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How Pokémon Opens the Door for Entomology Education

Pokémon GO

Many of the characters in the Pokémon series are “Bug-type” characters, whose features are inspired by real life insects and arthropods. The latest installment, Pokémon GO, moves the game into augmented reality. Entomology educators see the game as an entry point for educating kids and adults about real-world insect science. (Image originally published in Schmidt-Jefferis and Nelson 2018, American Entomologist)

By Rebecca Schmidt-Jefferis, Ph.D., and Josh Nelson-Ichido

With the advent of Pokémon GO, an augmented reality-based cell phone app released in the U.S. in 2016, the Pokémon craze came to life once again. Those only loosely familiar with the game, though, might not realize that it presents a unique opportunity for entomologists and science educators to increase student interest in natural history. To explore this subject, we authored an article in the latest issue of American Entomologist, titled “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!: Communicating Entomology with Pokémon.”

So, who are we and why did we want to write about the synergies between a mobile game and science education?

Rebecca: I’m an entomologist and I have been playing Pokémon since the initial games came out. Yellow and Silver are still my favorite versions of the game, although I also really liked the Soul Silver remake. Pokémon GO is my primary way of getting walks in and I’m at level 34. I initially wrote this article up as a shorter post for a blog I was writing, which I unfortunately did not keep up with very well. However, I thought assignment of the different Bug type Pokémon to phylogenic orders would be interesting for a general reader. It was also a fun exercise in data summary; I was truly curious to find out which of the taxonomic groups would be strategically the best choice in the game. Turns out, it’s cockroaches, but only because of Pheromosa.

Percentage of Bug-type Pokemon represented by taxonomic group

Percentage of Bug-type Pokémon represented by each taxonomic group. (Groups not listed are not found in the games.) Of the 79 Bug-type Pokémon, 3 percent are not arthropods (they are gastropods), and 25 percent are not insects (they are spiders, scorpions, crabs, mites, ticks, isopods, millipedes, and non-extant arthropod stem groups). Of the Pokémon in the class Insecta, only 12 percent are hemipterans (the order containing the true bugs), and only one (Surskit, a water strider) could be placed in suborder Heteroptera, the true bugs. It seems, then, that very few Bug-type Pokémon are bugs. (Image originally published in Schmidt-Jefferis and Nelson 2018, American Entomologist)

I was also impressed with all of the outreach activities being created that were based on Pokémon GO. I decided that the article could be better developed and would be suitable content for American Entomologist. To improve the article, I wanted the perspective of someone who knows the game better than I do and who has a background in communications, so I invited Josh Nelson-Ichido to co-write the article with me.

Josh:  I’m a communication studies researcher, and I too have been with the Pokémon games since their original release. Blue version was my version of choice, but Diamond version holds a special place in my heart for being the first Japanese-language video game I completed (and understood), and it was also released on the day I started dating my wife. For me, Pokémon GO not only caters to my nostalgia but also serves as an activity that my 7-year-old son and I bond over. The simplified mechanics (relative to the more in-depth main series entries) were easy for him to grasp and play, and the goal of the game itself helps foster his desire to explore and find new things.

I was excited about the opportunity to work with Rebecca on this project because not only is it an incredibly interesting topic, but it also afforded me a chance to come one step closer to becoming a Pokémon professor! Jokes aside, I always love a chance to discuss communication in a variety of contexts, because it’s a topic that truly applies to everyone yet is often dismissed.

Rebecca: There’s a big potential to use Pokémon as a conversation starter about insects. In the article, we highlight some of the activities that were built around Pokémon GO in the games. Recently, I saw an image of an excellent display that the Frost Entomological Museum at Pennsylvania State University used in its Great Insect Fair to show the parallels between insects and Pokémon in the game—so creative! Now that the kids who played Pokémon are adults and there are children being introduced the game, we can use the games to talk to parents and their children at outreach events.

Josh: Rebecca is absolutely right about the potential of games like the Pokémon series for fostering education and involvement in audiences. While I only speak on communication processes briefly in the article, using interesting and attention-grabbing techniques to draw in an audience is crucial. Associating entomology with well-known and popular properties and hobbies makes the field far more accessible to lay audiences (myself included). Entomology becomes less of an inaccessible part of academia, and something I can begin to comprehend and even identify with. Once I identify with it, persuading me to explore it further becomes infinitely easier!

American EntomologistRead More

Gotta Catch ‘Em All!: Communicating Entomology with Pokémon

American Entomologist

 

Rebecca A. Schmidt-Jeffris, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at Clemson University. She is the vegetable and strawberry entomologist for South Carolina. Her research interests include biological control, landscape ecology, mite management, and soil health management impacts on arthropods. Follow her on Twitter: @Phytoseiid. Email: rschmi3@clemson.edu

Joshua C. Nelson-Ichido is a lecturer on intercultural communication in the Department of Communication at Central Washington University.  He also serves as a faculty member for the university’s Asia Studies program and Global Cultural Training certification program.  His research interests include multi-ethnic identity accommodation, Japan-US communication, revenge, deception detection, relational communication, and intercultural communication in general. Email: joshua.nelson-ichido@cwu.edu.

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