Racism and Pokémon Go

Is Pokémon Go racist?

That depends. There are two definitions of racism: one societal, the other individual. Societally speaking, racism is the oppression of one race by a dominant race(s). Individually speaking, racism is discrimination based on race.

Pokémon Go is racist in the first sense– none of the developers (presumably) meant to make their product less available to people of color. But because of some decisions, which were based on economics and ease, their product inadvertently ended up reflecting the racism of the society that we live in. Just like almost everything else: like Netflix, like newspapers, FitBits, etc. etc. etc., products are designed for those who can pay for them. And because of the history of racism written into the fabric of this country, people of color are economically disadvantaged. Can we blame product developers if they design their products for people who can buy them? They are just acting according to the logic of capitalism. They are acting according to the invisible hand, which harnesses the self-interest of individuals to work toward a better society for all… right?

In that sense, Pokémon Go doesn’t deserve to be singled out. Niantic doesn’t deserve to be called out. The solution– just get more developers of color– doesn’t make much sense at all. How are these companies supposed to hire more developers of color if economic disadvantage means that POCs largely never get the chance to acquire the kind of top-notch educations to qualify them for these positions? How are they supposed to design more games for POCs if our current economic structure means they wouldn’t be able to profit as much? That’s capitalistic self-harm.

Is Pokémon Go racist? Yes, but then so is everything else in American society. Nothing made here can escape the racist mold in which it is formed.

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2 thoughts on “Racism and Pokémon Go

  1. Your last sentence is super important. But there’s a bit more nuance that could be added to it. [I agree with you that] Pokemon Go is a product of a racist enterprise which is capitalism– that operates on the disenfranchisement of marginalized people who through many systems have purposefully been communities of color and gender oppressed folks. But it has also been a form of community building for communities of color, has provided young folks of color another way of interacting with their friends and exploring their neighborhoods even if they can’t get a Pokemon. So yes, Pokemon Go definitely operates within a racist structure but to simply call it racist could be to “ultimate” of a sentence because it also has contributed to kinship in my community.

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  2. The discussion of racism and Pokemon Go really stood out to me, too. If I understand your thoughts correctly, you’re saying that labeling Pokemon Go as racist kind of has no meaning since it is just existing within an intrinsically racist capitalist society that excludes certain people based on what they can afford. I didn’t understand this as what Professor was saying when she mentioned that there was debate about this game being racist, though. From what I remember, and I could be wrong, people label the game as racist because there are some neighborhoods with lots of Pokemon and some with none at all, and these neighborhoods are strongly divided along class and race lines. I don’t think this phenomenon comes down to who can buy the game and who can’t, it’s who is the game primary audience, which is where they place their Pokemon. From what I understand, Pokemon Go was free, so the notion that developers were just following the money doesn’t hold, in my opinion. I’m reminded of a conversation the internet had a while back about certain travel apps being designed to avoid “high crime” areas, which seem to be overwhelmingly populated with people of color. I see these technologies as ways to other these neighborhoods and therefore their populations–they aren’t thought of as having a stake in services these technologies provide. They’re not even an afterthought, they’re a non-thought. It’s an interesting conversation and I wish I would’ve followed it when it was happening. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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