the ‘90s, players could link their GameBoys with a physical cable, then meet in the virtual Cable Club room at their nearest Poké Center. Now, Nintendo Switch users can sync up with a shared link code. But if you want to trade with your friends online, you’ll have to pay a small monthly fee to the corporate overlords for the honor.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 4

    Poké ball: These tiny red and white spheres, typically worn on a trainer’s belt, are used for capturing wild Pokémon and storing them on your subsequent adventures.

    Pokédex: The encyclopedia of all things Pokémon. You keep it in your pocket and, every time you catch a new pokémon, it gives you a rundown on the latest addition to your entourage.

    Type: Every pokémon belongs to at least one of 18 “types”—roughly equivalent to an animal kingdom. Pikachu is an electric-type pokémon, while Magnemite is an electric-type and steel-type pokémon.

    Generation: Every few years, Nintendo releases a whole new “generation” of Pokémon. The “first gen” had 151 creatures, including Pikachu. But there have been hundreds more since.

    Pokémon center: The Pokémon universe appears to have free healthcare—at least for the animals. If your pokémon is injured in battle, Nurse Joy (it’s always a Nurse Joy) at the nearest Pokémon center can heal them.

    Galar: The Pokémon universe is vast, but the latest games, Sword and Shield, take place on Galar island. Some monsters evolved differently here, like the pastel Galarian Ponyta.

    Team Rocket: In the early games, our heroes faced off with the evil Team Rocket. In the anime series, they’re specifically pitted against Jessie and James—two of the campiest figures of all time.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 6

    Pokémon was dreamed up by Satoshi Tajiri, known as “Dr. Bug” as a kid because of his passion for collecting insects. That love of nature inspired the Pokémon franchise, which Tajiri imbued with a spirit of “techno-animism,” in the words of cultural anthropologist Anne Allison. “While there are ghost pokémon and sentient ice cream cones, many pocket monsters mimic real-world biodiversity,” according to The Verge. “Caterpie, with its bright orange osmeterium, is clearly the caterpillar form of the eastern tiger swallowtail. Pikachu, an electric mouse, is based on the actual pika, a teeny mammal that’s more closely related to rabbits than rats. Vileplume is a grumpy corpse lily, Sandslash is a superpowered pangolin, and Drowzee is a neon-lit Malayan tapir.”

    The first games debuted in 1996 with 151 monsters, but the intellectual property has exploded since. Tajiri’s love of bugs has inspired seven more generations of Pokémon, dozens of video games, trading cards, films, and a long-running anime show. Its pull is so strong that real-world conservationists have looked to Pokémon for insights about how to engage and educate the public.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 7

    Just as Greece began to move out of a decade-long economic crisis, the coronavirus outbreak forced a nationwide shutdown. That’s made delivery workers essential, but vulnerable, in cities like Athens.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 8

    1889: Nintendo, a co-owner of the Pokémon franchise, is founded in Kyoto, Japan, as a hanafuda playing card company.

    1996: Game Freak releases the first Pokémon games, Red and Green, for the GameBoy in Japan.

    1998: The first Pokémon games, Pokémon Red and Blue, arrive in the US.

    1998: The first episodes of Pokémon: Indigo League, an anime series about aspiring Pokémon trainer Ash Ketchum, debut in the US.

    1998: All Nippon Airways introduces its first Pokémon-themed jets to great fanfare, and they fly until 2016.

    2001: The self-governing South Pacific island nation of Niue prints a run of special $1 coins featuring Pikachu, Meowth, Squirtle, Bulbasaur, and Charmander.

    2005: Researchers publish a study on a new proto-oncogene called the “POK erythroid myeloid ontogenic factor,” or Pokémon. After The Pokémon Company threatens legal action, they rename the cancer gene Zbtb7.

    2016: Niantic releases Pokémon Go, an augmented-reality game for smartphones.

    2019: Warner Bros. distributes the first live-action Pokémon movie, Detective Pikachu.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 9

    The adorable Japanese pocket monsters were almost beefed up for their American debut, according to Kotaku. Fortunately, Nintendo insisted on keeping their pokémon cute in every country.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 10

    Released in 2016, the Pokémon Go augmented-reality smartphone game was an instant sensation, drawing crowds out into the streets and parks to search for monsters and battle in local gyms. But after the novelty wore off—and the app became a cringe-worthy political meme (“Pokémon Go to the polls” anyone?)—it seemed destined for the archives. It doesn’t have the nearly 30 million daily users it once did, but in 2019 Pokémon Go had its most lucrative year yet, with $894 million in in-app purchases, according to the mobile analytics firm Sensor Tower. That brings the app’s total revenue to $3.1 billion.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 11

    The Pokémon: Indigo League theme song went certified platinum. It sold 500,000 copies in its first four months of release. And it’s still so popular you can perform it in most karaoke joints. But no one does it better than Jason Paige, the original singer. In 2016, Paige recorded this breath-for-breath remake of the ‘90s anthem, which has an origin story all its own. Watching Paige belt his commitment to the cause (training pokémon), it feels like no time has passed at all.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Pokémon — Card 12

    There are a lot of important players in the Pokémon franchise. There’s Nintendo, Satoshi Tajiri’s development company Game Freak, and another development company called Creatures. And that’s not all. Together, the organizations created The Pokémon Company, an independent entity that manages the Pokémon brands and production, marketing, and licensing of all its content, from the games to the TV show. Confused yet? Polygon has you covered with this breakdown of the big business of tiny monsters.

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