Fact of the week
Credit to Research Team: Einar Ang
Prefecture: Whole of Japan
Tajiri’s inspiration to create the Pokémon games
In Japan, where Pokémon was born, Ash is called Satoshi; and Satoshi was made in the image of his creator, Satoshi Tajiri, a young outcast who, as a boy living just outside Tokyo, collected insects and other tiny creatures of field, pond and forest. In a nation of ultra-conformists, he was a misfit who didn’t even dream of college. His father tried to get him a job as an electrical-utility repairman. He refused. No one expected him to go very far, even when he came up with the game after six trying years. But it is Tajiri’s obsessions, more dysfunctional than Disneyesque, that are at the core of the Pokémon phenomenon. His monsters are a child’s predilections. As the late, controversial child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim wrote, “The monster a child knows best and is most concerned with [is] the monster he feels or fears himself to be.”
As a boy, Tajiri accumulated insects, especially beetles. Even now, he is proud of the way he captured beetles, looking under rocks to find them sleeping. “Nobody else thought to do that,” he says. The son of a Nissan salesman and a housewife, Tajiri was raised in a Tokyo suburb in the late ’60s, before the city crept outward. “As a child, I wanted to be an entomologist. Insects fascinated me. Every new insect was a wonderful mystery. And as I searched for more, I would find more. If I put my hand in a river, I would get a crayfish. Put a stick underwater and make a hole, look for bubbles and there were more creatures.” In Pokémon the pocket monsters–many in the shape of caterpillars, moths and crabs–can be found anywhere: tall grass, caves, forests, rivers.
Caterpillar-esque Pokémon, Caterpie
Moth-esque Pokémon, Venomoth
Crab-esque Pokémon, Krabby
With a handful of fellow otakus (including his friend Ken Sugimori, who would eventually draw all the Pokémon, up to the latest Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon),
Tajiri began a magazine called GameFreak in 1982 to publicize tips and cheat codes of their favourite games. “Our conclusion was,” he says, “there weren’t too many good-quality games, so let’s make our own.” He took apart a Nintendo system to figure out how to make the games himself. Then, in 1991, he discovered Nintendo’s Game Boy and its prize feature: a cable that could link any two Game Boys together.
“I imagined an insect moving back and forth across the cable. That’s what inspired me.” Tajiri had hit upon the basic idea that would make Pokémon a marketing wonder. Collecting would lead to trading between handhelds–and eventually between collectors of cards as well.
It took six years for them to complete the project, which will go on to spark a multibillion-dollar franchise which reinvigorated Nintendo’s handheld gaming.
Tajiri continued to work as director for the Pokémon series until the development of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, when he changed his role to simply executive producer.