Social Karenism – A Truth Within The Truth?
by, 26th October 2010 at 09:32 PM (701 Views)
Social Karenism – A Truth Within The Truth?
An in-depth view of Conformity within Pokémon.
"Strong Pokémon. Weak Pokémon. That is only the selfish perception of people. Truly skilled Trainers should try to win with the Pokémon they love best. I like your style. You understand what's important. Go on--the Champion is waiting." - Karen, Indigo Plateau (GSC/HGSS)
Perhaps one of the most poignant quotes within the entire Pokémon franchise. Many Pokémon players worldwide will claim to be "Karenists"; people who truly believe in Karen's philosophy, and reject things such as Smogon's tier lists; which determine which Pokémon are more commonly used, and thus, better to use due to base stats, movepools, and other factors. Karenism seems to be that pure philosophy of using favourites over other options, and as such, is easily criticised by the (perhaps cruel) realisation that these games we play, are just that, and all the Pokémon we use are nothing more than collections of data represented by a pretty collection of pixels. It's these so called 'realists' that try and undermine Karenism as mere optimism that would rather suit the anime series than real life.
Like every quote ever made in history, there are other conclusions that can be drawn, depending on the nature of the person who analyses it. Perhaps what Karen really meant wasn't what Karenists assume? Perhaps the message digs deeper than just using Pokémon you like will somehow give you the strength to win? What I'm trying to suggest, is the possibility that the "Skill" Karen was talking about was not that of a trainer in battle, but a far more noble and valuable skill - The skill to remain an individual. Notice how Karen says "try to win" not "will win".
Unfortunately, our world is divided into subcultures. It's not purely down to the society around us though: Social Psychologists have proven that when we first meet someone, our brain quickly registers the features of that person, and sorts them into categories based on those features, so it's a natural occurrence. Obviously, society hasn't helped, with the promotion of the celebrity lifestyle, which includes fashion, which millions of people imitate to be more like their idols. There are also negative categorisations, such as how every person in a hooded jacket is now viewed as being potentially violent, which has led to some ridiculous cases reported in the media of toddlers or elderly people being told to remove such articles of clothing while in retail outlets. The same can be said about Pokémon; for example, "Smogon" is the leading battle-orientated fan-website in the English-speaking fan community. Their 'tier' lists are what Pokémon are used the most, which is due to factors such as base stats, movepools and compatibility with other common Pokémon. These 'Tier Lists' are understood and upheld amongst the large majority of the community. However, in essence, this just proves that the Pokémon Community conforms to what is seen as the 'best options'.
An example of conformity can be found in a psychological study by Solomon Asch (1955), where one participant would sit in a room, sixth in a row of 7 with six confederates (people whom the participant believed to be normal participants, but were actually aiding the researcher). All seven people were informed that they were taking part in a study of perceptual judgements, and were presented with a "Standard Line", as the name implies, a line. They were then shown pictures of three lines, one of which was identical in length to the Standard line, and were then asked which line was identical to the Standard Line. It was easy to see that line 2 was the same length as the Standard Line; however, after numerous 'normal' trials, the confederates were told to collectively give an incorrect an answer. A control group was used (without confederates), and discovered that 99% of the time, the participant was correct. However, the study also shown that in the Experimental group, the participant would conform with the incorrect answer given by the confederates, and three quarters of all participants conformed at least once. What is most alarming by these findings, is that there was no reward involved at all; they merely conformed with the majority, because it was a majority.
You may be wondering "Well, that's very interesting, but how does Asch's study relate to Pokémon?", and yet, the answer is rather simple. Take a look at Arcanine for example. A very respectable 110 base stat in Attack, 100 in Special Attack and 95 in Speed. Arcanine also has some useful moves, such as ExtremeSpeed, which make up for its lower speed, and it has access to Thunder Fang which can cover its Water-type weakness. One can right justly say that Infernape does what Arcanine can do, but better. Although it lacks a powerful priority move like ExtremeSpeed, it has access to Mach Punch which gets a "Same Type Attack Bonus" (or "STAB" for short), and Fake Out, which is a very popular attack in the competitive scene. However, Arcanine's abilities (Intimidate and Flash Fire) can be seen as far superior to Infernape's Blaze, and Arcanine lacks the weaknesses to Flying and Psychic (Although Infernape's Fighting-type does make up for the Rock weakness). Intimidate can lower the attack stat of an opponent's Pokémon, and Flash Fire can be used when switching out a Grass-type, an Ice-type, or the popular Scizor that will fall victim to a Fire-type attack. Yet, shockingly, Arcanine is categorised in the "Under Used" tier. Although there are arguments of which of the two will suit an individual team better, why is it that Arcanine hardly gets any recognition, despite being known as the “Legendary Pokémon”? The answer can be easily explained in this manner: Arcanine is the “Standard Line”, and Infernape is “Line 2” (Although Infernape is not necessarily the ‘wrong’ answer). Even if someone is set on using Arcanine, perhaps because they see Flash Fire as a useful ability for their team, and the powerful ExtremeSpeed has more potential to then than Infernape’s Mach Punch, if they see more people using Infernape, then they will also use Infernape because their mind will register their original thoughts as wrong, thinking “Well, Arcanine must be the wrong choice because no one else is using it”. The same argument can also be used, perhaps with more justification, between Dragonite and Salamence; Dragonite is bulkier, but Salamence has the Intimidate ability, and higher speed, and yet, despite getting ExtremeSpeed in HeartGold and SoulSilver, Dragonite didn’t see much use until Salamence was forbidden by Smogon’s standard tier, and placed in the “Uber tier”.
Another example is the use of the Pokémon Abomasnow. Abomasnow is a Pokémon with an abysmal type combination (Grass/Ice) which gives it the most type-weaknesses of any Pokémon (tied with its pre-evolution Snover, and the legendary Celebi), and with terrible base stats (the highest being 92 in Attack and Special Attack). The reason people use Abomasnow is rather simple; its Snow Warning ability, which creates instant hail, that lasts until it is replaced. With the abundance of Groudon and Kyogre in the 2010 season of the Pokémon Video Game Championships, people used this automatic hail as a way to counter Groudon’s automatic sun and Kyogre’s automatic rain. However, was Abomasnow really the only choice? For example, Lapras has the rather respectable Water/Ice typing and can learn the move Hail, which creates a hailstorm for five turns. Although the hail may disappear and isn’t instant, Lapras has the good type combination and base stats that Abomasnow lacks. Is the instantaneous hail really the only reason people use Abomasnow? Understandably, Abomasnow’s Grass-typing and access to the Grass Knot attack can make it a good counter for Kyogre, and the Ice-typing and 100% accuracy Blizzard can mean Groudon will have worthy opposition (That is, is Abomasnow can hit Groudon before being hit with a Fire Punch), but Lapras can learn Blizzard, and can learn Thunderbolt and Thunder for Kyogre (It is also worth noting that Lapras can survive a Thunder from the standard Kyogre), as well as Dragon Pulse for Dialga, Palkia and Giratina, who were fairly common in the Championships. The answer is quite simple; someone used Abomasnow and won, so many thought Abomasnow would help them attain victory.
In defence of regular Karinism, and perhaps in an attack at the suggestion of conformity in Pokémon, one aspect that is often misinterpreted by a lot of people is the phrase “Pokémon they love best”. When people think of that, they will jump to “Favourite Pokémon”, which are usually based on aesthetics alone. However, aesthetics is not all that determines why someone loves a particular species. Such “bonds” that are made famous in the animated series mostly stem from experience. If you choose a Pokémon, for whatever reason, and battle with it, then you will undoubtedly develop a fondness for it, be it because the appearance grows on you, you begin to see a personality in it, or you see it as a valuable tool for winning. Even when it comes to Pokémon not normally seen as “useful” in a competitive environment, the experience gained through battling with a favourite Pokémon can also teach you far more about that species than a mere glance at its base stats and movepool or even an article on that Pokémon. Humans learn through personal experience, it’s a natural part of life. Experience is what teaches us about right and wrong, and when someone merely conforms without having prior experience, then they will undoubtedly lose to someone with more experience, due to the conformer not understanding how to use the Pokémon to their full potential.
To refresh, when you understand the conformity context of the quote, it becomes clear that the “Skill” mentioned could have been talking about the ability to push through conformity and remain an individual, which is a hard skill indeed. Indeed, this can be furthered with the statement “You understand what's important”. Mere battling talent wouldn’t have been viewed as important to a person who speaks of working together with Pokémon you love; the whole aspect of battling with a Pokémon you love seems pretty paradoxical.
Obviously, Karen’s line was written in 1999, long before any solid Pokémon metagame was founded, however, should that mean that this interpretation should be ignored? No. A truly marvellous feature of literature is that regardless of time or place, the words spoken should be able to touch the reader. How we are touched now will have been different to how we were back then. In fact, it is the rise of the metagame and people calculating a Pokémon’s stats to the exact digit that has led to the rise of Karenism. However, this modern view can also lead to the foundation of this "Social Karenism”.
Ryu Shoji is a lifelong Pokémon fan, an unpublished author, with an A-Level in Psychology and English Language & Literature.
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