This is tied to writing. I swear. Stick with me.
So, as some of you know, I like to write. But I also like to play video games. From helping me see to where I am as a writer, to getting me out of character blocks, video games, for some reason, are helping me make connections about writing that I’ve never thought about before. And it’s for the better. I’ve mentioned Soul Calibur III in two posts now.
But today, I get to talk about one of the first video game franchises I was exposed to: Pokemon.
France, Or Is It?
Though the latest titles released from the Pokemon series are remakes of Pokemon Ruby and Sapphire, Pokemon X and Y are the current generation of games with the new Pokemon out, the newest battles, and on the newest handheld system, the Nintendo 3DS. It takes place in the fictional region of Kalos, which is based on the country of France.
Seriously, I’ve played through the game. The French themes are so obvious it kind of hurts at times. From names of places like “Hotel Richimisse” to having an electric tower that looks like the Eiffel Tower to the music—oh, some of the most beautiful, short, looped music…
It’s French through and through. Junichi Masuda, the director of Pokemon X and Y, confirms it.
Wanna know what else he confirms?
This year, I took an introductory class on English literary theory, and for the first half we learned all about Greek culture, Greek mythology, and Greek society. And one of their ideologies was that beautiful, noble, and good go hand in hand. The more beautiful you were, the better.
And that’s when I learned the Greek word for beuaty: “kalos.”
Yup. You read that right. It’s “kalos,” or in Greek, κάλλος. And Junichi Masuda confirms that theme of the game is “beauty,” which to me, was perfectly embodied in the antagonistic Team Flare, picture below:
Team Flare wishes for a more “beautiful and better” world, but in reality, their attempt at a beautiful world makes them lose their faith in all of humanity. They deal in absolutes and steal other people’s Pokemon in the name of an ideal world. If you’re beautiful, or like them, then you’re fine. If you disagree with them, you have to battle them. It’s a misguided approach to solving humanity’s ills.
When I put two and two together in my English class, the English nerd in me was freaking out. Pokemon had actually coincided with something I could talk about academically and in relation to writing.
Which is what’s so great about video games, especially those with a story involved, and those with easily identifiable themes.
The Role of Themes
Along with good characters, great setting, and a logical, dynamic plot, themes can really make your story pop and give them color. They can help you give a focus to your story and your story world by putting it in a more human context. Though I kind of define theme differently than Pokemon does, it’s still good to think about.
A theme is a kind of topic for your story. And all stories tend to have a theme, whether or not you come up with it beforehand or find it after. Some “themes,” which I prefer to call motifs are love, family, friendship, self-worth, and, you guessed it, beauty, to name a few. These motifs tend to be questions that your story asks via the journey the protagonist takes to answer them on their own.
Yet I call these “motifs,” because they are more indirect objects than anything else.
Stories usually try to answer a question about these abstract concepts of human nature:
- Is family more important than friendship?
- Is my self-worth defined by my beauty?
Sometimes, a theme can be boiled down to conflict:
- man vs nature
- man vs man (with each man representing different principles and ideas)
Sometimes, you find that motifs can overlap to create complex themes, or just outright ridiculous themes:
- Is the law really as just, fair, and compassionate to all as it claims (like in Les Miserables)?
- Are all apples really evil (maybe a story involving fruit about identity and morality)?
Either way, the next time you read a book, or play a video game, listen to a piece of music, or view a piece of art, try to find its motifs, themes, and the questions in raises. Also, try to see how they ask those questions. Love is a very popular topic for humanity, but the reason it gets brought up over and over again is because we ask new questions about it as society and values change.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll one day think of apples as evil. Why else do they have cyanide in their seeds?