A Thousand Pikachus: Capitalism and Transmedia
Winona State University
Citation: Heckman, Davin. “A Thousand Pikachus: Capitalism and Transmedia.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 21, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/021.let06
Abstract: A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (D&G) is a fun, but mystifying, puzzle of text. A key idea expressed by D&G is that for every coherent thought, experience, or idea we perceive, there are a multitude of others that are not coherent (or are differently coherent). D&G employ a number of words/phrases—assemblage, becoming-, body without organs, rhizomes, smooth space—that all point us towards the ways that our nervous system drifts, spreads, extends, and dissolves into the world around us. Pokémon offers us many ways to think through these concepts. Not simply because the narrative world of trainers-pokéballs-pokémon is sufficiently weird in its function to offer a window into strange thought, but because Pokémon lives as a robust transmedia phenomenon that surpasses existing more stable storytelling formats like print, radio, television, and film. Instead, Pokémon presents its users/consumers/players/viewers/collectors with many paths into and out of the text, taking subjects through storyworlds, gamespaces, consumer practices, fan communities, and other hybrid ontologies, destabilizing the subjects who encounter the text, positioning them in a variety of indeterminate positions at once. Further, this version is formatted like a listicle to encourage modular, discontinuous reading. An alphabetical list arranges concepts non-hierarchicallly, suggesting a variety of entry points into D+G's larger assemblage. Does this abbreviated glossary (itself, taken from a longer essay published in Rhizomes) tell you everything you need to know about Deleuze and Guattari? No. Does it tell you everything you need to be a Pokémon trainer? No. But if you are reading about Pokémon because you are a theorist or if you are reading about D&G because you are a Pokémon trainer, you are taking one of many steps that one might take to “bring something incomprehensible into the world” (D&G).
Keywords: Pokemon, critical theory, Deleuze, Guattari, Mille Plateaux, criticism, theory.
A Thousand Pikachus: Capitalism And Transmedia
This text explains Deleuzian terminology using Pokémon. This text explains Pokémon using Deleuzian terminology.
Davinheckman . Posted on October 27, 2014, at 9:59 a.m.
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A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (D&G) is a fun book to read. For those expecting an orderly, linear experience, it can be mystifying, and that is part of the fun. A key idea from the text is that for every coherent thought, experience, or idea we express, there are a multitude of others that are not coherent (or are differently coherent). D&G employ a number of words/phrases—assemblage, becoming-, body without organs, rhizomes, smooth space—that all point us towards the ways that our nervous system drifts, spreads, extends, and dissolves into the world around us.
The world of Pokémon offers us many ways to think through these concepts. Not simply because the narrative world of trainers-pokéballs-pokémon is sufficiently weird in its function to offer a window into strange thought, but because Pokémon lives as a robust transmedia phenomenon, with many paths in and out, taking subjects through storyworlds, gamespaces, consumer practices, fan communities, and other hybrid ontologies.
Does this abbreviated glossary tell you everything you need to know about Deleuze and Guattari? No. Does it tell you everything you need to be a Pokémon trainer? No. But if you are reading about Pokémon because you are a theorist or if you are reading about D&G because you are a Pokémon trainer, you are taking one of many steps that one might take to “bring something incomprehensible into the world” (D&G).
An assemblage is any number of "things" or pieces of "things" gathered into a single context. An assemblage can bring about any number of "effects"—aesthetic, machinic, productive, destructive, consumptive, informatic, etc. Deleuze and Guattari's discussion of this reads:
In a book, as in all things, there are lines of articulation or segmentarity, strata and territories; but also lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization and destratification. Comparative rates of flow on these lines produce phenomena of relative slowness and viscosity, or, on the contrary, of acceleration and rupture. All this, lines and measurable speeds constitutes an assemblage. A book is an assemblage of this kind, and as such is unattributable. It is a multiplicity—but we don't know yet what the multiple entails when it is no longer attributed, that is, after it has been elevated to the status of the substantive. On side of a machinic assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signifying totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities or circulate, and attributing to itself subjects what it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity... Literature is an assemblage. It has nothing to do with ideology. There is no ideology and never has been.
The beauty of the assemblage is that, since it lacks organization, it can draw into its body any number of disparate elements. The book itself can be an assemblage, but its status as an assemblage does not prevent it from containing assemblages within itself or entering into new assemblages with readers, libraries, bonfires, bookstores, etc.
The pokémon serve as stand-ins for physical combat—they extend the capabilities of the body, or complete the effect-producing machine. In other words, pokémon are biotechnological prostheses. The creature in the pokeball is, metonymically, the effect of the trainer-pokeball-pokémon assemblage. From the periphery of the narrative world, the human player, via several media, is gathered into a transmedia assemblage that involves digital worlds, collectible cards, pokémon, other players, etc.
“Becoming-” is a process of change, flight, or movement within an assemblage. Rather than conceive of the pieces of an assemblage as an organic whole, within which the specific elements are held in place by the organization of a unity, the process of “becoming-” serves to account for relationships between the “discrete” elements of the assemblage. In “becoming-” one piece of the assemblage is drawn into the territory of another piece, changing its value as an element and bringing about a new unity. The discussion of “little Hans” introduces the wide range of possible “becomings-”:
Hans is also taken up in an assemblage: his mother's bed, the paternal element, the house, the cafe across the street, the nearby warehouse, the street, the right to go out onto the street, the winning of this right, the pride of winning it, but also the dangers of winning it, the fall, shame...These are not phantasies or subjective reveries: it is not a question of imitating a horse, "playing" horse, identifying with one, or even experiencing feelings of pity or sympathy. Neither does it have to do with an objective analogy between assemblages. The question is whether Little Hans can endow his own elements with the relations of movement and rest, the affects, that would make it become horse, forms and subjects aside. Is there an as yet unknown assemblage that would be neither Hans's nor the horse's, but that of the becoming-horse of Hans? An assemblage, for example in which the horse would bare its teeth and Hans might show something else, his feet, his legs, his peepee-maker, whatever? (D&G)
The smooth space established across the assemblage creates a continuity in which true sublimity of the invocation can be realized, “the golem” invoked is not the monstrous “Other” of the pokémon (or pocket monster), but it is the invocation of the machinic and alien monstrosity of the assembled self. The reality expressed is not the reality of the trainer’s command, but the “becoming-“ reality of poke-speak itself: “The becoming-animal of the human being is real, even if the animal the human being becomes is not” (D+G).
BODY WITHOUT ORGANS:
The “Body without Organs” or BwO is a term Deleuze and Guattari have taken from Antonin Artaud which consists of an assemblage or body with no underlying organizational principles, and hence no organs within it. The BwO is a post-Enlightenment entity, a body but not an organism.
You never reach the Body without Organs, you can't reach it, you are forever attaining it, it is a limit. People ask, So what is this BwO?—But you're already on it, scurrying like a vermin, groping like a blind person, or running like a lunatic; desert traveler and nomad of the steppes. On it we sleep, live our waking lives, fight—fight and are fought—seek our place, experience untold happiness and fabulous defeats; on it we penetrate and are penetrated; on it we love...The BwO: it is already under way the moment the body has had enough of organs and wants to slough them off, or loses them. (D&G)
In invoking the rhizomatic BwO through the sideways slipping speak of the pokémon, the trainer is involved in the process of “becoming-animal” by becoming part of a deterritorialized assemblage of trainer-pokeball-pokémon in which the pokémon’s effect is indistinguishable from the effect of the trainer. The victory of the pokémon is the victory of the trainer, and this process of identification moves the trainer sideways through the assemblage.
“Rhizome: A prostrate or subterranean root-like stem emitting roots and usually producing leaves at its apex; a rootstock.”
—Oxford English Dictionary Online.
As a model for culture, the rhizome resists the organizational structure of the root-tree system which charts causality along chronological lines and looks for the originary source of “things” and looks towards the pinnacle or conclusion of those “things.” A rhizome, on the other hand, “ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (D&G 7). Rather than narrativize history and culture, the rhizome presents history and culture as a map or wide array of attractions and influences with no specific origin or genesis, for a “rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo” (D&G). The planar movement of the rhizome resists chronology and organization, instead favoring a nomadic system of growth and propagation.
Rather than force connections, the game designers, illustrators, writers, marketers, advertisers, and programmers, (themselves a complex machine) create the opportunity for multiplicity. Whether you see yourself as an Ash, Team Rocket (Pokémon villains), Willy, yourself, or even me is not important, it is only important to enact in multiples by becoming-pokémon (which itself becomes synonymous with collecting).
“Smooth space” exists in contrast to “striated space”— a partitioned field of movement which prohibits free motion. Smooth space refers to an environment, a landscape (vast or microscopic) in which a subject operates. Deleuze and Guattari explain:
Smooth space is filled by events or haecceities, far more than by formed and perceived things. It is a space of affects, more than one of properties. It is haptic rather than optical perception. Whereas in striated forms organize a matter, in the smooth materials signal forces and serve as symptoms for them. It is an intensive rather than extensive space, one of distances, not of measures and properties. Intense Spatium instead of Extensio. A Body without Organs instead of an organism and organization.
Conducive to rhizomatic growth and nomadic movement, smooth space consists of disorganized matter and tends to provoke a sensual or tactical response rather than a starkly rational method of operation or a planned trajectory.
It is here that the world of Pokémon finds its clearest expression in a new capitalist axiom. The increasingly atomized individual him or herself becomes the terminal through which speed is realized. Through technology, the city itself is at home within each individual, and armed with this technology, the individual acts consistently through proxy—reduced ultimately to an expression of pure informational speed.
[Note: a more detailed version of this text is available in the Fall 2002 issue of Rhizomes.]
Deleuze, Gilles, and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi, 2 edition, University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Pokémon Wiki. pokemon.fandom.com/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon_Wiki
Smith, Daniel and Protevi, John. “Gilles Deleuze.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2018 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.). plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2018/entries/deleuze/.