A few years ago, I asked the question of which came first, Pokemon or Digimon. After exploring the matter, I shared my findings in a post which eventually came to be the most visited post in this blog.
It didn’t take long for the comment section to light up, with visitors taking sides and some heated exchanges taking place. My referral logs revealed that the post was being discussed elsewhere, such as this DeviantArt entry.
One question that comes up when asking which came first between Pokemon and Digimon is “Why does it matter?” While the question could be easily rephrased as “Who cares?” or “What difference does it make?” and retain much of its intent, it’s plain to see that it matters quite a bit to those who have participated in the discussion. Each person could only answer the question for themselves, as would I, as each person may have differing reasons as to why it matters to them.
One reason that’s evident to me as to why feelings are so strong concerning whether Pokemon or Digimon came first or which one has the better games or anime or characters or what-have-you is that people develop a strong attachment to what’s a source of happiness to them, and when that source of happiness is somehow challenged, people feel inclined to either defend their source of happiness, or go on the offensive against whatever they perceive as challenging it.
This is especially evident when one observes nerd battles in what’s called the “console wars”. People develop a strong attachment to the game console that they play with, particularly the one that they play the most. When that console is challenged, people tend to react strongly. It’s actually surprisingly easy to be drawn into the so-called “console wars” and end up defending your favorite console against the fanboys.
A variation of this phenomenon can be seen when you look at so many people who are passionately against Apple products such as Macbooks and iPhones. If someone considers an Apple product and decides it’s not for them, their solution to this is to simply not buy it. But those who hate Apple with a passion seem to think that they are going to take over the world or something. Sometimes, it can be quite amusing to find a tech reviewer who’s so dead set against Apple that they compare just about everything to their products, such as in this video.
Pokemon and Digimon have fans who tend to play their favorite games extensively, which is why there’s a strong attachment to these games. In fact, there’s a bit of a feedback loop in that players like the games so they play them some more, and as they play them some more, the attachment becomes stronger. And these games happen to be very deep, which enables some involved play.
So, that’s the explanation for why there seems to be a strong reaction. But when it comes down to it, a person is not wrong for liking one game or the other, even if one came before the other or one was inspired by the other. The fact is, both franchises exist, and a person can enjoy a game that they play regardless of anyone else’s opinion of the same game.
That’s why the topic seems to get a strong reaction from others, but what about me? Why did it matter enough to me to demonstrate that Pokemon came before Digimon to make a post about it, and make subsequent posts going into other aspects of the topic?
The answer has more to do with the fans than with the franchises themselves. A sizable portion of the Digimon community strongly insists that it was Digimon that came first, and that Pokemon took inspiration from it. I’m not entirely sure where this idea came from, but I suspect that it has to do with the fact that the Digimon Tamagotchi came to American shores before the Pokemon anime first aired on American TV. As explored in the which came first article, both franchises first appeared in Japan, where Pokemon came long before the first Digimon product appeared, and I authored another article which provided proof that Pokemon was in development as early as 1990.
While the claims that some Digimon fans are making are demonstrably false, I suspect there’s a little more to it. I vaguely recall that there was a magazine from the late ’90s that made the claim that Digimon came first, a claim that may have been subsequently parroted by numerous Digimon fans. I don’t remember for sure what magazine it would have been, but I suspect that it may have been an early issue of Beckett Digimon Collector. Whichever magazine may have irresponsibly made the misleading claim, the apparent response would speak to the tendency of the public to take at face value information issued by a publicated source, even if they themselves may be misinformed. (Does anyone out there have the magazine in question? Help would be appreciated.)
Because I understood the claim that Digimon came first to be false, it didn’t sit well with me. I know that it takes work and creativity to produce something that’s novel, so I find it a bit irksome when a me-too product comes along and, not content to bask in reflected popularity, show disrespect to the original by claiming superiority and even claiming the idea as its own!
In this regard, the issue isn’t with the Digimon IP itself, as it does nothing to disrespect the franchise that inspired it, and is simply another take on an idea that happened to be popular at the time it was conceived. Rather, the issue is with certain Digimon fans who are claiming that Digimon came first and Pokemon stole from it! It’s important to note that it’s not all Digimon fans that make this claim, and I see nothing wrong with enjoying both franchises.
While the Digimon fans that insist that Pokemon stole from Digimon are passionate about their position, it remains that the foundation of their position is a great misunderstanding. The antidote to this misunderstanding is to provide clarity, which can be done by doing honest research into the history of both IPs, and using the information found to make a determination as to which came first. When I did this, I found that it was Pokemon that came first, without a doubt. Using this information, I wrote up an article to publish on my own web space to get the word out.
Another reason it mattered to me is because I care what the truth of a matter is, whether or not it happens to be the accepted consensus of a community. It’s better to be alone in being right than to be wrong with the majority. But in this case, it’s not necessarily the majority that’s wrong, so what gives? Why go as far as I did when it’s just a couple JRPGs that we’re talking about?
It matters because there’s a slippery slope effect when it comes to accepting even a little bit of falsehood. If we’re willing to overlook small falsehoods, this tends to enable us to accept greater falsehoods later on. If we accept a falsehood about a piece of entertainment on the mere reasoning that it’s more comfortable to accept, it becomes easier for us to accept for comfort falsehoods about our careers, society, religion, politics, and numerous other topics wherein the choices can have serious, long-reaching consequences.
Even when we’re talking about games, a false narrative is still a false narrative. It should matter to us what’s true and what’s not. Otherwise, there’s no telling what we could end up accepting at some point down the road. There was a misconception that I saw going around, so I looked into the matter and shared what I learned.
When it comes down to it, the truth matters, regardless of the scale of the issue.