Fossil Pokémon and the foibles of Paleontology

Rodrigo B. Salvador

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Wellington, New Zealand.

Email: salvador.rodrigo.b (at) gmail (dot) com

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Paleontology is the scientific study of life in the geologic past, which is visible to us today in the form of fossils. It studies the evolution and diversity of life throughout the entire history of our planet up to the beginning of the Holocene Epoch (roughly 12,000 years ago). That is not restricted to just naming extinct species; we can discover all sorts of stuff by analyzing the fossil record, from parental care in dinosaurs to the great extinction events that happened on our planet. I’m giving these examples because dinosaurs are the very first thing everyone thinks about when they hear the word fossil. Or almost everyone; if you’re a Pokémon trainer, you might instantly recall some of the fossil monsters in the game, most likely those from Gen I, Omanyte, Kabuto, and Aerodactyl.

From the first game in the series onwards, there are fossil Pokémon that you can find in rocks (including amber) and then revive in a Jurassic Park-esque style. The player would find such rock (for instance, a Helix Fossil) and then take it to the Pokémon Lab, where the scientists would revive it. In our example, the Helix Fossil would become an Omanyte, which is arguably the best Pokéfossil ever.[1]  Every new generation of Pokémon had new fossils, with the exception of Gen VII (Sun & Moon).

After the break in Gen VII, Gen VIII (Sword & Shield) brought the fossils back, albeit in a nightmarish form. There are four types of fossils to find in the Galar region of Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield: Fossilized Bird, Fossilized Drake, Fossilized Dino and Fossilized Fish. However, you do not use them straightforward to get a Pokémon; a Fossilized Bird will not grant you a cool extinct bird like Confuciusornis from the Cretaceous Period of China. Rather, you take two different fossils to a self-entitled Pokémon professor and she will mix them both to create a horrid chimera (Fig. 1).[2] The resulting Pokémon are horrid mixes that will in all likelihood have a miserable existence – just look at them, it’s almost as horrible as Nina’s story in Full Metal Alchemist.

Figure 1. The fossil Pokémon chimeras from Sword & Shield. From top to bottom: Dracozolt, Arctozolt, Dracovish, Arctovish. Artwork from the games; images retrieved from Bulbapedia (https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/).

I find it difficult to decide whether this was just some game developers running wild during character creation brainstorming sessions or if said developers knew enough about Paleontology to make a bold statement against the mistakes and the forgeries that pop up in this field every now and then. Given other biological nonsense in the series (for instance, see Tomotani, 2014; Salvador & Cavallari, 2019), I am more inclined towards the first hypothesis. Even so, I would like to explore the second one here.

Below I will delve into mistakes in fossil interpretation, from centuries-old scientific works to the present-day, and will also scrutinize the insidious fakes that people have fabricated for various reasons. But first, let us take a closer look into the fossil record.

THE FOSSIL RECORD

Paleontological science is entirely dependent on the fossil record. In broad terms, a fossil is formed when a living organism dies, get buried in the sediment and, over time, becomes petrified as the sediment turns into a rock. As you can imagine, not every organism will be “lucky” enough to get buried in appropriate sediment. For instance, carcasses might get torn apart and be eaten, plants will be decomposed and “vanish”, or the weather and environmental conditions might erode and destroy an organism’s remains.

Besides, not all organisms will fossilize. If they have hard parts like bones, teeth or shells, they will more likely become fossils. Mollusk shells and shark teeth are among the most common fossils to find. However, soft-bodied organisms only fossilize when conditions are extremely favorable; think about jellyfish and squid, for example. Thus, only a small fraction of all past life got fossilized. And of that small fraction, we have only found a small portion; we haven’t searched all the rocks on the planet – there are several areas out there still to be explored.

As such, in Paleontology we work with very incomplete data. And to add insult to injury, sometimes the conditions of the fossils we find are less than optimal, which will make any research difficult. Just compare the fossils in Figure 2: one is neatly preserved, where all structures can be seen and studied; the other is a complete mess and barely recognizable as a snail.

Figure 2. Top: shell of a Vertigo land snail from the European Pliocene (33–28 Ma), showing amazing preservation (the shell measures about 1.8 mm); specimen RGM 550.111, from Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Bottom: shell of an Eoborus land snail from the Paleocene of Brazil (roughly 58–55 Ma), showing very poor preservation (the fossil measures 44 mm); specimen AMNH 24241, from the American Museum of Natural History.

Figure 2. Top: shell of a Vertigo land snail from the European Pliocene (33–28 Ma), showing amazing preservation (the shell measures about 1.8 mm); specimen RGM 550.111, from Naturalis Biodiversity Center. Bottom: shell of an Eoborus land snail from the Paleocene of Brazil (roughly 58–55 Ma), showing very poor preservation (the fossil measures 44 mm); specimen AMNH 24241, from the American Museum of Natural History.

All of this makes research in Paleontology heavily dependent on the specimens one has available. Sometimes, poorly-preserved fossils will result in erroneous interpretations. These are honest mistakes that will eventually be corrected when new fossils, new data or new tools come into play. Getting it wrong the first time around is not lame or shameful – careful re-analysis and correction of mistakes is an important way in which scientific knowledge advances. So, let us take a look in some famous examples of honest mistakes.

The reversal of Hallucigenia[3]

Hallucigenia is a genus of weird marine worm-like creatures, full of spikes and soft appendages. The first species was discovered from the Burgess Shale, a now-famous fossil deposit in British Columbia, Canada, which dates back to the Cambrian Period (roughly 508 Ma[4]). That is the time known as Cambrian Explosion, when all animal groups were rapidly[5] diversifying into all the different branches that we know today.

At first, Hallucigenia was thought to be a kind of polychaete worm, but it was later interpreted as something different. Morris (1977) proposed it was a distinct branch of the animal evolutionary tree[6], and reconstructed the animal walking on its spikes, with the soft appendages floating in the water (Fig. 3). In retrospect, it is rather silly to suppose an animal would walk on stiff legs and some researchers even pointed that out at the time (Gould, 1989), but it was the only interpretation available.

Figure 3. Morris’ reconstruction of Hallucigenia sparsa from the Burgess Shale. Image extracted from Morris (1977: text-fig. 2A). Abbreviations: An. = anus; S. = spine; St. Tt. = short tentacle; Hd. = head; Tt. = tentacle.

Only later, researchers working on Hallucigenia species from Chinese Cambrian rocks were able to figure out that the spines were protective structures on the animal’s back and that it walked with soft legs (Ramsköld & Xianguang, 1991). They basically flipped the animal. Also, those researchers proposed that Hallucigenia actually belonged to the phylum Onychophora. Nowadays, we known onychophorans as velvet worms and there are only terrestrial species remaining. The entire marine branch of this phylum (which included Hallucigenia) became extinct.

But the story did not end there. Smith & Caron (2015), working with better preserved material from the Burgess Shale, realized that what people thought it was the animal’s tail was actually its head (Fig. 4). So Hallucigenia was reversed once again, only this time rotated on a different plane. This shows how difficult it is to work with fossils when they are not well-preserved or belong to groups that are entirely extinct.

Figure 4. Artistic reconstruction of Hallucigenia sparsa. Illustration by Danielle Dufault (https://www.ddufault.com/), extracted from Smith & Caron (2015: fig. 3f).

The terror shrimp

The Burgess Shale was the home of a myriad of weird and wonderful creatures. My personal favorite is Anomalocaris. When it was first discovered (Whiteaves, 1892), the species Anomalocaris canadensis was described based on a fossil like the one shown in Figure 5. The genus name means “anomalous shrimp”, because the fossil was deemed to be a weird sort of shrimp (it was thought to be lacking its head).

Figure 5. Anomalocaris canadensis (circa 8.5 cm long); specimen YPM 35138 from Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Image extracted from Wikimedia Commons (James St. John, 2014).

Well, you might be thinking “that’s a pretty lame fossil to have as favorite”, but please bear with me for a moment. Meanwhile, two other fossils were discovered in the Burgess Shale: the jellyfish Peytoia nathorsti (Fig. 6) and the sea cucumber Laggania cambria, both described in the same paper (Walcott, 1911).

Figure 6. Peytoia nathorsti (circa 5.2 x 4.2 cm); specimen YPM 5825 from Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. Image extracted from Wikimedia Commons (James St. John, 2014).

It took several decades and new fossils (Fig. 7) for paleontologists to realize that Anomalocaris, Peytoia and Laggania were actually just parts of a single animal (Whittington & Briggs, 1985). The bit called Anomalocaris corresponds to the frontal appendages of the animal; Peytoia is the mouth; and Laggania the body.[7]  Because Anomalocaris was the oldest name (the first one described), it is the one that remains used.

Figure 7. The first complete Anomalocaris canadensis ever found; specimen from the Royal Ontario Museum. Image extracted from Wikimedia Commons (Keith Schengili-Roberts, 2007).

This is an honest mistake, even more than that of Hallucigenia above; it is still related to problems of fossil preservation, but in this case, it is an issue of only partial information (and partial fossils) being available.

Anomalocaris was then reinterpreted as the topmost predator of the Cambrian fauna. It was massive for its time, about 1 meter long, and possessed nasty-looking grasping-&-crunching appendages (Fig. 8) to deal with hard-shelled mollusks and trilobites. As a proficient hunter, Anomalocaris had dichromatic color vision and eyes composed of 16,000 lenses, rivalled only by modern dragonflies (Paterson et al., 2011; Fleming et al., 2018). They belong to a branch of the tree of life named Dinocaridida (“terror shrimps”), which is an ancestral group of phylum Arthropoda.

Figure 8. Artistic reconstruction of Anomalocaris canadensis. Image extracted from Wikimedia Commons (PaleoEquii, 2019).

Finally, if you are thinking the reconstruction from Figure 8 looks familiar, that’s because the Pokémon Anorith (Fig. 9) from Gen III is obviously an Anomalocaris.

Figure 9. The fossil Pokémon Anorith from Gen III. Artwork from the game; image retrieved from Bulbapedia (https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/).

Figure 9. The fossil Pokémon Anorith from Gen III. Artwork from the game; image retrieved from Bulbapedia (https://bulbapedia.bulbagarden.net/).

A falsely accused dinosaur

Oviraptor is a genus of small theropod dinosaurs, of the kind that already looked very bird-like. They lived in Mongolia during the Late Cretaceous (90 to 70 Ma) and received their name means “egg seizer”. Osborn (1924) gave them such name because the fossil skull was found lying directly on top of a nest of dinosaur eggs, which “immediately put the animal under suspicion of having been overtaken by a sandstorm in the very act of robbing the dinosaur egg nest” Osborn (1924: 9). Back then, Osborn thought the eggs belonged to another dinosaur, Protoceratops andrewsi.

It took a long time for people to realize the skull belonged to a parent sitting on its nest (Barsbold et al., 1990; Norell et at., 1995; Clark et al., 1999, 2001). Contrary to the examples above, the interpretation of Oviraptor as a thief was not due to poor fossil preservation or to the fossil belonging to a completely “alien” group. This time the interpretation hinged on a thieving raptor versus a caring parent. So how could Osborn and a whole bunch of early 20th century paleontologists get it so wrong?

In short, it was an obsolete paradigm that prevented them from seeing what is now obvious to us. Back then, dinosaurs were seen as dumb cold-blooded beasts. Only in the 1960’s the so-called dinosaur renaissance began, where the paradigm started to shift.[8] A new wave of paleontologists started to understand dinosaurs as warm-blooded and active animals, with complex behavior and social structures. The work of Horner & Makela (1979), showing that Maiasaura peeblesorum cared for its young, was a complete breakthrough and changed the way we understand dinosaurs and how they are related to their present-day survivors, the birds.

Cope’s Elasmosaurus

I will only touch very lightly on this example, because it is so well-know. If you’re interested to know more, the book Dinosaur Bone War by Kimmel (2006) is a great start.

The first specimen of the giant marine reptile Elasmosaurus platyurus was described by paleontologist Edward D. Cope in 1868. When he reconstructed the skeleton, though, Cope thought the animal had a long tail and a short neck, where he obviously attached the skull. Paleontologists soon realized that the animal actually had a short tail and a very long neck and Cope’s skeleton had its head on its ass, so to speak. This caused quite a stir and Cope soon became the butt of jokes by his arch-nemesis Othniel C. Marsh. This fact kickstarted what later became known as Bone Wars.

FORGERIES

All the examples above were honest mistakes. A series of erroneous interpretations were made, but in the end, they were identified and corrected. That’s how things work – our scientific literature is only temporary, representing the objective truth we have at a given point in time. But eventually, everything will (or at least should) be checked and corrected or refined as necessary.

Next, we will take a look at the dark side of Paleontology. These are not fossils mistakenly interpreted; rather, these are actual fakes and forgeries made for a series of typically-human reasons.

The Lügensteine

The Würzburger Lügensteinen[9] (German for Lying Stones of Würzburg) is one of the most curious stories in Paleontology, back from a time this whole scientific field was not quite yet formed. In 1725, Johann Beringer, a professor from the University of Würzburg, found several amazing fossils on a mountain near the city: lizards, frogs, arthropods, all extremely detailed and apparently well-preserved. He also found “fossils” of other stuff, like comets and letters spelling out the Tetragrammaton (the Hebrew name of the biblical god).

Do keep in mind that this was a time when the mechanisms of fossilization and evolution were not yet understood, so we should avoid judging it by our modern standards (Gould, 2000). Beringer took these fossils seriously and published a book entitled Lithographiæ Wirceburgensis in 1726, describing his finds. Beringer interpreted the animal fossils as, well, fossilized animals, and considered the other stuff as “capricious fabrications of God” (Jahn & Woolf, 1963).

It turns out the “fossils” were sculpted and planted there by two of his colleagues, Ignatz Roderick and Johann von Eckhart, who wanted to discredit Beringer. The duo started to plant fakes that were progressively more absurd, but it went on for so long that they eventually decided that the prank was getting way out of hand. They tried to convince Beringer that the fossils were fake (without implicating themselves, of course), but he dismissed them, feeling he and his work were under attack.

Because of that, Beringer took Roderick and Eckert to court to “save his honor”. The duo confessed they were the perpetrators of the hoax and wanted to discredit Beringer because “he was so arrogant and despised us all” (Jahn & Woolf, 1963). The whole deal ended up discrediting Beringer and ruining the reputations of the other two. The fossils became known as Lügensteine, or Lying Stones, and some are still around (Fig. 10).

Figure 10. Three Lügensteinen on display in the Senckenberg Naturmuseum (Frankfurt). Image extracted (and cropped) from Wikimedia Commons (MBq, 2018).

This is a story where everyone was wrong. The duo of forgers, obviously, no matter how much of an “insufferable pedant” (Gould, 2000: 21) Beringer was. And Beringer himself, who even by the scientific standards of his day, should have done a better job instead of falling prey to an easy road to fame (Gould, 2000).

But that’s all in the past, isn’t it? Paleontologists nowadays are great scientists who won’t be fooled, right? Well…

Spider-Lobster and the Invisible Hand

In 2019, a group of paleontologists described a giant spider species from the Early Cretaceous of China (Cheng et al., 2009). It was named Mongolarachne chaoyangensis (Fig. 11) and was unlike any other spider we knew about. It turns out that was due to quite an obvious reason: it was not a spider. Instead, the fossil was a crayfish with two extra legs painted on it!

Figure 11. Fossil of Mongolarachne chaoyangensis. Image extracted from Cheng et al. (2009: fig. 1).

Other paleontologists discovered the mistake and corrected it very quickly (Selden, 2019). But why would someone paint those legs to create a fake spider in the first place? According to Paul Selden, who spotted the issue, in China these fossils are “dug up by local farmers mostly, and they see what money they can get for them” (Lynch, 2019).

There is a huge market for embellished fossils and complete fake fossils out there. China, Morocco[10] and Brazil are especially infamous for this (Gould, 2000; Pickrell, 2015; Lynch, 2019). Typically, the fakes are restricted to dinosaurs and other large vertebrates, because that’s where the big money is. Most of these “fossils” end up bought by private collectors, but sometimes a “specimen” finds its way to a museum or university and becomes part of the scientific discussion (Lynch, 2019), like the “spider” above.

These forgeries are very skillfully done, often starting with fragmentary fossils and carving out the missing parts from the stone (Pickrell, 2015). So yes, even scientists can be fooled by them, just like art curators and archaeologists are every now and then fooled by “Renaissance” paintings, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, or a bunch of “Dead Sea Scrolls” (Gould, 2000; Subramanian, 2018; Burk, 2020).

Because of that, several fossil species have been put in check since their description and sadly the field of Paleontology has been marred by an initial feeling of mistrust whenever a new fossil (for instance, a feathered Chinese dino-bird) is discovered (Pickerell, 2015).

In all cases above (the lying stones and the “embellished” fossils), the fakes were unknown to the scientists involved. But what about forgeries purposefully-built by a researcher? Are there any of those in Paleontology? The answer is, unfortunately, yes.

The Piltdown Man

The next example is strictly speaking paleontological, although many would argue that hominin fossils fall into a particular subset of Paleontology or even into a separate field altogether: Paleoanthropology. The following story, like Cope’s Elasmosaurus, is very well known, so I’ll just touch upon it briefly. There are several books published about the Piltdown Hoax, so if you’re interested, a quick search online will give you plenty of options.

To make a long story short, in 1912, a British amateur archaeologist named Charles Dawson claimed that he had discovered a hominin fossil in Piltdown, England, which was the “missing link” between large apes and humans. The species was named Eoanthropus dawsoni (popularly known as the Piltdown Man) and the fossils included skull fragments, a jawbone, and a canine tooth. The fossils were a forgery created by Dawson and planted on the “archaeological site” (De Groote, 2016). The jawbone and tooth belonged to an orangutan and were physically and chemically altered and prepared by Dawson. The skull fragments belonged to two humans.

Dawson and his colleagues never let other scientists analyze the actual fossils, just handing out casts of the fossils – like that was not suspicious! Only in 1953, almost 4 decades after Dawson’s death, the forgery was discovered (Weiner et al., 1953). And only in 2016 researchers were able to confirm Dawson as the forger (De Groote et al., 2016).[11]

Why did he do it? Clearly for the fame (was he expecting a knighthood, maybe?) and the attention that his “discovery” garnered – it put the UK at the forefront of Paleoanthropology, attracting interest from both scientists and the general public (De Groote, 2016).

BACK TO POKÉMON

All the new fossil Pokémon from the Galar region fall into the second category explored above, that is, of fakes and forgeries. It’s not their fault, of course. The fossils could be reconstructed properly; you’d just need two bits from the same species: two Fossilized Drake items, for instance, would result in a complete dinosaur, probably Stegosaurus-like. In fact, several fans have recreated what the actual fossil species would look like (e.g., Fig. 12; but you can find more examples online).

Figure 12. Reconstruction of the complete fossils from Galar region. Artwork by JWNutz (https://www.deviantart.com/jwnutz); used with permission.

The Pokémon “scientist” from Galar is a self-entitled expert, creating fake fossils for her own ends, just like Charles Dawson. The chimeric “species” even have spurious Pokédex entries[12], just like the “facts” about the Piltdown Man were once published in actual scientific literature. The Galarian poser “professor” is a dark stain to the honorable profession of Pokémon Professor – and of paleontologists, of course. However, she is surprisingly appropriate for our times, being well in tune with all those “Fox News experts”: flat-Earthers, climate change deniers, creationists, and anti-vaxxers. Dark times call for dark Pokémon NPCs, I suppose.

REFERENCES

Barsbold, R.; Maryanska, T.; Osmolska, H. (1990) Oviraptorosauria. In: Weishampel, D.B.; Dodson, P.; Osmolska, H. (Eds.) The Dinosauria. University of California Press, Berkeley. Pp. 249-258.

Burke, D. (2020) How forgers fooled the Bible Museum with fake Dead Sea Scroll fragments. CNN 16/Mar/2020.

Cheng, X.; Liu, S.; Huang, W.; Liu, L.; Li, H.; Li, Y. (2019) A new species of Mongolarachnidae from the Yixian Formation of western Liaoning, China. Acta Geologica Sinica 93(1): 227–228.

Clark, J.M.; Norell, M.A.; Barsbold, R. (2001) Two new oviraptorids (Theropoda: Oviraptorosauria), Upper Cretaceous Djadokhta Formation, Ukhaa Tolgod, Mongolia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 21(2): 209–213.

Clark, J.M.; Norell, M.A.; Chiappe, L.M. (1999) An oviraptorid skeleton from the Late Cretaceous of Ukhaa Tolgod, Mongolia, preserved in an avianlike brooding position over an oviraptorid nest. American Museum Novitates 3265: 1–36.

De Groote, I.; Flink, L.G.; Abbas, R.; Bello, S.M.; Burgia, L.; Buck, L.T.; Dean, C.; Freyne, A.; Higham, T.; Jones, C.G.; Kruszynski, R.; Lister, A.; Parfitt, S.A.; Skinner, M.M.; Shindler, K.; Stringer, C.B. (2016) New genetic and morphological evidence suggests a single hoaxer created ‘Piltdown man’. Royal Society Open Science 3(8): 160328.

Fleming, J.F.; Kristensen, R.M.; Sørensen, M.V.; Park, T.-Y.S.; Arakawa, K.; Blaxter, M.; Rebecchi, L.; Guidetti, R.; Williams, T.A.; Roberts, N.W.; Vinther, J.; Pisani, D. (2018) Molecular palaeontology illuminates the evolution of ecdysozoan vision. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 285(1892): 20182180.

Gould, S.J. (1989) Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. W.W. Norton & Co., New York.

Gould, S.J. (1992) The reversal of Hallucigenia. Natural History 101(1): 12–20.

Gould, S.J. (2000) The Lying Stones of Marrakech. Harmony Books, New York.

Horner, J.R. & Makela, R. (1979) Nest of juveniles provides evidence of family-structure among dinosaurs. Nature 282(5736): 296–298.

Jahn, M.E. & Woolf, D.J. (1963). The lying stones of Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer: being his Lithographiæ Wirceburgensis translated and annotated. University of California Press, Berkeley.

Kimmel, E.C. (2006) Dinosaur Bone War: Cope and Marsh’s Fossil Feud. Random House, New York.

Liptak, A. (2018) How Jurassic Park led to the modernization of dinosaur paleontology. The Verge. Available from: https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/23/17483340/jurassic-park-world-steve-brusatte-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-dinosaurs-book-interview-paleontology (Date of access: 17/Mar/2020).

Lynch, B.M. (2019) A ‘Jackalope’ of an ancient spider fossil deemed a hoax, unmasked as a crayfish. University of Kansas. Available from https://today.ku.edu/2019/12/17/%E2%80%98jackalope%E2%80%99-ancient-spider-fossils-deemed-hoax-unmasked-crayfish (Date of access: 18/Mar/2020).

Morris, S.C. (1977) A new metazoan from the Cambrian Burgess Shale of British Columbia. Palaeontology 20: 623–640.

Norell, M.A.; Clark, J.M.; Chiappe, L.M.; Dashzeveg, D. (1995) A nesting dinosaur. Nature 378: 774– 776.

Osborn, H.F. (1924) Three new Theropoda, Protoceratops zone, central Mongolia. American Museum Novitates 144: 1–12.

Paterson, J.R.; García-Bellido, D.C.; Lee, M.S.; Brock, G.A.; Jago, J.B.; Edgecombe, G.D. (2011). Acute vision in the giant Cambrian predator Anomalocaris and the origin of compound eyes. Nature 480(7376): 237–240.

Pickerell, J. (2015) The great dinosaur fossil hoax. Cosmos 27/Jul/2015.

Ramsköld, L. & Xianguang, H. (1991) New early Cambrian animal and onychophoran affinities of enigmatic metazoans. Nature 351(6323): 225–228.

Russell, M. (2013) The Piltdown Man Hoax: Case Closed. The History Press, Cheltenham.

Salvador, R.B. (2014) Praise Helix! Journal of Geek Studies 1(1–2): 9–12.

Salvador, R.B. & Cavallari, D.C. (2019) Pokémollusca: the mollusk-inspired Pokémon. Journal of Geek Studies 6(1): 55–75.

Selden, P.A.; Olcott, A.N.; Downen, M.R.; Ren, D.; Shih, C.; Cheng, X. (2019) The supposed giant spider Mongolarachne chaoyangensis, from the Cretaceous Yixian Formation of China, is a crayfish. Palaeoentomology 2(5): 515–522.

Smith, M. & Caron, J. (2015) Hallucigenia’s head and the pharyngeal armature of early ecdysozoans. Nature 523: 75–78.

Subramanian, S. (2018) How to spot a perfect fake: the world’s top art forgery detective. The Guardian 15/Jun/2018.

Thomas, H.N. (2020) A paleontological outlook on the Super Mario Bros. movie. Journal of Geek Studies 7(1): 1–6.

Tomotani, B.M. (2014) Robins, robins, robins. Journal of Geek Studies 1(1–2): 13–15.

Walcott, C.D. (1911) Cambrian geology and paleontology II. No. 3. – Middle Cambrian holothurians and medusæ. Smithsonian miscellaneous collections 57 [1914]: 41–68.

Walsh, E.J. (1996) Unraveling Piltdown: The Science Fraud of the Century and its Solution. Random House, New York.

Weiner, J.S.; Oakley, K.P.; Clark, W.G. (1953) The solution of the Piltdown problem. Bulletin of the British Museum, Geology 2(3): 139–146.

Whiteaves, J.F. (1892) Description of a new genus and species of phyllocarid Crustacea from the Middle Cambrian of Mount Stephen, B.C. Canadian Record of Science, 5, 205–208.

Whittington, H.B. & Briggs, D.E. (1985) The largest Cambrian animal, Anomalocaris, Burgess Shale, British Columbia. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 309 1141): 569–609.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Many thanks to my paleo-colleagues Alan Tennyson and Felix Marx for pointing out some examples and references I had overlooked; and to Jean-Claude Stahl for the beautiful photo of Vertigo.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Rodrigo Salvador is a paleontologist who studies snails, although he has dabbled a little in dinos and fossil birbs too. His long-time favorite Pokéfossil is none other than Lord Helix, despite the anatomical flaws in comparison with real ammonoids. Rodrigo was eager for the new fossils in Sword & Shield but ended up massively disappointed. On the bright side, at least the new horrible Pokéfossils served as a backdrop and excuse to write this article.


[1] And the only one to ascend to godhood. Read the story of Lord Helix in the article by Salvador (2014).

[2] A Fossilized Bird plus a Fossilized Drake will give you Dracozolt; Bird + Dino = Arctozolt; Fish + Drake = Dracovish; Fish + Dino = Arctovish.

[3] Yes, I borrowed the title from Steve Gould (1992).

[4] Ma = megaannum, or millions of years.

[5] Rapidly in geological terms, of course. What are 15 to 25 millions of years for a planet that is 4.5 billions of years old?

[6] He was also the one who named it Hallucigenia, because it is such a weird-looking beast.

[7] Actually the mouthpart of Anomalocaris is different an the fossil known as Peytoia belongs to a second species of anomalocaridid.

[8] This renaissance ultimately led to a shift in how the public perceived dinosaurs too, largely due to the film version of Jurassic Park (Litpak, 2018; Thomas, 2020).

[9] Also known as Beringersche Lügensteine, or Beringer’s Lying Stones, after their infamous “discoverer”.

[10] See Gould’s 2000 book The Lying Stones of Marrakech for an essay linking the big forgery industry of Morocco with Beringer’s Lying Stones.

[11] The Piltdown Man was not Dawson’s only forgery, though; he has tens of others on his portfolio (Walsh, 1996; Russel, 2013).

[12] Granted, several other Pokédex entries seem to have been written by an 8-year-old child. Just look for Ponyta’s, Alakazam’s and Magcargo’s entries, for instance.

Project Hospital: a realistic take on hospital simulation

Interview with Jan Beneš

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Project Hospital[1] is a game developed by indie studio Oxymoron games (Prague, Czech Republic). In it, you build and manage every single detail of your own hospital – and you can diagnose and treat patients as well! Launched in 2018 on Steam, the game features a wealth of real-world-based medical expertise, equipment and diseases and injuries, counting with an in-depth diagnosis process.

To understand how all of this is possible in a game, the Journal of Geek Studies interviewed Jan Beneš, lead programmer at Oxymoron games. We uncovered the story behind Project Hospital, which you can read below.

Q: There are a few hospital and “medical” sim games around, but Project Hospital is a fresh and more down-to-Earth example of this subgenre. How the idea for this game came to be?

A: The story began like this: a small group of developers met in early 2016 to discuss starting a new studio and hopefully agree on the first project. Most of us are now team members or co-founders of Oxymoron games and as it turned out, Project Hospital was definitely a good choice of a game that we’d be both able to create with a team of 2–4 people and which would find its place on the market thanks to the combination of theme and realistic settings. The original pitch itself came from Roman, who then took the role of lead designer and main artist on the project.

Q: Have you or anyone in the team worked in a hospital before?

A: Actually yes, one of our designers has some experience from medical school combined with an internship in a hospital, and while he took a different career path later, his familiarity with the field was essential when choosing and creating content for the game.

Q: Did you contact staff from hospitals (admins, nurses, physicians, etc.) for advice when developing the game?

A: When we announced that the project was in development, quite a few real-life doctors and professionals in the medical field got in touch and we spent a lot of time discussing different topics in a private section of our forums. This really helped, for example, with choosing the best terminology for different aspects of the game and to some extent to see if we can get away with some of the necessary steps needed when transforming a very complex topic into a game, while advertising the realistic settings.

Q: How much realism did you set out to include in Project Hospital and how this realism was balanced with gameplay and entertainment?

A: The foundations based on real-world medicine gave us clear boundaries, but to create an engaging game, gameplay must come first. To be more specific, this means choosing a correct level of simplification and turning complex material into rules like “examinations uncover symptoms”, “uncovering enough symptoms leads to a clear diagnosis”. In the next step, it was necessary to adjust a lot of values to create interesting cases for the players to solve — for example, the occurrence rate of certain symptoms in different diagnoses was needed to be set in such a way that would limit cases where it’s immediately clear what the patients are suffering from after first examination.

The process was a bit easier on the side of hospital management — and while this wasn’t the actual goal and we carefully balanced the economy aiming for a challenging experience — it turns out that the simulation is actually very close to the American healthcare system[2], which is both fascinating and pretty scary.

Q: So, let’s delve into some of that gameplay now, shall we? What is the players’ actual goal in Project Hospital?

A: In our elevator pitch for Project Hospital we always mentioned that the game would allow players to focus on different aspects, whether it is the building part with all the little details, managing a huge hospital and making it as efficient as possible, or taking care of individual patients. The latest version of the game still follows these rules as far as possible and on top of that, for players looking for more structure, we added a short campaign with some interesting tasks to undertake.

Q: Does the game allow specialization in particular subfields of medicine? Like making your hospital a reference in ophthalmology‎ or oncology, for instance.

A: The content is indeed structured into individual departments and you can focus on any of them in any particular build, as well as running only a clinic. The five main fields available in the base game include for example cardiology, neurology and orthopaedics, with more planned for future DLCs and more also getting added by the community thanks to mod support. Oncology would be an example of a field we didn’t select ourselves, but has been already added to Steam Workshop.

Q: From what we’ve seen, there are different objectives to be met, like solving complex cases, keeping staff and patients happy, and make profit with your hospital business. Is there a trade-off between these objectives in the game?

A: The game generally rewards you for taking good care of your employees and patients alike, so there should be no conflict between being a good manager and helping your staff with complicated cases when needed. For the players who want to focus on one specific goal, the game tries to help by making almost every aspect automated to some extent. Not interested in building? Try one of the pre-built hospitals or place whole rooms using the collection of prefabs. Not up to dealing with individual patients? Hire experienced staff and let them do their job.

Q: One cool thing in Project Hospital is to solve difficult cases. When doing so, the player is unknowingly making use of decades of real medical research. Is there a nod in the game towards scientific research and how medical knowledge evolves?

A: From this point of view we use one snapshot in the development of modern medicine — the systems are already pretty complex and quite demanding for new players, so for example researching new and more effective types of medicine didn’t become a priority. There’s definitely enough challenge already in finding the correct diagnosis, uncovering all potentially dangerous hidden symptoms and treating the patients on time.

Q: Unfortunately, there is a current trend of once-eradicated diseases making a resurgence. So, when you’re dealing with an infectious disease in the game, is there any discussion or statement about prevention, vaccination, etc.?

A: This is definitely an interesting topic, but has mostly fallen out of scope of the main release — that said, we’ll still have opportunities to tackle some of these aspects in the future and it’s true that with the recent news regarding the coronavirus outbreak[3], we’ve been even getting similar requests from the player community.

Q: Do you think there is an educational potential for Project Hospital?

A: In a way, Project Hospital contains a pretty extensive encyclopedia of medical conditions, symptoms and diagnostic methods. While, for example, a lot of the probabilities in the background are balanced more towards generating interesting cases than strictly following reality, there’s a lot to learn from the game.

And while we can’t really share more details at this moment, a couple of institutions have been evaluating the game for the use in training (I guess more for managers than doctors, but still…).

Q: So far, have you received feedback from the medical community? What has that been like and how does it differ from regular player feedback?

A: We’re amazed how big a part of the player base are actual doctors or people with doctors or nurses in their family — and an obvious observation, their real-world experience indeed makes it much easier for them to get into the game.


About the Team

Oxymoron games is an indie game studio based in Prague, founded by a small group of Czech industry veterans. They have experience both at home and abroad, having worked on various game genres and interesting titles like Mafia II & III, Quantum Break, Top Spin 4 or Euro Truck Simulator. In 2016, they finally found themselves at the right place in the right time to have a shot at becoming independent. After the successful release of their first game, Project Hospital, they’re currently working on more content and supporting their player base, while preparing for future adventures.


[1] You can find it at http://www.oxymoron.games/

[2] See also Boudreau, I. 2009. ‘Project Hospital’ is a great way to understand our broken healthcare system. Available from: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/wjvxk5/project-hospital-is-a-great-way-to-understand-our-broken-healthcare-system (Date of access: 19/Feb/2020).

[3] The virus has now been named COVID-19. See more at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

A paleontological outlook on the Super Mario Bros. movie

Henry N. Thomas

University of California, Berkeley, USA.

Email: h.thomas (at) berkeley (dot) edu

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Among the many unique choices made while making the 1993 movie Super Mario Bros. was the large focus on dinosaurs. Much of the movie takes place in Dinohattan, an alternate New York in a universe where humans evolved from dinosaurs instead of mammals. This was undoubtedly inspired by various reptilian species within the Mario games. That dinosaurs were extremely popular in the 90’s certainly helped. New discoveries from the Dinosaur Renaissance of the 70’s and 80’s inspired new dinosaur media such as The Land Before Time, Jurassic Park, and of course, Super Mario Bros. Jurassic Park in particular ushered in a huge wave of dinosaur media, with many since bearing at least one reference to the film. Super Mario Bros. was the last major piece of dinosaur media to be released before the Jurassic Park wave, predating that film’s release by only a few weeks.

NEW YORK AND THE END OF THE CRETACEOUS

The movie’s infamous introduction details the extinction of the non-avian dinosaurs via meteorite impact. At the time we knew a meteorite was to blame, thanks to iridium. Iridium is an element very rare on earth, but common in asteroids, and there’s a global layer of iridium in the rock record right at the boundary between the Cretaceous and the Paleogene (Alvarez et al., 1980). This even got a shout-out in Super Mario Bros. In the early 90’s, the location of the impact site wasn’t certain – but we would soon find out it wasn’t Brooklyn (Fig. 1). The Chicxulub crater, buried underneath Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, has been dated to just under 66 million years ago – right at the K-Pg boundary (Hildebrand et al., 1991). This crater is estimated to be 150 km wide and 20 km deep, created by an impactor roughly the size of Mount Everest. It would have obliterated everything within the vicinity in a fraction of a second, leaving nothing behind to fossilize.

Figure 1: Brooklyn 65 million years ago, according to Super Mario Bros. It didn’t look like this in real life – at the time, the area that is now New York City was at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.

The notion of digging up tyrannosaurs in Brooklyn is also doubtful. Long Island is very recent geologically, being formed by glaciers during the last Ice Age – the same glaciers that ground away most of New York state’s Cretaceous rocks (Charles Marshall, pers. comm.). But we can make inferences about what lived there based on fossils found in nearby states like New Jersey. During the Cretaceous, there was an inland seaway that split North America into two continents, Laurentia in the west and Appalachia in the east. The two continents had different faunas – Appalachia didn’t have any of the famous Late Cretaceous dinosaurs Laurentia did. At the end of the Cretaceous, New York state would have been on the coast of a much narrower Atlantic Ocean, and the city was underwater.

Dinosaurs that lived on the eastern seaboard included ostrich-like ornithomimids (Brownstein, 2017), armored nodosaurids (Burns, 2016), duckbilled hadrosaurs (Prieto-Marquez et al., 2006), and Dryptosaurus. Dryptosaurus (Fig. 2) was a relative of Tyrannosaurus, around half the size but leaner and with larger arms (Brusatte et al., 2011). If T. rex was a tiger, Dryptosaurus would have been a leopard. In the skies flew early seabirds (Weishampel et al., 2004), and out at sea lived a variety of marine reptiles, such as sea turtles and plesiosaurs. The most famous marine reptiles, however, would be mosasaurs – large ocean-going lizards whose limbs had evolved into dolphin-like flippers. These ranged in size from the three-meter long Halisaurus to the fifteen-meter long Mosasaurus (Gallagher, 2005). Although the fossils Daisy finds may not line up with real life, Anthony Scapelli’s interference with the dig is unnervingly close to reality, as many field paleontologists will tell you.

Figure 2: A life-sized model of Dryptosaurus, built by Tyler Keillor and on display at the Dunn Museum in Libertyville, Illinois.

DINOSAURS

Jurassic Park closely followed the science of the time, bringing an updated image of dinosaurs to the public. Heavily inspired by the Dinosaur Renaissance, and the growing body of evidence that birds are a clade of dinosaurs, that movie’s dinosaurs were energetic, warm-blooded, awe-inspiring, dangerous, and in some cases intelligent. As the previous public perception of dinosaurs was that of slow, lumbering, cold-blooded evolutionary failures, this brought a paradigm shift in popular culture, and a renewed interest in the science of paleontology (Liptak, 2018). Super Mario Bros. was not part of this paradigm shift. It’s clear the filmmakers were still in the mindset that dinosaurs were cold-blooded and reptilian. The Goombas (Fig. 3) – de-evolved Dinohattanites – are dumb and lumbering. They resemble the synapsid Cotylorhynchus (Fig. 4) more than any actual dinosaur. Yoshi (Fig. 3) is a little more active, but he’s still highly caricaturized and clearly a relic from the 80’s, paleontologically speaking. Not to mention, many dinosaurs are now known to have had feathers alongside or instead of scales (e.g., Godefroit et al., 2014), and it’s likely that ancestrally, all dinosaurs had feathers of some sort, and only larger forms lost theirs (Yang et al., 2019).

Figure 3: Some of the dinosaurian residents of Dinohattan: Daisy, a normal dinosaur-descended relative of Dinohattan (upper left); Yoshi, a more dinosaur-y dinosaur (upper right); and a Goomba, a de-evolved Dinohattanite (below). None of these closely resemble real dinosaurs, and suffice it to say, they don’t resemble their video game counterparts either.

Figure 4: Cotylorhynchus. Despite how it may look, this is a very early relative of mammals. By sheer coincidence, it happens to resemble Super Mario Bros.’ Goombas. Restoration by Dmitry Bogdanov.

President Koopa – who proudly brags about being descended from Tyrannosaurus rex – shows reptilian features such as a long, forked, flicking tongue and (sometimes) slit-like eyes. Both of these are common in living squamates (lizards and snakes), but not dinosaurs. Squamates that flick their tongues use it to gather scent particles, which is then processed by an organ in the roof of the mouth, called the Jacobson’s organ. No dinosaurs had this organ (Naish, 2016). Many dinosaurs had immobile tongues, like alligators, or non-forked birdlike tongues (Li et al., 2018). The way a vertical pupil scatters light is good for predators that have their heads low to the ground – up to about the height of a cat’s head (Banks et al., 2015). The vast majority of dinosaurs probably had round pupils like those of birds.

EVOLUTION AND DE-EVOLUTION

Super Mario Bros. was not the first nor the last project to speculate on what might have happened had the dinosaurs not all been destroyed. Perhaps the two cornerstone works on this topic are Dougal Dixon’s The New Dinosaurs and the collaborative online Speculative Dinosaur Project, both of which detail creatures that could have evolved 65 million years after an asteroid impact that never happened. Indeed, Super Mario Bros. wasn’t even the first to feature dinosaurs evolving into intelligent (…to a degree) life. The first to pose the question was none other than Carl Sagan, inspired by then-new research on the brain size of a family of dinosaurs called troodontids (Sagan, 1977). These dinosaurs, including the likes of Stenonychosaurus (Fig. 5) and Saurornithoides, were small-to-medium-sized omnivores with a very large brain relative to body size. In these ways they’re a lot like the ancestors of humans, and thus are good candidate for evolving into sapient beings. Paleontologist Dale Russell took this a step further in 1982, with the “dinosauroid” – a human-shaped descendant of Stenonychosaurus (Russell & Séguin, 1982). He even commissioned a life-sized model (Fig. 5), which looks a bit more like an alien than a dinosaur. The dinosauroid isn’t human to the same degree as the residents of Dinohattan, but it may have provided some inspiration for the filmmakers.

Figure 5: Dale Russell’s Dinosauroid statue, next to a contemporary reconstruction of Stenonychosaurus. Compare and contrast to the residents of Dinohattan.

The film’s idea of evolution has also not exactly held up. “You may think of evolution as an upward process,” muses President Koopa right before he de-evolves Toad into a Goomba. It isn’t. Evolution isn’t about levels, with “basic” life progressively evolving towards a more advanced endpoint. Dale Russell certainly thought it was, which is why the dinosauroid looks so human-like (Darren Naish, pers. comm.). But evolution isn’t a constant progression towards a form that’s intrinsically “more advanced”. An entire rundown of the theory of evolution is out of the scope of this paper, but in short, it is simply change over time (Darwin, 1859). This is often in response to environmental change, where features that help the organism better survive and reproduce are selected for (but sometimes things evolve solely because they help the organism reproduce, for example the tail of the peacock). If a certain set of features works, there may not be reason to change much. Fossil horseshoe crabs and lungfish dating to the Jurassic are effectively identical to those around today, for example.

The “linear” idea of evolution forms the basis of Super Mario Bros.’ de-evolution. De-evolution isn’t a thing. Evolution acts with no foreknowledge or back-knowledge. An organism can theoretically evolve to superficially resemble one of its ancestors, but the mechanism behind this is no different than it evolving into something that looks completely different. This is a principle called Dollo’s Law – an organism can never return exactly to the evolutionary state its ancestors had (Gould, 1970). You can’t de-evolve something to what it’d be like in the Cretaceous. And since evolution acts on populations, not individuals (Darwin, 1859), the notion of de-evolving someone in particular is impossible.

CONCLUSION

Between the movie’s bombing among critics and audiences upon release and Jurassic Park being released a few weeks later, Super Mario Bros. never got an opportunity to leave a mark upon dinosaur media. It does leave a legacy technologically, though: the digital visual effects techniques, many of which were invented for the film, have since become industry standards, and the Yoshi animatronics set a standard for later dinosaur movies to live up to (they even impressed the producers of Jurassic Park). Super Mario Bros. was also the beginning of John Leguizamo’s inexplicable connection to prehistoric life – he would later lend his voice to the Ice Age franchise and the movie adaptation of Walking with Dinosaurs in 2013. And it left us with a few choice words of wisdom: trust the fungus.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I would like to thank Luigi Gaskell, Matthew Mitchell, and the Super Mario Bros. Movie Archive for their encouragement in writing this manuscript, and I give the latter permission to include this article on their website.

REFERENCES

Alvarez, L.W.; Alvarez, W.; Asaro, F.; Michel, H.V. (1980) Extraterrestrial cause for the Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction. Science 208(4448): 1095–1108.

Banks, M.S.; Sprague, W.W.; Schmoll, J.; Parnell, J.A.Q.; Love, G.D. (2015) Why do animal eyes have pupils of different shapes? Science Advances 1(7): e1500391.

Brownstein, C.D. (2017) Theropod specimens from the Navesink Formation and their implications for the diversity and biogeography of ornithomimosaurs and tyrannosauroids on Appalachia. PeerJ Preprints 5: e3105v1.

Brusatte, S.L.; Benson, R.B.J.; Norell, M.A. (2011) The anatomy of Dryptosaurus aquilunguis (Dinosauria: Theropoda) and a review of its tyrannosauroid affinities. American Museum Novitates 3717: 1–53.

Burns, M.E. (2016). New Appalachian armored dinosaur material (Nodosauridae, Ankylosauria) from the Maastrichtian Ripley Formation of Alabama. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 48(3).

Darwin, C. (1859) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. John Murray, London.

Gallagher, W.B. (2005) Recent mosasaur discoveries from New Jersey and Delaware, USA: stratigraphy, taxonomy and implications for mosasaur extinction. Netherlands Journal of Geosciences 84(3): 241–245.

Godefroit, P.; Sinitsa, S.M.; Dhouailly, D.; Bolotsky, Y.L.; Sizov, A.V.; McNamara, M.E.; Benton, M.J.; Spagna, P. (2014) A Jurassic ornithischian dinosaur from Siberia with both feathers and scales. Science 345(6195): 451–455.

Gould, S.J. (1970) Dollo on Dollo’s law: irreversibility and the status of evolutionary laws. Journal of the History of Biology 3(2): 189–212.

Hildebrand, A.R.; Penfield, G.T.; Kring, D.A.; Pilkington, M.; Camargo Z., A.; Jacobsen, S.B.; Boynton, W.V. (1991) Chicxulub Crater: a possible Cretaceous/Tertiary boundary impact crater on the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. Geology 19(9): 867–871.

Li, Z.; Zhou, Z.; Clarke, J.A. (2018) Convergent evolution of a mobile bony tongue in flighted dinosaurs and pterosaurs. PLoS ONE 13(6): e0198078.

Liptak, A. (2018) How Jurassic Park led to the modernization of dinosaur paleontology. The Verge. Available from: https://www.theverge.com/2018/6/23/17483340/jurassic-park-world-steve-brusatte-the-rise-and-fall-of-the-dinosaurs-book-interview-paleontology (Date of access: 31/Jan/2020).

Naish, D. (2016) The ridiculous nasal anatomy of giant horned dinosaurs. Tetrapod Zoology. Available from: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/tetrapod-zoology/the-ridiculous-nasal-anatomy-of-giant-horned-dinosaurs/ (Date of access: 31/Jan/2020).

Ostrom, J.H. (1969) Osteology of Deinonychus antirrhopus, an unusual theropod from the Lower Cretaceous of Montana. Peabody Museum of Natural History Bulletin 30: 1–165.

Prieto-Marquez, A.; Weishampel, D.B.; Horner, J.R. (2006) The dinosaur Hadrosaurus foulkii, from the Campanian of the East Coast of North America, with a reevaluation of the genus. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51(1): 77–98.

Russell, D.A. & Seguin, R. (1982) Reconstruction of the small Cretaceous theropod Stenonychosaurus inequalis and a hypothetical dinosauroid. Syllogeus 37: 1–43.

Sagan, C. (1977) The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence. Random House, New York.

Weishampel, D.B.; Barrett, P.M.; Coria, R.A.; Le Loeuff, J.; Xu, X.; Zhao, X.; Sahni, A.; Gomani, E.M.P.; Noto, C.R. (2004) Dinosaur distribution. In: Weishampel, D.B.; Dodson, P.; Osmólska, H. (Eds.) The Dinosauria, Second Edition. University of California Press, Berkeley. Pp. 517–606.

Yang, Z.; Jiang, B.; McNamara, M.E.; Kearns, S.L.; Pittman, M.; Kaye, T.G.; Orr, P.J.; Xu, X.; Benton, M.J. (2019) Pterosaur integumentary structures with complex feather-like branching. Nature Ecology & Evolution 3: 24–30.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Henry Thomas is a paleontology student at the University of California, Berkeley. His main research interest is pterosaurs, which the Super Mario Bros. movie unfortunately lacks.


Corsola ecosystems in the Galar region

Rodrigo B. Salvador

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Wellington, New Zealand.

Email: salvador.rodrigo.b (at) gmail (dot) com

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To begin this article in the most honest way I can think of, I must state that as a biologist I’ve always complained about those absurdities in the Pokémon franchise that could have been solved if the designers had taken 10 minutes to Google them. And I’m not alone in this! – There are issues such as mistaken cephalopod anatomy (Salvador & Cavallari, 2019), using Japanese species on a setting that’s clearly France (Tomotani, 2014), the impossible water-holding capacity of Blastoise (dos Anjos, 2015), and the skewed biodiversity of the Pokémon world towards cats and dogs (Prado & Almeida, 2017; Kittel, 2018; Salvador & Cavallari, 2019).

Maybe that’s why one Pokémon in this new generation (Gen VIII) has caught me so off-guard. Given that the whole franchise is about making monsters beat other monsters, I was not expecting something with an ecological/conservationist edge out of it. I was particularly not expecting a new Pokémon to reflect one of the major environmental problems our planet is facing: coral bleaching. The Galarian form of Corsola was a slap to the face and a brilliant addition to the game, so hats off to Game Freak Inc. and The Pokémon Company in this regard[1].

CORSOLA AND CORALS

Corsola’s first appearance on the franchise was on Gen II, the famed Gold and Silver games (Fig. 1). It is a dual-type Pokémon (Water/Rock) based on a coral, likely the red corals[2], a moniker given to several species in the genus Corallium (Fig. 2).

Figure 1. Corsola. Original artwork from the game; extracted from Bulbapedia.
Figure 2. The skeletal remains of a Corallium rubrum (Linnaeus, 1758). Extracted from Wikimedia Commons (P. Géry, 2010).

Corals are animals belonging to the phylum Cnidaria, which also includes jellyfish and anemones. Broadly speaking, there are two types of corals: soft corals (Alcyonacea) and stony corals (Scleractinia). The latter, as can be surmised by their name, have hard skeletons made of calcium carbonate (Fig. 2). That explains Corsola’s Rock type – or would, because the red corals that are the likely inspiration for Corsola, are not stony corals. Rather, they are soft corals (Alcyonacea) that – atypically for the group – have calcareous structures in their otherwise organic skeleton (Grillo et al., 1993; Debreuil et al., 2011).

The live polyps (Fig. 3), however, look very different from the dead coralline skeleton. But oddly enough, Corsola looks more like a dead coral colony skeleton (Fig. 2) than a living one. Also, Corsola looks like a single creature rather than a colony, as it would be expected of red corals.

Figure 3. Live Corallium rubrum (Linnaeus, 1758). Extracted from Wikimedia Commons (P. Géry, 2010).

Despite being colonial, red corals (and other soft corals) are not reef-building corals. Even though, to better explain the issue with coral bleaching and threats to ecosystems, I need to provide a brief explanation on reefs and reef-builders.

Stony corals are often colonial and a group of them known as “hermatypic corals” are reef-builders; that is, their skeletons fuse to become coral reefs (Fig. 4). These corals often have symbiotic zooxanthellae (single-celled photosynthetic algae) embedded in their soft tissues. Since they depend on photosynthesis to acquire nutrients, they are typically found in shallow and clear tropical waters.

Figure 4. Coral reef, Israel. Extracted from Wikimedia Commons (Mark A. Wilson “Wilson44691”, 2007).

Coral reefs are hotspots of marine biodiversity. They sustain and shelter a myriad of species: lobsters and shrimps, snails and squids, worms, fishes, turtles, and many others (Fig. 5). So, why does that matter? Simply put, the highest the biodiversity (number and types of different species), the more ‘ecosystem services’ we can benefit from (CORAL, 2019). Think of these services[3] as everything nature can provide us if we could just take good care of it. To help inform decision-makers, many ecosystem services are being assigned economic values. It seems ridiculous that we have to assign an economic value to nature, but unfortunately that’s how our short-sighted governments work.

Figure 5. The typical example of coral reef biodiversity is a bunch of colorful fishes. Extracted from Wikimedia Commons (Fascinating Universe, 2011).

Inevitably, coral reefs are extremely threatened by overfishing and pollution (including the now pervasive microplastics) and by climate change, because the increased temperatures lead to coral bleaching and ocean acidification (McClanahan, 2002). But I will come back to this later; first, let’s take a look at the Galar region and its Corsola.

GALAR

The Galar region is the setting of the newly released games Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield, the franchise’s Gen VIII. Galar is based in the United Kingdom and several locations in the game were inspired by real-world places. Part of the new fauna (but not all of it[4]) is also appropriate to the UK, such as ravens (Corviknight) and cormorants (Cramorant). However, as the game says, Galar is heavily industrialized and this has influenced some Pokémon living there, like Weezing, whose Galarian variant manages to look even more noxious than the original form from Kanto (but see Box 1).

The Galarian variant of Corsola is a Ghost-type Pokémon, clearly indicating it’s already dead. It is entirely white (bleached) and has a sad face (Fig. 6). Its Pokédex entry in Pokémon Shield bluntly states: “Sudden climate change wiped out this ancient kind of Corsola.” In Galar, Corsola also have an evolution, named Cursola (Fig. 6), which is likewise Ghost-type. It is a larger and more branched coral.

Figure 6. Top: Galarian Corsola. Bottom: Cursola. Original models from the game; extracted from Serebii.net.

However, contrary to regular Corsola, the Galarian Pokémon are not based on the red coral. Instead, given the shape of their branches, they seem to be based on actual reef-building corals such as Acropora spp. (Fig. 7). That is fitting, because Acropora are major components of reefs and are one of the most sensitive corals to climate change (Loya et al., 2001). Also, Acropora corals are what you usually find when googling for “bleached coral”. So it seems Sword and Shield developers are finally using Google, after all.


Box 1. Galar/UK and Kanto/Japan

Galar is badly industrialized and that is true for its real-life counterpart too. Great Britain is famous as the starting point of the Industrial Revolution and infamous for social problems associated with it, such as poor working conditions and child labor. But a fact that is often overlooked is the collapse of the English Channel’s ecosystem. The Channel separates southern England from France and is one of the busiest fishing areas in the world. The place has been overfished to a scary extent and the habitats on the bottom of the Channel has been destroyed by trawling (Southward et al., 2004; Roberts, 2007). As is, the Channel’s ecosystem cannot recovery and the biodiversity in the area has plummeted (Molfese et al., 2014).

Even so, Japan is not truly in a position to point fingers about this topic. The country has one of the most destructive fishing practices in the word, including harvesting shark fins[5] and being one of the only nations that still hunt whales (Clover, 2004; Sekiguchi, 2007; McCurry, 2011). Japan has overfished several, if not most, edible animal species in their EEZ, from the famous bluefin tuna to squids and crabs; as a result, the country’s fisheries have witnessed a sharp decline in the past decades (Popescu & Ogushi, 2013; Katsukawa, 2019). Researchers within Japan are now arguing for a change to sustainable and scientifically informed fishing practices (Katsukawa, 2019). We can only hope they will.


CORAL BLEACHING

When ocean temperatures increase[6], the symbiotic zooxanthellae leave the corals. This makes the corals become white (Fig. 7); they “bleach”, so to speak. Also, without their photosynthetic “buddies”, corals are under more stress, start to starve, and overall have a serious decrease in their chances of survival (Fig. 8). Decline in coral ecosystems have been reported from all over the world: from the Caribbean to the Indo-Pacific, most famously including the Great Barrier Reef (Bruno & Selig, 2007; Edmunds & Elahi, 2007; De’ath[7] et al., 2012). Reports from the Galar region are yet to come.

Figure 7. Bleached coral (Acropora sp.), Andaman Islands. Extracted from Wikimedia Commons (Vardhanjp, 2016).
Figure 8. Coral bleaching. Extracted from NOAA (https://coralreef.noaa.gov/); used under NOAA’s general usage permission for educational/informational purposes.

Decline in coral reefs will start a cascading effect and most other species dependent on them (lobsters, squid, fish, etc.) will decline as well (Jones et al., 2004). This might lead to ecosystems collapses and, needless to say, it will affect all those ecosystems services (including food) we derive from the sea. When corals die, the dead rocky reefs become dominated by low-productivity and non-commercial invertebrate species such as sea urchins, starfish, and small snails (McClanahan, 2002).

OCEAN ACIDIFICATION

Bleaching, however, is not the only threat to corals. Our oceans are acidifying due to increased CO2 concentrations in the air since the Industrial Revolution. When CO2 is absorbed into the water, it reacts to become bicarbonate ions, making the water more acidic. This effect is, of course, amplified by higher temperatures (Humphreys, 2017). Acidified waters make it more difficult for corals to produce and deposit calcium carbonate (Albright et al., 2017), which is the substance that makes up their skeleton, as we’ve seen above.

Unfortunately, corals are not the only animals threatened by rising temperatures in the ocean. Mollusks have shells made of calcium carbonate and are thus vulnerable to more acidic waters, especially during their larval or juvenile phase. Mollusks such as planktonic sea-butterflies (pteropod snails; Fig. 9) and bottom-dwelling bivalves are as important as corals for ecosystems, and several other animals depend on them, from other mollusks to crustaceans and fish (Manno et al., 2017). Here, the situation might be even worse than with corals: while reefs are restricted to tropical regions, ocean acidification will affect mollusks in temperate regions as well (Soon & Zheng, 2019).

Figure 9. Limacina sea butterfly. Because of their diaphanous shells, pteropods are amongst the most threatened animals by ocean acidification[8]. Extracted from Coldwater.Science (http://coldwater.science/), © Alexander Semenov, used with permission.

As much as we can protect the natural world by creating nature reserves (including marine ones), unfortunately they will not work in this case (Allison et al., 1998; Jameson et al., 2002). Reserves can protect the reef ecosystem against overfishing and trawling, but it cannot stop ocean acidification. That is linked to climate change and we are already passing the tipping point in which the change could be turned back (Aengenheyster et al., 2018); soon, all we’ll be able to do is damage control.

REFERENCES

Aengenheyster, M.; Feng, Q.Y.; van der Ploeg, F.; Dijkstra, H.A. (2018) The point of no return for climate action: effects of climate uncertainty and risk tolerance. Earth System Dynamics 9: 1085–1095.

Albright, R.; Mason, B.; Miller, M.; Langdon, C. (2010) Ocean acidification compromises recruitment success of the threatened Caribbean coral Acropora palmata. PNAS 107(47): 20400–20404.

Allison, G.W.; Lubchenco, J.; Carr, M.H. (1998) Marine reserves are necessary but not sufficient for marine conservation. Ecological Applications 8(sp1): S79–S92.

dos Anjos, J.P.P. (2015) Turtles with cannons: an analysis of the dynamics of a Blastoise’s Hydro Pump. Journal of Geek Studies 2(1): 23–27.

Bruno, J.F. & Selig, E.R. (2007) Regional decline of coral cover in the Indo-Pacific: timing, extent, and subregional comparisons. PLoS ONE 2(8): e711.

Clover, C. (2004) The End of the Line: how overfishing is changing the world and what we eat. Ebury Press, London.

CORAL, Coral Reef Alliance. (2019) Coral Reefs 101. Available from: https://coral.org/coral-reefs-101/coral-reef-ecology/ (Date of access: 10/Nov/2019).

De’ath, G.; Fabricius, K.E.; Sweatman, H.; Puotinen, M. (2012) The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes. PNAS 109(44): 17995–17999.

Debreuil, J.; Tambutté, S.; Zoccola, D.; Segonds, N.; Techer, N.; Marschal, C.; Allemand, D.; Kosuge, S.; Tambutté, É. (2011) Specific organic matrix characteristics in skeletons of Corallium species. Marine Biology 158(12): 2765–2774.

Edmunds, P.J. & Elahi, R. (2007) The demographics of a 15-year decline in cover of the Caribbean reef coral Montastraea annularis. Ecological Monographs 77(1): 3–18.

Grillo, M.-C.; Goldberg, W.M.; Allemand, D. (1993) Skeleton and sclerite formation in the precious red coral Corallium rubrum. Marine Biology 117(1): 119–128.

Humphreys, M.P. (2016) Climate sensitivity and the rate of ocean acidification: future impacts, and implications for experimental design. ICES Journal of Marine Science 74(4): 934–940.

Jameson, S.C.; Tupper, M.H.; Ridley, J.M. (2002) The three screen doors: can marine “protected” areas be effective? Marine Pollution Bulletin 44(11): 1177–1183.

Jones, G.P.; McCormick, M.I.; Srinivasan, M.; Eagle, J.V. (2004) Coral decline threatens fish biodiversity in marine reserves. PNAS 101(21): 8251–8253.

Katsukawa, T. (2019) Building a future for Japan’s fisheries industry. Nippon.com. Available from: https://www.nippon.com/en/in-depth/d00455/building-a-future-for-japan%E2%80%99s-fisheries-industry.html (Date of access: 10/Nov/2019).

Kittel, R.N. (2018) The entomological diversity of Pokémon. Journal of Geek Studies 5(2): 19–40.

Loya, Y.; Sakai, K.; Yamazato, K.; Nakano, Y.; Sambali, H.; van Woesik, R. (2001). Coral bleaching: the winners and the losers. Ecology Letters 4: 122–131.

MA, Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. (2005) Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: Synthesis. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Manno, C.; Bednaršek, C.; Tarling, G.A.; Peck, V.L.; Comeau, S.; Adhikari, D.; Bakker, D.C.E.; Bauer, E.; Bergan, A.J.; Berning, M.I.; Buitenhuis, E.; Burridge, A.K.; Chierici, M.; Flöter, S.; Fransson, A.; Gardner, J.; Howeso, E.L.; Keul, N.; Kimoto, K.; Kohnert, P.; Lawson, G.L.; Lischka, S.; Maas, A; Mekkes, L.; Oakes, R.L.; Pebody, C.; Peijnenburg, K.T.C.A.; Seifert, M. Skinner, J.; Thibodeau, P.S.; Wall-Palmer, D.; Ziveriza, P. (2017) Shelled pteropods in peril: assessing vulnerability in a high CO2 ocean. Earth-Science Reviews 169: 132–145.

McClanahan, T.R. (2002) The near future of coral reefs. Environmental Conservation 29(4): 460–483.

McCurry, J. (2011) Shark fishing in Japan – a messy, blood-spattered business. The Guardian. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/feb/11/shark-fishing-in-japan (Date of access: 10/Nov/2019).

Molfese, C.; Beare, D.; Hall-Spencer, J.M. (2014) Overfishing and the replacement of demersal finfish by shellfish: an example from the English Channel. PLoS ONE 9(7): e101506.

Popescu, I. & Ogushi, T. (2013) Directorate General for Internal Policies, Policy Department B: Structural and Cohesion Policies. Fisheries: Fisheries in Japan. European Parliament, EU.

Prado, A.W. & Almeida, T.F.A. (2017) Arthropod diversity in Pokémon. Journal of Geek Studies 4(2): 41–52.

Roberts, C. (2007) The Unnatural History of the Sea. Shearwater, Washington, D.C.

Salvador, R.B. & Cavallari, D.C. (2019). Pokémollusca: the mollusk-inspired Pokémon. Journal of Geek Studies 6(1): 55–75.

Sekiguchi, T. (2007) Why Japan’s whale hunt continues. Time. Available from: http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1686486,00.html (Date of access: 10/Nov/2019).

Soon, T.K. & Zheng, H. (2019) Climate change and bivalve mass mortality in temperate regions. Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 251: 109–129.

Southward, A.J.; Langmead, O.; Hardman-Mountford, N.J.; Aiken, J.; Boalch, G.T.; Dando, P.R.; Genner, M.J.; Joint, I.; Kendall, M.A.; Halliday, N.C.; Harris, R.P.; Leaper, R.; Mieszkowska, N.; Pingree, R.D.; Richardson, A.J.; Sims, D.W.; Smith, T.; Walne, A.W.; Hawkins, S.J. (2004) Long-term oceanographic and ecological research in the western English Channel. Advances in Marine Biology 47: 1–105.

Tomotani, B.M. (2014) Robins, robins, robins. Journal of Geek Studies 1(1–2): 13–15.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I am very grateful to Alexander Semenov for giving me permission to use his fantastic Limacina photograph. I am also grateful for Farfetch’d finally having an evolution.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Rodrigo Salvador is a biologist who specializes in mollusks; fittingly, his favorite Pokémon is the West Sea Gastrodon. Part of his research is on marine snails and slugs, but he’s also interested in other marine animals – except fish maybe, which are mostly boring. He has played Pokémon since Gen I, but never really cared about Corsola – until now.


[1] Not in other regards, though. We did not need a new Mr. Mime or a Pokémon who’s a walking dollop of whipped cream. Not to mention that the ice cream Pokémon were included in the game, but Abra, Starly and Lord Helix were not.

[2] Also known as ‘precious corals’ because people like to use its red/pink/orange skeleton for making jewelry.

[3] Ecosystem services are split into four categories: provisioning (e.g., food production); regulating (e.g., climate buffering); supporting (e.g., oxygen production); and cultural (e.g., recreational and spiritual benefits).

[4] For instance, one of the starters is a monkey.

[5] Curiously, Pokémon Moon (Gen VII) had the following Pokedéx entry for Sharpedo, a shark Pokémon: “It has a sad history. In the past, its dorsal fin was a treasured foodstuff, so this Pokémon became a victim of overfishing.” So, the absence of Sharpedo in Sword and Shield could be explained by an extinction event.

[6] Water pollution can also be a cause for bleaching in some cases.

[7] Just using this footnote to point out that this person has a PhD and is thus known as Dr. De’ath. That is one of the coolest Marvel-esque names I’ve ever seen in academia.

[8] Phione and Manaphy are Pokémon based on the pteropod species Clione limacina (Salvador & Cavallari, 2019). Their absence in Sword and Shield could be explained by an extinction event due to climate change.


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The Climate Trail: how to survive the climate apocalypse

Interview with William D. Volk

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The Climate Trail[1] is a new and totally free game for PC and mobiles developed by Willian D. Volk. The game takes place in the in future, when our inaction regarding the climate crisis has rendered much of the world uninhabitable. The player leads climate refugees as they flee from ever worsening conditions, combining adventure, survival and visual novel elements. The Climate Trail follows the footsteps of the famous series The Oregon Trail (MECC, 1971–2011).

The Journal of Geek Studies interviewed Willian D. Volk to understand how The Climate Trail came to be. You can read the full interview below.

Q: Firstly, thank you for making The Climate Trail; the world desperately needed it. Being such a hot topic (no pun intended), it’s amazing no one in the video game industry has faced it heads on yet. So how did you become the first one to step up to this task?

A: The mainstream video game industry is risk-adverse because unlike film, there is no secondary markets (cable, etc.) for their games. With high budgets, they don’t take big risks and rely on franchises (i.e., Call of Duty, Overwatch, Grand Theft Auto) for most of the revenue. There’s also an aversion to tackling controversial topics. There are some indie games that have addressed the climate issue, but The Climate Trail may be the first to put players into a post climate-apocalypse world.

Q: Before The Climate Trail, did you have any experience in communicating about climate change? Or maybe even joining up some marches and protests?

A: I have degrees in Physics, a wife who used to work for the EPA and a brother who is a meteorologist. I’ve done way too much online debating on the issue, which was one of the motivations for making this game. I have participated in some climate events as well.

Q: As the game’s title and website make clear, it has drawn inspiration from The Oregon Trail. The Oregon Trail series is classified as ‘educational games’. Do you see The Climate Trail equally as an educational game or more as a call to action?

A: My goal is to add more educational content into the game so it can be a resource for climate information, but I also want it to be a call to action. Both are important.

Q: Would you like to see The Climate Trail being used in classrooms?

A: I do. This is why there’s no “roving band of cannibals” or other violence in the game. I present information about climate change in the title and expect to have the game serve as a resource for climate education.

Q: To create The Climate Trail, did you use models and predictions made by climate scientists? If so, which studies and reports have you used?

A: Yes, here are some studies and information about feedback loops.[2]

  • What Lies Beneath: The Understatement of Existential Climate Risk[3]
  • Existential Climate-Related Security Risk [foreword by C. Barrie][4]
  • Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must be Avoided[5]
  • Scientific articles by Farquharson et al. (2019)[6] and Schneider et al. (2019)[7]
  • Opinion articles by Hewett (2019)[8] and Kristof (2019)[9]

Q: To many (if not most) people, science alone is not enough reason to take action. The emotional impact of a game might be more crucial, and art might play a bigger role here. The Climate Trail has all of that, so how did you approach the mix and balance of science and emotion?

A: I’ve always believed that games can have social value. Chris Crawford’s 1985 classic game of geopolitical brinkmanship, Balance of Power, showed the futility of nuclear war. There are other examples, the 1997 PlayStation game Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee covered the exploration of workers in a moving way. For me the example that best represents a creative effort that moved me to tears is the 1959 film On the Beach.

On the Beach scared me and I’m sure many other “cold war” children (and adults). The ending scene of the film shows a deserted world with banners expressing futile hope in a dramatic image. I want to invoke the same feelings about our ever more likely climate apocalypse as On the Beach did for nuclear war. As the scientist in that film says: “Who would ever have believed that human beings would be stupid enough to blow themselves off the face of the Earth?”

I simply can’t believe we’re stupid enough to cook ourselves off the face of the Earth. If I can achieve 1/10th of the emotional impact of Oddworld or On the Beach I will be happy with the effort.[10]

Q: In The Climate Trail, players must survive a journey from Atlanta, USA, to Canada, across a climate-wrecked landscape. Did you choose this area for any particular reason?

A: Single highway route made design easier, all the locations are far enough above sea level to still be passable even if all land ice melts. I’ve been to that Canadian town as well.

Q: The USA in The Climate Trail looks terrible. In what year exactly does the game take place?

A: I’m deliberately not specific. Kate (the scientist) mentions Greenland Ice Melt when she was in college (dog sled picture) so the idea is it could be anywhere from 30 to 50 years or more.

Q: We love that the game’s difficulty levels are represented by greater increases in global temperature. How do the different temperature increase scenarios change the gameplay?

A: They effect heat wave and storm frequency, how many seeds you have at the start and the odds of finding supplies and capturing rain.

Q: You funded the game yourself and made it available to the public for free. Why did you opt for that approach?

A: It’s easier for climate organizations to support a game if it’s not a commercial venture. Also want to get it into schools.[11]

Q: Ultimately, what is your hope for The Climate Trail?

A: Have it become an educational resource (as we add more climate info) and as with On the Beach create emotional impact that moves people to action. I want to see millions playing it.


About the Team

William D. Volk is a game developer, founder of Deep State Games, and environmental advocate. He began his career in 1979 helping to launch the computer game division of Avalon Hill. He has worked at Activision and Lightspan and produced over 100 educational adventures. George Sanger, also known as “The Fat Man”, is a musician who has composed music for several video games, including Wing Commander and SimCity 2000.


[1] You can find it at https://www.theclimatetrail.com/

[2] You can also check Wikipedia’s entry on the clathrate gun hypothesis: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clathrate_gun_hypothesis

[3] Spratt, D. & Dunlop, I. (2018) Available from: https://climateextremes.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/What-Lies-Beneath-V3-LR-Blank5b15d.pdf

[4] Spratt, D. & Dunlop, I. (2019) Available from: https://52a87f3e-7945-4bb1-abbf-9aa66cd4e93e.filesusr.com/ugd/148cb0_90dc2a2637f348edae45943a88da04d4.pdf

[5] World Bank, The. (2012) Available from: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/865571468149107611/pdf/NonAsciiFileName0.pdf

[6] Farquharson, L.M.; Romanovsky, V.E.; Cable, W.L.; Walker, D.A.; Kokelj, S.V.; Nicolsky, D. (2019) Climate change drives widespread and rapid thermokarst development in very cold permafrost in the Canadian High Arctic. Geophysical Research Letters 46: 6681–6689.

[7] Schneider, T.; Kaul, C.M.; Pressel, K.G. (2019) Possible climate transitions from breakup of stratocumulus decks under greenhouse warming. Nature Geoscience 12: 163–167.

[8] Hewett, F. (2019) The Scariest Thing About Climate Change: What Happens to Our Food Supply. Available from: https://www.wbur.org/cognoscenti/2019/06/05/climate-change-food-frederick-hewett

[9] Kristof. N. (2019) ‘Food doesn’t grow here anymore. That’s why I would send my son north.’ Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/05/opinion/guatemala-migrants-climate-change.html

[10] Read more at: https://www.theclimatetrail.com/development-blog/why-am-i-giving-this-game-away-or-can-a-game-make-you-cry and https://www.theclimatetrail.com/development-blog/the-games-the-thing-wherein-ill-catch-the-conscience-of-my-kin-

[11] See also: https://www.theclimatetrail.com/development-blog/why-am-i-giving-this-game-away-or-can-a-game-make-you-cry


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Mondo Museum: a sim game to build your own world-class dream museum

Interview with Michel McBride-Charpentier

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Mondo Museum is an upcoming simulation game developed by Viewport Games[1] where you can build your dream museum. Equipped with dinosaurs, Books of the Dead, classical paintings, and space-age stuff, Mondo Museum has something for everyone. The game will be soon published by Kitfox Games and is already listed on Steam.

The Journal of Geek Studies interviewed designer/programmer Michel McBride-Charpentier to understand how such a wonderful game like Mondo Museum came to be. You can read the full interview below.

Interview

Q: There are lots of sim games around, but as far as we know, there has never been one about curating and running a museum. So how did you get that idea?

A: After the announcement, a few people have said they’d also had the idea of a “SimMuseum”, so I don’t think it’s a wholly original concept. I’m actually really surprised nobody else has made a game like this since the idea first popped into my head over a decade ago and I’ve spent the last 5 years really expecting one to drop on Steam at any moment.

The idea, like most good ones, came to me through synthesizing a lot of different interests I’ve developed over my life: visiting a wide variety of museums in school and later as an adult, a love for Maxis and Bullfrog management games, and a personal desire to create work that is educational and engages players with systems thinking without being a dry capital-letters Serious Game.

Q: Do you have any particular type of museum you enjoy the most? Or an all-time favourite museum?

A: Museums that contain a wide variety of exhibits that have no apparent relation to each other are always the most fun for me to visit. For example, The Met in NYC which has collections ranging from Ancient Egypt to medieval European armour to Rembrandt paintings. The Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is also in this vein, with dinosaur skeletons and fossils next to Chinese sculpture.

Asking for my favourite is an impossible question, but I’ll use this opportunity to shout out the Noguchi Museum in Queens, NYC. It’s entirely focused on the life and work of Japanese-American sculptor/designer/landscape architect Isamu Noguchi. Walking through those galleries and the sculpture garden for the first time sparked a real appreciation for abstract sculpture I never had before, and he instantly became my favourite artist of the 20th century.

Q: Did you bring into Mondo Museum some of your personal experience or preferences?

A: Choosing which collections to include at launch was definitely driven by my personal preferences. When I was a kid I wanted to be an Egyptologist and archaeologist, so including an Ancient Egypt collection was an obvious choice. Many of the things that invoke a sense of wonder in kids but are often lost as we become older are represented, such as dinosaurs, space exploration, and the geology of the Earth.

Q: Have you or anyone in the team worked in a museum before?

A: C.J. Kershner is writing the exhibit item descriptions and the few characters who are directors/curators of other museums, and has many years of experience volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History as an info desk attendant (so obviously had to know a lot about the workings of the museum from the visitor’s perspective), and as an explainer for a live exhibits team.

Q: So, let’s turn to the game now. What is the players’ goal in Mondo Museum? Are there different scenarios and objectives to be met?

A: There’s a sandbox mode where the end goal, or how to achieve the highest prestige ranking, is mostly up to the player to define. There is a task/objective system that provides short-to-medium term goals, such as unlocking new items or receiving more funding.

As for scenarios, the current plan is to have those, though what exactly they will look like is still undecided. A campaign where you move between different museums with unique challenges and constraints is the goal, but will likely only come in an Early Access update.

Q: From what we’ve seen, the game includes all types of museums: natural history, technology, archaeology, anthropology, art, etc. How did you manage to gather all these different areas of study and interest into a single package?

A: As I mentioned above in what my favourite types of museums to visit are, it’s not uncommon for real museums to display a wide variety of collections under one roof. But we go one step further, and let players mix and match items from any collection. The challenge was in selecting items that complement one another and allow players to discover these relationships between items. One example is how in the Ancient Egypt collection there’s an astronomical chart, and tools for observing the stars, that can be combined with items from the Space Exploration collection to create a kind of “Astronomy through the Ages” combo. Right now I’m explicitly defining these combos, but might try out a more free-form tagging system, where for example any item tagged “Tool” could be placed in an exhibit hall with others that share that tag.

Q: And now perhaps the most important question of all: does Mondo Museum include exhibits of the giant squid (Architeuthis dux) or the colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni)?

A: “The Ocean” is on a shortlist for collections to include in a future content update, but if you’re really desperate to see some horrors of the deep, mod support means if a player can make a 3D model of one then it will be very easy to put in the game.

Q: Did you bring in any museum staff as consultants while making the game?

A: No real consultants other than C.J., but if anyone is brought in will likely be to review specific collections for cultural sensitivity issues we might have been oblivious to. For example, someone recently brought up the debates museums have around the subject of human remains when making exhibits about ancient burial practices and so on, which I hadn’t considered before. That kind of insight is really helpful (in our case, this helped me decide to only have mummified animals because a) they’re actually pretty cute while human mummies are pretty gross and b) a human mummy is kind of unnecessary since the real interesting artefact/art is the coffin and sarcophagus).

Q: There is a lot of discussion today around ownership and repatriation of artefacts, especially in archaeology and anthropology[2]. It is a tough subject, but does Mondo Museum tackle it in some sense?

A: Absolutely, and it’s core to the politics of the game. I didn’t want to recreate the systems of colonialism and looting that resulted in many museums in the West originally acquiring their collections. Mondo Museum takes place in a more just and utopian world, where all items have been repatriated (or never left in the first place). The way you unlock new exhibit items is by satisfying the conditions of visiting directors/curators from these museums around the world, who will then effectively give you permission to display parts of their collections.

Q: The game focuses on the exhibitions, which are the public face of museums. Will there be any mention to the vast collections of objects and specimens museums have and of all the research (scientific and otherwise) that is done based on these collections?

A: The research and archive aspect of the game is still a work in progress (there are researcher staff you hire who can improve the quality of your items/the understanding visitors get from it in a sort of abstract way), but I like the idea of the item we have created that is on display representing a lot of associated items that don’t have 3D models but you need to manage to some extent. I’m trying to keep the scope achievable for the moment, but big updates are planned throughout Early Access.

Q: Do you hope the players will learn something with Mondo Museum or maybe spark their interest to visit a museum?

A: I really do hope it encourages players to go to museums if they haven’t been in a while, or maybe since a school field trip. Hopefully the game will give everyone a deeper appreciation of the work behind creating an exhibit that makes sense to the public, or consider what curation decisions they might have done differently to tell a different story.

Q: Do you hope museums worldwide might learn something from Mondo Museum?

A: The people running modern museums are generally doing a really good job in engaging visitors these days, so I’m not expecting to reveal anything they don’t already know. Maybe there could be more museum activities for adults, and not just kids or currently enrolled students. I’m targeting an audience of all ages, and there’s been a lot of interest from adults intrigued by the game. Curator talks, seminars, group tours, opening parties, etc., are fairly common, but I’d love to see more creative activities and workshops designed with adults in mind, since there’s clearly an adult audience for “playing” with museums.


ABOUT THE TEAM

Michel McBride-Charpentier is Mondo Museum’s designer and programmer; the other team members are Genevieve Bachand (artist), Farah Khalaf (producer), C.J. Kershner (writer), and Rhys Becker (artist). Viewport Games is a small studio based on Montréal, Canada. Kitfox Games, also from Montréal, is an independent games studio focused on creating intriguing worlds to explore.


[1] Be sure to visit their website [https://mondomuseum.com/].

[2] See, for instance: Woldeyes, Y.G. 2019. Repatriation: why Western museums should return African artefacts. The Conversation, 15/May/2019. Available from: https://theconversation.com/repatriation-why-western-museums-should-return-african-artefacts-117061


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Perceiving the emotions of Pokémon

Ben J. Jennings1

1 Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, Brunel University London, London, U.K. E-mail: ben.jennings (at) brunel.ac (dot) uk

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The ability to reliably perceive the emotions of other people is vital for normal social functioning, and the human face is perhaps the strongest non-verbal cue that can be utilized when judging the emotional state of others (Ekman, 1965). The advantages of possessing this ability to recognise emotions, i.e., having emotional intelligence, include being able to respond to other people in an informed and appropriate manor, assisting in the accurate prediction of another individual’s future actions and additionally to facilitate efficient interpersonal behavior (Ekman, 1982; Izard, 1972; McArthur & Baron, 1983). In the current experiment the consistency with which emotions display by a human female face and a Pokémon character are investigated.

General Methods

The current study employed 30 hand drawings of Pikachu, a first generation electric-type Pokémon character, depicting a range of emotions (images used with permission from the illustrator,  bluekomadori [https://www.deviantart.com/bluekomadori]; based on the video game characters belonging to The Pokémon Company); see Fig. 1a for examples. Also, 30 photo-quality stimuli displaying a range of emotions, expressed by the same female model, were taken from the McGill Face Database (Schmidtmann et al., 2016); see Fig. 1b for examples. Ratings of arousal (i.e., the excitement level, ranging from high to low) and valence (i.e., pleasantness or unpleasantness) were obtained for each image using a similar method to Jennings et al. (2017).  This method involved the participants viewing each image in turn in a random order (60 in total: 30 Pikachu and 30 of the human female from the McGill database). After each image was viewed (presentation time 500 ms) the participants’ task was to classify the emotion being displayed (i.e., not their internal emotional response elicited by the stimuli, but the emotion they perceived the figure to be displaying).

The classification was achieved via “pointing-and-clicking” the corresponding location, with a computer mouse, within the subsequently displayed 2-dimensional Arousal-Valence emotion space (Russell, 1980). The emotion space is depicted in Fig. 1c; note that the red words are for illustration only and were not visible during testing, they are supplied here for the reader to obtain the gist of the types of emotion different areas of the space represent. Data for 20 observers (14 females) was collected, aged 23±5 years (Mean±SD), using a MacBook Pro (Apple Inc.). The stimuli presentation and participant responses were obtained via the use of the PsychToolbox software (Brainard, 1997).

Figure 1.  Panels (a) and (b) illustrate 3 exemplars of the Pokémon and human stimuli, respectively. Panel (b) shows the response grid displayed on each trial for classifications to be made within (note: the red wording was not visible during testing). Panels (d) and (e) show locations of perceived emotion in the human and Pokémon stimuli, respectively. Error bars present one standard error.

Results

The calculated standard errors (SEs) serve as a measure of the classification agreement between observers for a given stimuli and were determined in both the arousal (vertical) and valence (horizontal) directions for both the Pokémon and human stimuli. These are presented as the error bars in Fig. 1d and 1e. The SEs were compared between the two stimulus types using independent t-tests for both the arousal and valence directions; no significant differences were revealed (Arousal: t(58)=-0.97, p=.34; and Valence: t(58)= 1.46, p=.15).

Effect sizes, i.e., Cohen’s d, were also determined; Arousal: d=0.06, and Valence: d=0.32, i.e., effect sizes were within the very small to small, and small to medium ranges, respectively (Cohen, 1988; Sawilowsky, 2009), again indicating a high degree of similarity in precision between the two stimuli classes. It is important to note that the analysis relied on comparing the variation (SEs) for each classified image (reflecting the agreement between participants) and not the absolute (x, y) coordinates within the space.

Discussion

What could observers be utilizing in the images that produce such a high degree of agreement on each emotion expressed by each stimulus class? Is all the emotional information contained within the eyes? Levy et al. (2012) demonstrated that when observers make an eye movement to either a human with eyes located, as expected, within the face or non-human (i.e., a ‘monster’) that has eyes located somewhere other than the face (for example, the mythical Japanese Tenome that has its eyes located on the palms of his hands; Sekien, 1776) the observers’ eye movements are nevertheless made in both cases towards the eyes, i.e., there is something special about the eyes that capture attention wherever they are positioned. Schmidtmann et al. (2016) additionally showed that accuracy for identifying an emotion was equal when either an entire face or a restricted stimulus showing just the eyes was employed. The eyes of the Pikachu stimuli are simply black circles with a white “pupil”, however they can convey emotional information, for example, based on the positions of the pupil, the orientation of the eye lid, and by how much the eye is closed. It is hence plausible that arousal-valence ratings are made on the information extracted from only the eyes.

However, for the Pokémon stimuli Pikachu’s entire body is displayed on each trail, and it has been previous shown when emotional information from the face and body are simultaneously available, they can interact. This has the result of intensifying the emotion expressed by the face (de Gelder et al., 2015), as perceived facial emotions are biased towards the emotion expressed by the body (Meeren et al., 2005). It is therefore likely that holistic processing of the facial expression coupled with signals from Pikachu’s body language, i.e., posture, provide an additional input into the observers’ final arousal-valence rating.

Conclusion    

Whatever the internal processes responsible for perceiving emotional content, the data points to a mechanism that allows the emotional states of human faces to be classified with a high precision across observers, consistent with previous emotion classification studies (e.g., Jennings et al., 2017). The data also reveals the possibility of a mechanism present in normal observers that can extract emotional information from the faces and/or bodies depicted in simple sketches, containing minimal fine detail, shading and colour variation, and use this information to facilitate the consistent classification of the emotional states expressed by characters from fantasy universes.

 

References

Brainard, D.H. (1997) The psychophysics toolbox. Spatial Vision 10: 433–436.

de Gelder, B.; de Borst, A.W.; Watson, R. (2015) The perception of emotion in body expressions. WIREs Cognitive Science 6: 149–158.

Ekman, P. (1965) Communication through nonverbal behavior: a source of information about an interpersonal relationship. In: Tomkins, S.S. & Izard, C.E. (Eds.) Affect, Cognition and Personality: Empirical Studies. Spinger, Oxford. Pp. 390–442.

Ekman, P. (1982) Emotion in the Human Face. Second Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Izard, C.E. (1972) Patterns of Emotion: a new analysis of anxiety and depression. Academic Press, New York.

Jennings, B.J.; Yu, Y.; Kingdom, F.A.A. (2017) The role of spatial frequency in emotional face classification. Attention, Perception & Psychophysics 79(6): 1573–1577.

Levy, J.; Foulsham, T.; Kingstone, A. (2013) Monsters are people too. Biology Letters 9(1): 20120850.

McArthur, L.Z. & Baron, R.M. (1983) Toward an ecological theory of social perception. Psychological Review 90(3): 215–238.

Meeren, H.K.; van Heijnsbergen, C.C.; de Gelder, B. (2005) Rapid perceptual integration of facial expression and emotional body language. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102: 16518–16523.

Russel, J.A. (1980) A circumplex model of affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39(6): 1161–1178.

Schmidtmann, G.; Sleiman, D.; Pollack, J.; Gold, I. (2016) Reading the mind in the blink of an eye – a novel database for facial expressions. Perception 45: 238–239.

Sekien, T. (1776) 画図百鬼夜行 [Gazu Hyakki yagyō; The Illustrated Night Parade of a Hundred Demons]. Maekawa Yahei, Japan.


About the Author

Dr. Ben Jennings is a vision scientist. His research psychophysically and electrophysiologically investigates colour and spatial vision, object recognition, emotions, and brain injury. His favourite Pokémon is Beldum.


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Cosplay at Armageddon Expo*

Paul Mountfort1, Anne Peirson-Smith2 & Adam Geczy3

1 Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Email: paul.mountfort (at) aut.ac (dot) nz

2 City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon, Hong Kong. Email: enanneps (at) cityu.edu (dot) hk

3 University of Sidney, Sidney, Australia. Email: adam.geczy (at) sydney.edu (dot) au

* This is an extract from Chapter 3 of Planet Cosplay: Costume Play, Identity and Global Fandom, by Paul Mountfort, Anne Peirson-Smith and Adam Geczy (Bristol, UK: Intellect Books; Chicago, US: University of Chicago Press, 2018). Reprinted with permission by Intellect Books. Note that this version may display minor editorial differences to the final published version.

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Cosplay is a performance medium in which embodied textual citation and photographic practices come together and sometimes collide. Moreover, photography both documents and preconditions elements of the cosplay performance, via visual genres typically spanning those of the fashion runway, studio and ‘hallway’ shoots. This chapter brings these textual and visual analyses together to present a situated photo-essay shot in the candid style. It documents five years of an Australasian-based fan convention that celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2015, the Auckland Armageddon Expo. In doing so it offers a snapshot, as it were, of a half decade of ‘glocalized’ cosplay practice. The term ‘glocalization’ refers to twin processes at work in late capital. Firstly, capital and regulatory frameworks elide from the national upwards to the global scale and reciprocally downwards to the scale of the local. Secondly, economic activities and networks between business entities become simultaneously more localized, regionalized and transnational.[i] This model has been widely applied to the sphere of cultural capital and is of particular relevance to cosplay, which tends to grow by osmosis out of local conditions but owes its provenance to wider networks of cultural production and associated fandoms.

Armageddon is an instance of the organic way in which glocalized conventions develop and proliferate. It began as a comics and trading card event in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1995 with follow-ups in 1997, and within a few short years had spread to the capital city, Wellington (1998), and on to Melbourne, Australia (1999).[ii] Starting off in small community venues, progressing to more major urban events centres, and on to large-scale convention spaces, the Expo has evolved into a major regional sci-fi, comics and gaming convention with over 80 events to date, some 70,000 annual visitors in its home city and 130,000 across its Australasian diaspora. In aggregate, it is, therefore, close in scale to San Diego’s annual Comic-Con and exhibits a similar mix of cultural and industry practices. While the Auckland Expo has some factors that are specific to its geographic location, genealogy as a gaming and fan con, specifics of the main site and its mix of events, the photos in this chapter could have been taken at almost any con in the western world, both in terms of the diversity of participants and the franchises, storyworlds and other source media texts represented in the costumes on display. The first part of the commentary, which follows, discusses the range of sources being cited—the individual trees amid the forest of citations—along with some identifiable trends in the 50 photographs that comprise this selection.

Figure 1. Q from [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility Control (2011), contest event, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2012. © Paul Mountfort.
Figure 2. ‘Heath Ledger’s’ Joker from The Dark Knight (2008), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2012. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 3. Applying prosthetics, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2012. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 4. Scene outside the convention space, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 5. Bane from The Dark Knight Rises (2012) and Harley Quinn from DC universe, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 6. Display mannequin, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

 

Figure 7. Thorin Oakenshield (left) from The Hobbit (2012–2014) and steampunk cosplayer (right), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

 

Figure 8. Namine and Roxas (left and centre) from Kingdom Hearts (2002–), with Korra (right, background) from Legend of Korra (2012–14), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

 

A cosphoto-essay

With the identity of the cosplayers included in this chapter being anonymous, the focus of discussion here is on the characters and source texts identifiable in the sample of photos on display, and the popular cultural milieu out of which they have arisen. Many of the sources being mined here are comparatively ‘timeless,’ harking back decades to milestones in their respective media, such as the 2014 San cosplay and crossplay (Figures 23 and 40) inspired by Studio Ghibli’s Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime) (1997).[iii] Half a decade is long enough, however, for micro-historical forces to operate in fan cultures, wherein recent movies, games and media elements enjoy rapid waves of meme-like popularity. Of course, even the most up-to-the-minute sources being cosplayed may spring from long-lived media franchises. For instance, Marvel or DC’s blockbuster transmedia storyworlds have comic book precursors going back to the 1930s and 1940s. However, particular movie or game adaptions are often very specific: for example, a 2012 costume of The Joker (Figure 2) is not any old joker but identifiably Heath Ledger’s Joker from Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008). Similarly, the 2016 release of the movie Suicide Squad, set in the DC Comics universe, indelibly marked the portrayal of Harley Quinn in that year.[iv] Nor do new waves of influence always overwhelm old favourites: stormtroopers and even sets from the original Star Wars (1977–83) trilogy jostle alongside Sith and other characters from the more recent prequels and sequels (Figures 25, 35 and 36).[v]

Identifying the ‘trees’ in the forest of citations that comprise even a medium-size convention would prove a challenging, if not impossible, task for even the most pop culturally literate geek or otaku. This is because, as we have seen, cosplay draws on multiple media sources: comics, movies, manga, anime, games, pop idols and other media identities, as well as online memes. Most, though not all, of the costumes in this essay proved readily identifiable.[vi] However, others were more elusive, with some cosplay, being, in any case, modelled after what Matthew Hales terms a generic (as opposed to discrete) character type[vii] or fashion style rather than a titular protagonist—though these two dimensions (character type and style) often go hand in hand. Common western character types include vampires, zombies and other genera of the undead, who shuffle convention spaces alongside Japanese-inspired samurai, ninjas, shōnen (boys) and shōjo (girls), including sub-types such as bishōnen (beautiful boys) and mahō shōjo (magical girls). Among the most important generic styles—which may comprise not just fashion but lifestyles—are Lolita and steampunk. As previously discussed, these styles have often infected source media, such as anime and manga. Furthermore, crossovers and mash-ups abound, especially at larger cons with more established player communities who have the confidence to push cosplaying boundaries. This said, superhero action franchises, sci-fi and fantasy television shows, multi-season anime series and protagonists from popular gameworlds tend to be the dominant fauna at most cosplay cons.

Figure 9. Menma from Anohana (2011), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

 

Figure 10. Naruto from Naruto Shippuden (2007–7), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 11. Vendor with mood-reading nekomimi (cat ears), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 12. Onision ‘I’m a banana’ meme cosplay, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 13. Samurai cosplay, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 14. Zipper face nurse meme cosplay, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2013. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 15. Colossal Titan (centre, foreground) from Attack on Titan (2009–), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 16. Armoured anime cosplay, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

 

There are identifiable cultural fashions within cosplay, and one of the affordances of an extended photographic study is that we are able to see how the portrayal of certain characters, or iterations of certain characters, spike in relation to recent film, game and other media releases. Photos from Armageddon taken between 2012 and 2016 document a number of character iterations from Marvel and DC. Both are deep-rooted comics franchises from the early twentieth century that have had many iterations, adaptations and spin-offs over the decades, and which are now the subject of multiple big movie and television series versions. Marvel exerts a particularly powerful gravitational pull on western cosplay today, with Avenger’s franchise characters such as Captain America (Figure 32) much in evidence in the wake of the Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), The Winter Soldier (2014) and Civil War (2016) instalments.[viii] The interconnected nature of the Marvel universe, where the storylines of characters from discrete shows intersect at various junctures, rewarding fans focused on the detailed timelines and backstories, provides the perfect template for the kind of vast inter-referential networks that operate within the cosphere.

In recent years DC has made serious moves to mimic Marvel’s integrated storyworlds in an attempt to establish its own universe, though with mixed success. As mentioned, ‘Heath Ledger’s’ Joker (Figure 2) was cited at Armageddon in 2012, four years after the release of DC’s The Dark Knight (2008). Ledger’s Joker attained iconic status not just through his riveting performance and the relative critical acclaim of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy[ix] but also due to the actor’s tragic death in the same year as the movie’s release, which cemented his cult following in popular culture and ensured both actor and character iteration a viral afterlife. Nolan’s trilogy restored a cachet to the Batman storyworld notably lacking for DC in the pantheon of contemporary popular culture, including cosplay circles. Hence characters such as the Scarecrow (Figure 25),[x] who was the only villain of genuine vintage to star in the entire rebooted Batman trilogy (2005–12), Bane and Harley Quinn (Figure 5) showing up in cosplaying circles following the 2012 release of The Dark Knight Rises, even though Quinn does not appear in this particular trilogy. She has had many iterations and her popularity spiked in 2016’s Armageddon in response to Suicide Squad’s (2016) fishnet stockings and baseball bat toting version (Figure 39, 50), even though the movie itself was ambivalently received. Superman and Wonder Woman undergo periodic revivals, with 2016’s Armageddon showcasing both female and crossplaying versions (Figure 48) in anticipation of the Wonder Woman’s 2017 Warner Brothers’ reboot directed by Patty Jenkins, while the Green Arrow (Figure 44) from DC’s The Arrow (2012–) television series reboot also put in a guest appearance.[xi]

Figure 17. Horse mask meme cosplay, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 18. Madame Vastra from Doctor Who Series 6 (2011), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

 

Figure 19. Cosplayer with police jacket, Cloud from Final Fantasy (1988) left shoulder plate, and convention merchandise, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 20. Quidditch player from Harry Potter (2001–11) franchise, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 21. Ring Wraith from The Lord of the Rings (2001–03) movie trilogy, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 22. Titular lead character from DC Comics’ Scarecrow (1941–), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 23. San from Mononoke Hime (1997) Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 24. Titular lead character from Sculduggery Pleasant (2007–), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 25. Stormtroopers with fan-constructed backdrop from Star Wars IV: A New Hope (1977), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

 

While some character iterations clearly follow more or less ephemerally on the heels of a movie or other media release, others enjoy relative longevity. For example, at Armageddon 2014 stormtroopers from the first Star Wars (1977) movie (Figure 25), a Ringwraith (Figure 21) and Quidditch player (Figure 20) were in evidence despite the original Star Wars trilogy dating back to 1977–83, Lord of the Rings from 2001–13 and Harry Potter from 2001–11.[xii] Of course, like the DC and Marvel storyworlds, these cinematic works have deep and massive roots in popular culture, functioning practically as cultural mythologies in the west, and continue to have currency courtesy of the follow up Star Wars prequels, sequels and spinoffs (1999–), The Hobbit movie adaptation (2013–14) and Potter prequel (2016).[xiii] The troupe of stormtroopers who posed in 2014 against a lovingly re-created backdrop from the original Death Star returned in 2015 to find themselves joined by a red guard (Figure 35) from Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones 2002 and a scruffy ‘sandtrooper’ from the extended Star Wars universe (Figure 36). Characters from the wider Star Wars universe may also make cameos, such as the Twi’lek woman from Armageddon 2014 (Figure 27). Although not an identifiable character from the canon, such as Aayla Secura, she is clearly a member of the alien species that figure in the television series Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008–15). Creative adaptations from the storyworld are fairly common in cosplay, and could be described as fan-driven spinoffs, akin to fanfiction’s world building.

Legacy movies that are not part of a larger franchise or storyworld can also provide cosplayers with material, especially where the imagery is iconic or has proved to ‘have legs’ in popular culture. Examples include the ubiquitous V For Vendetta (2006) masks that reference not only the film, but the Occupy movement, the cyber-insurgent group Anonymous and, more recently, NBC-Universal hacktivist drama Mr. Robot (2015–), in a feedback loop of popular cultural inter-referentiality (Figure 29).[xiv] Of course, anonymous masks may also be a cheap and easy way to simulate cosplay while retaining an aura of subcultural capital that other mass-produced masks do not convey. A movie’s cult status may ensure the relative immortality of its characters in the cosphere, such as the appearance of the eponymous heroine (Figure 37) from Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005) coming back to life in 2015.[xv] Long running movie series spread out over years mean that the distinction between legacy and current characters is often fluid. Pirates of the Caribbean’s (2003–)[xvi] Jack Sparrow is the source of numerous memes and has been widely cosplayed, there even being a professional cosplayer in Italy who has based his career on cosplaying Sparrow. ‘Jack’s’ appearance at Armageddon in 2016 could be a back reference to instalments 1–4 of the seemingly endless Pirates movie franchise mill, or may have anticipated 2017’s much dreaded Dead Men Tell No Tales.

Figure 26. An Ood from Doctor Who Series 4 (2006), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

 

Figure 27. Twi’lek woman from the Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008–15), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 28. Fantasy figure, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 29. V for Vendetta (2006) mask, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 30. Yami from Yu–Gi–Oh franchise (1998–), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 31. Zombie nurses cosplay meme, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2014. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 32. Captain America (2011–), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2015. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 33. Yukata and kimono cosplaying pair, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2015. © Paul Mountfort.

 

There are character iterations, and then there are regenerations (when dealing with a certain 2822-year-old Timelord). Among the many television shows that jostle for attention with characters from live action movies, the long-running British sci-fi series Doctor Who (1963–) is a particularly popular media source. Contemporary characters (e.g. Madame Vastra, Figure 18) rub shoulders with both ‘classic’ and more recent iterations of the Doctor, as do daleks and newer menaces such as Weeping Angels, the Master in ‘his’ gender bending guise of Missy and The Ood (Figure 26). Along with sci-fi shows, quasi-historical series such as Spartacus (2010–13), represented by a slave gang (Figure 38) and, particularly, fantasy TV shows have massive constituencies, with Game of Thrones (2011–) being a major source of cosplay performance.[xvii]Occasionally, characters from popular novels that are not transmediated, such as the titular hero (Figure 24) from Skulduggery Pleasant (2007–), are cosplayed, ostensibly based on book cover and fan art.[xviii]

Western animation is sometimes adapted for cosplay, notable examples being Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–8) and The Legend of Korra (2012–14) (Figure 7).[xix] However, Japanese visual media comprise the twin lodestar, along with western live action films and television, around which contemporary cosplay gravitates globally. This is doubtless due to the sheer profusion of visual riches and the subcultural cachet afforded by Japanese manga, anime and gaming. As with live action, characters from classic anime staples continue to appear, such as the face-painted, dagger-wielding San (Figures 23 and 40) from Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime) (1997), along with many other Studio Ghibli characters and those from other anime studios, such as Toei Animation, Sunrise, Production I.G., Madhouse, Manglobe, Studio Pierrot, PA Works, Kyoto Animation and Bones. Characters from anime TV series spotted at Armageddon include Menma (Figure 9) from A-1 Picture’s Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai) (2011), Q (Figure 1) from [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility Control (2011), Mami Tomo (Figure 42) from Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika) (2011), along with abundant fauna from big ticket franchises such as One Piece (Wan Pīsu) (1997–), Bleach (Burīchi) (2001–) and Naruto (1999–) (Figure 10).[xx]

Figure 34. Sakura kimono cosplay, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2015. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 35. Red Guard from Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones (2002), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2015. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 36. Sandtrooper from Star Wars universe (2015), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2015. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 37. Titular character from Corpse Bride (2005), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2015. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 38. Slave gang cosplay from Spartacus (2010–13), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2015. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 39. Harley Quinn, Suicide Squad (2016) iteration, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 40. San crossplay from Princess Mononoke (1997), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 41. Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider (1997–) franchise, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

 

Figure 42. Mami Tomo from Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Game characters are a widely represented—and perhaps the fastest growing—fictional demographic at cosplay cons, doubtless due to the massively increased penetration of gaming platforms into people’s homes in the early twenty-first century. Among the many examples of stand-alone game series characters in 2016, for example, was Shay Patrick Cormack (Figure 49) from Assassin’s Creed (2007–).[xxi] However, games are widely transmediated and evince complex relations with other media. There are, of course, the manga/anime/trading game tie-ins, resulting in cons being stacked with endless Pokémon (1995–)[xxii] characters along with identities from other systems such as Yami (Figure 30) from Yu–Gi–Oh! (Yū Gi–Ōh!) (1996–).[xxiii] These franchises are truly gargantuan, with Pokémon alone having grossed close to US $50 billion prior to the release in 2015 of the short-lived augmented reality (AR) craze for Pokémon GO.[xxiv] Their reach and formative influence on Millennials and Generation Z make it unsurprising that they constitute a major source for cosplay performance. Many characters and storyworlds migrate from manga to anime and onto gaming platforms, such as Naruto and One Piece. Indeed, the anime/games crossover is a huge subject that could easily comprise a book in itself.

Quite apart from trading games, there is a broad distinction between games that have evolved out of manga/anime source-texts and those that were games first but have subsequently been made into movies or television series. Thus, for example, the Colossal Titan (Figure 15) from Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) (2009–) references an acclaimed series that has also spawned official and unofficial games, while Namine and Roxas (Figure 8) are avatars from Kingdom Hearts (Kingudamu Hātsu) (2002–), a role-playing action game in the crossover genre—in this case Japanese studio Square Enix’s characters occupying a setting from the Disney universe.[xxv] Final Fantasy (Fainaru Fantajī) (1987–) is a long-running gaming franchise that was transmediated from the original games into films, while Tomb Raider (1996–) started as a game and was adapted to comics and into movies.[xxvi] Lara Crofts of various iterations remain a convention favourite throughout the west (Figure 41), though she is not unknown in Asia. Some game characters riff off anime genres, such as the magical girl anime style of Monimi Usami (Figure 45) from Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Sūpā Danganronpa Tsū: Sayonara Zetsubō Gakuen) (2012),[xxvii] despite, or perhaps because of, the game itself being shōnon (young male). Indeed, the abstracted look of many avatars and certain generic conventions in the depiction of costuming and weapons both here and in some anime can make identification of such cosplay sources difficult. For example, some Samurai cosplay (Figure 13) and fantasy figures (Figure 28) can be hard to distinguish from the general type. Similarly, it can be difficult without asking to tell at first glance if a particular player is Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow or The Hobbit’s (2012–14) Thor Okenshield (Figure 7). There are whole books devoted to making Japanese Kimono-inspired costumes, ‘because doing so requires specialized dressmaking skills that are different from western dress-making techniques’[xxviii] and the resulting kimono and yakata cosplay (Figures 33 and 34) can be hard to distinguish as genera or specific character references.

Figure 43. Hatsune Miku, digital character from Hatsune Miku V4X Bundle (2007) synthesizer application, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 44. The Green Arrow from DC’s The Arrow (2012–) television series reboot, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 45. Monimi Usami from Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (2012), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 46. Unidentified cosplay, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 47. Captain Jack Sparrow from The Pirates of the Caribbean (2003–) movie franchise, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 48. Eponymous heroes from the long-running Superman (1938–) franchise and Wonder Woman (2017) reboot (left and right), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 49. Shay Patrick from Assassin’s Creed (2007–) video game series, Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

Figure 50. Another Harley Quinn from Suicide Squad (2016), Auckland Armageddon Expo 2016. © Paul Mountfort.

 

In Japan, characters from transmedia storytelling franchises are sometimes also pop cultural idol (aidoru) figures who may embody, or are embodied by, real-life avatars, from media celebrities to café ‘maids’ and ‘butlers.’ Some also may be stand-alone complexes, so to speak. The Hatsune Miku cosplay (Figure 43) at Armageddon 2016 comes from a digital avatar used in a synthesizer application Hatsune Miku (2007–) by Crypton Future Media.[xxix] As a further complication, there are the previously mentioned generic character types such as zombies (Figure 31) and fashion subcultures, such as Lolita and steampunk (Figure 7) that may or may not allude to films and games in which specific Lolis and steampunk characters figure. In some cases one might initially mistake the sackcloth and noose tooting costume from 2014 that was DC’s Scarecrow (Figure 22) as a repurposed Halloween mask. Increasingly prevalent is meme cosplay, which is hard to identify for those not in on the joke, and which tends to have a fairly rapid turnover, though less so perhaps in coser circles than online. Examples of this include the Onision ‘I’m a Banana’ (Figure 12) meme from 2009 and zipper-face (Figure 14) and zombie nurse (Figure 31) memes observed at Armageddon 2013 and 2014, respectively (the former meme dates back to at least 2011). More generic garb, such as the not-uncommon ‘horse head’ masks (Figure 17), may be adopted as an easy way to come costumed to a convention and to create dramatic effect on the cheap. Finally, where the current gallery of photographs is concerned, there are shots that document typical kinds of convention activity from milling around outside the convention (Figure 4) to common commercial features of the covered exhibition halls. These include the promotional application of prosthetics (Figure 3), themed mannequins (Figure 6) and sale of merchandise, such as mood-reflecting nekomimi (cat ears) sold at booths on the convention floor (Figure 11). These ‘costplay’ zones await further documentation within the archives of cosphotography, as do many other domains, both physical and virtual, of the ever-expanding cosphere.


Endnotes

Note: Many comic, film, television and game series have multiple directors and are the result of collaboration between several studios, production houses and distributors. For the sake of brevity, the following references limit credit to the main one or two directors, with additional directors noted by et al. Author’s names appearing before titles refer to comics or literary works. Production credit is generally given to the distributor, often a dominant partner in the production, due to many works being the result of collaborations with multiple studios. Readers who wish to know more about the specific commercial and artistic collaborations that give rise to specific productions can find detailed info

[i] See Erik Swyngedouw, ‘Globalisation or “Glocalisation”? Networks, Territories and Rescaling,’ Cambridge Review of International Affairs 17, no. 1 (April 2004).

[ii]See Anon., ‘General-Info/History,’ accessed 1 January 2018, https://www.armageddonexpo.com/General-Info/History/

[iii] Princess Mononoke (Mononoke Hime), directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Tokyo: Studio Ghibli, 1997), Anime film.

[iv] Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer (New York: Warner Brothers, 2016), Film.

[v] Star Wars I: The Phantom Menace, directed by George Lucas (Century City: 20th Century Fox, 1999), Film; Star Wars II: Attack of the Clones, directed by George Lucas (Century City: 20th Century Fox, 2002), Film; Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith, directed by George Lucas (Century City: 20th Century Fox, 2005), Film; Star Wars IV: A New Hope, directed by George Lucas (Century City: 20th Century Fox, 1977), Film; Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, directed by Irvin Kershner (Century City: 20th Century Fox, 1980), Film; Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi, directed by Richard Marquand (Century City: 20th Century Fox, 1983), Film; Star Wars: The Clone Wars, produced by Dave Filoni (US: Disney/ABC, 2015), Film; Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens, directed by J. J. Abrams (Century City: 20th Century Fox, 2015), Film.

[vi] Grateful thanks to Jasmin Darnell, Fin Mountfort, Felix Mountfort and to Sye Johnson and his cosplaying circle, for assistance provided to the authors in the identification of cosplay characters and other storyworld, gameworld and media content for this chapter.

[vii] Matthew Hale, ‘Cosplay: Intertextuality, Public Texts, and the Body Fantastic,’ Western Folklore 73, no. 1 (2014): 10–14.

[viii] Captain America: The First Avenger, directed by Joe Johnston (Hollywood: Paramount Pictures, 2011), Film; Captain America: The Winter Soldier, directed by Antonio Russo and Joe Russo (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 2014), Film; The Avengers, directed by Antonio Russo and Joe Russo (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 2014), Film; Captain America: Civil War, directed by Antonio Russo and Joe Russo (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 2016), Film.

[ix] Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan (New York: Warner Brothers, 2005), Film; The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan (New York: Warner Brothers, 2008), Film; The Dark Knight Rises, directed by Christopher Nolan (New York: Warner Brothers, 2012), Film.

[x] Scarecrow, Bob Kane and Bill Finger, et al. (Burbank: DC Comics, 1941), Comic book.

[xi] Superman, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shudter, et al. (Burbank: DC Comics, 1938–), Film; Wonder Woman, directed by Patty Jenkins (New York: Warner Brothers, 2017), Film; The Arrow, Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg (New York: Warner Brothers, 2012), Film.

[xii] The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, directed by Peter Jackson (Wellington, New Zealand: Wingnut Films, 2001), Film; The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, directed by Peter Jackson (Wellington, New Zealand: Wingnut Films, 2003), Film; The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, directed by Peter Jackson (Wellington, New Zealand: Wingnut Films, 2002), Film; Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, directed by Chris Columbus (New York: Warner Brothers, 2001), Film; Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, directed by Chris Columbus (New York: Warner Brothers, 2002), Film; Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, directed by Alfonso Cuarón (New York: Warner Brothers, 2004), Film; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, directed by Mike Newell (New York: Warner Brothers, 2005), Film; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, directed by David Yates (New York: Warner Brothers, 2007), Film; Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, directed by David Yates (New York: Warner Brothers, 2009), Film; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 1, directed by Mike Newell (New York: Warner Brothers, 2010), Film; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows—Part 2, directed by Mike Newell (New York: Warner Brothers, 2011), Film.

[xiii] The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, directed by Peter Jackson (New York: Warner Brothers, 2012), Film; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, directed by Peter Jackson (New York: Warner Brothers, 2013), Film; The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, directed by Peter Jackson (New York: Warner Brothers, 2014), Film.

[xiv] V For Vendetta, directed by James McTeigue (New York: Warner Brothers, 2006), Film; Mr. Robot, Sam Esmail (US: NBC/Universal Television, 2015), TV series.

[xv] Corpse Bride, directed by Tim Burton (New York: Warner Brothers, 2005), Film.

[xvi] Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, directed by Gore Verbinski (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 2003), Film; Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, directed by Gore Verbinski (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 2006), Film; Pirates of the Caribbean: At the World’s End, directed by Gore Verbinski (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 2007), Film; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, directed by Rob Marshall (Burbank: Walt Disney Studios, 2011), Film.

[xvii] Doctor Who, created by Sydney Newman, C. E. Webber and Donald Wilson (London: BBC, 1963–), TV series; Spartacus, Steven S. DeKnight (Meridian: Starz, 2010–13), TV series; Game of Thrones, directed by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss (New York: HBO, 2011–), TV series.

[xviii] Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant (London: Harper Collins, 2007).

[xix] Avatar: The Last Airbender, Micheal Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (US: Nickelodeon, 2005–8), Animated TV series; The Legend of Korra, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko (US: Nickelodeon, 2012–14), Animated TV series.

[xx] Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai), directed by Tatsuyuki Nagai (Tokyo: A1 Pictures, 2011), Anime film; [C] The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, directed by Kenji Nakamura (Tokyo: Fuji TV, 2011), Anime TV series; Puella Magi Madoka Magica (Mahō Shōjo Madoka Magika), directed by Akiyuki Shinbo (Tokyo: Shaft, 2011), Anime TV series; One Piece: Defeat Him! The Pirate Ganzack! (Wan Pīsu: Taose! Kaizoku Gyanzakku), directed by Gorō Taniguchi (Tokyo: Fuji TV, 1988), Anime TV film; Eiichiro Oda, One Piece (Wan Pīsu) (Tokyo: Jump Comics, 1997), Manga; One Piece (WanPīsu), directed by Konosuke Uda et al. (Tokyo: Jump Comics, 2003), Anime TV series; One Piece: Romance Drawn Story! (One Piece: Romansu Dōn Stori), directed by Katsumi Tokoro (Tokyo: Toei Animation, 2003), Anime film; Tite Kubo, Bleach (Burīchi) (Tokyo: Jump Comics, 2001), Manga; Bleach (Burīchi), directed by Noriyuki Abe (Tokyo: TV Tokyo, 2004–12), Anime TV series; Bleach Nintendo Home Console (Sega, 2005), Console game; Masashi Kishimoto, Naruto (Tokyo: Shōnen Jump, 1999–2014), Manga; Naruto, directed by Hayato Date (Tokyo: TV Tokyo, 2002–7), Anime TV series; Naruto Shippuden, directed by Hayato Date (Tokyo: TV Tokyo, 2007–), Anime TV series.

[xxi] Assassin’s Creed (Carentoir, France: Ubisoft Entertainment SA, 2007–), Computer game.

[xxii] Pokémon, directed by Kunihiko Yuama et al. (Tokyo: The Pokēmon Company International, 1997–), Anime TV series.

[xxiii] Kazuki Takahashi, Yu-Gi-Oh (Yū Gi-Ōh!) (Tokyo: Weekly Shōnen Jump, 1996–2004), Manga; Yu-Gi-Oh (Yū Gi-Ōh!), directed by Hiroyuki Kakudō (Tokyo: Toei Animation, 1998), Anime TV series; Yu-Gi-Oh (Yū Gi-Ōh!) Duel Monsters, directed by Kumihisa Sugishima (Tokyo: TV Tokyo, 2000–4), Anime TV series.

[xxiv] ‘Pokémon,’ accessed 1 January 2018, http://vgsales.wikia.com/wiki/Pok%C3%A9mon

[xxv] Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin), directed by Hajime Isayama (Tokyo: Bessatsu Shōnen Magazine, 2009), Anime TV series; Kingdom Hearts (Kingudamu Hātsu), Tetsuya Nomura and Shinji Hashimoto (Tokyo: Nintendo Entertainment System, 2002), Anime TV series.

[xxvi] Final Fantasy (Fainaru Fantajī), created by Hironobu Sakaguchi (Tokyo: Nintendo Entertainment System, 1987), Console game; Tomb Raider (London: Eidos Interactive, 2001–), Console game; Tomb Raider (Los Angeles: Top Crow, 1997); Tomb Raider, directed by Simon West (Hollywood: Paramount Pictures, 2001), Film.

[xxvii] Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Sūpā Danganronpa Tsū: Sayonara Zetsubō Gakuen) (Tokyo: Spike Chunsoft, 2012), Computer game.

[xxviii] Yuniya Kawamura, Fashioning Japanese Subcultures (London: Berg, 2012), 79.

[xxix] Hatsune Miku V4X Bundle (Chūõku, SPK, Japan: Crypton Future Media, 2007–), Computer game.


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Inspiration for the character design of Squids Odyssey

Audrey Leprince¹

¹The Game Bakers, Montpellier, France.

Email: audrey (at) thegamebakers (dot) com

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Squids Odyssey is a role-playing game by French studio The Game Bakers. It is the latest entry in the Squids franchise, released in 2014 for Nintendo 3DS and WiiU, and more recently, in 2018 for PC and Nintendo Switch.

The fun fact about our Squids games is that we were actually all fascinated by octopuses and cephalopods in general long before we created the game. We even almost named our game studio “Happy Squids”… It was when we were working on the game mechanics and looking for some characters that could be “stretchable” on an iPhone screen that we thought about “tentacles”[1]. Then we knew it was a perfect fit! We started designing our little heroes inspired by real octopuses, squids and other cephalopods.

We did a lot of research to get inspiration on shapes and colors, but of course there is also a lot of redesign in cartoon style so sometimes it might be hard to see the direct reference. But you can still recognize a few: for instance, Clint was inspired on the vampire squid. Baron, the bad guy in the story, is inspired by a more regular octopus.

Clint was inspired on the vampire squid (Vampyroteuthis infernalis), a very unique deep-sea species. Source: Wikimedia Commons (C. Chun, 1910: Die Cephalopoden, II. Teil).

 

Baron was inspired on a more classic octopus, such as the common octopus (Octopus vulgaris) – yes, the name says it all. Source: Wikimedia Commons (A. Salo, 2007).

We also looked at shrimps and crabs[2] for the enemies. The big boss of the first game is a coconut crab, while a basic enemy you meet in the game is a hermit crab. You can tell the influences directly from the designs.

Design variations on the crustacean enemies.

 

Coconut crabs (Birgus latro) live on coastal areas around the Indian and Pacific Oceans. They are the largest land-dwelling arthropods and may weigh up to 4 kg. Despite their name, coconuts are not a significant portion of their diet. Source: Wikimedia Commons (fearlessRich, 2006).
Hermit crabs belong to the family Paguroidea, which counts with over 1,000 species. They typically inhabit a snail shell, using it for protection. This one is called blueband hermit crab (Pagurus samuelis) and lives along the Pacific coast of North America. Source: Wikimedia Commons (Stemonitis, 2011).

We took inspiration from other real underwater fauna and flora for the environment design. Even their habitations or their helmets are inspired by things you can find on the bottom of the sea. And in the comic book, we extended the character design to fish; for instance, one of the characters was inspired on a swordfish. In our game, squids and turtles actually cooperate, even though this might not be the case in real life.

Cooperation (mutualism) between squids and turtle. Although uncommon, some sea turtles are known to eat squids!

For simplification, our little characters only have 4 arms. It’s funny that we’ve been told by some members of our Japanese audience – experts in octopuses and squids – that our little heroes did not look enough like these animals!


ABOUT THE TEAM

The Game Bakers are an indie game studio founded by Emeric Thoa and Audrey Leprince, and based in Montpellier, France. Besides the Squids franchise, they are also responsible for the acclaimed Furi and the upcoming Haven.


[1] Squids and cuttlefish have 8 arms and 2 tentacles. Octopuses have 8 arms and no tentacles.

[2] Shrimps, crabs and lobsters are crustaceans and belong to the Phylum Arthropoda, alongside insects and arachnids. They are not related to cephalopods, which belong in the Phylum Mollusca alongside snails and clams.


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Through the Darkest of Times: life as the resistance during the Third Reich

Interview with Jörg Friedrich

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Through the Darkest of Times is a historical strategy video game taking place in Berlin during the Third Reich, from Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 to Germany’s surrender in 1945. The player leads a civilian resistance group fighting off the new regime how they can. The resistance is made up of common people, from all walks of life, so it’s the leader’s job to win hearts and minds and hold the group together. The player will be responsible for planning the group’s activity and survive by avoiding the Gestapo. All of this while actual history unfolds outside: the game follows the actual historical time-line, which influence the player’s options. The game is under development by Berlin-based studio Paintbucket Games[1], made up by the duo Jörg Friedrich and Sebastian Schulz. It will be published by HandyGames in the near future and is already listed on Steam.

The Journal of Geek Studies interviewed Jörg Friedrich to understand how such a unique game like Through the Darkest of Times came to be. You can read the full interview below.

Q: On your website, you mention that a game focusing on the civil resistance during Third Reich Germany just had to be made. We agree, of course, but would you care to elaborate a little more on this?

A: The story of civilian resistance fighters in Germany is a story that people must learn about – these normal people with families, with normal jobs, saw what was going on the world and decided they had to do something against it. They went underground and risked their lives to stop an inhumane regime.

We think this is a story that must be told.

As political people, certain developments in the world, the fact that we see fascists rise again, here in Germany but also in many more countries in Europe and in the US, worries us a lot. In 2017 we wondered what we could do about this and the only thing we are good at is making games, so we thought “hey let’s make a game that takes an anti-fascist stance and maybe it will make the world a better place!”

As game developers and artists, we like to push the boundaries of the medium. Sebastian and I met when we were working for YAGER, where we made a game called Spec Ops: The Line – an AAA shooter that asked players to shoot people and blamed them when they did. It was supposed to make players feel bad.

Back in 2012 this was special. It felt like a game that needed to be made. We felt like pioneers, we felt like we tried something new by taking a new stance on war and on war in games.
Making Through the Darkest of Times feels similar – we try to find a new way on how games treat Nazism.

Q: Do you believe game developers have a responsibility when representing History? Should this come before artistic freedom?

A: We learn history not only at school, but also from the stories told to us by movies, books and well – video games.

But if someone would learn everything he knows about Nazism from games, he might conclude that Nazis are villains like the Empire in Star Wars: somewhat evil, but they have cool uniforms and tanks and are in the end just a faction like any other.

I find it problematic, that most games with Nazis don’t even mention the murderous anti-Semitism, the slow rise of Fascism or the Shoa.

I know that these games usually have no bad intention by omitting these facts, they often do it to avoid controversy. But honestly: if you think mentioning the historical crimes of the Nazis is inappropriate for your game, maybe picking Nazis as a faction or theme for your game is what is inappropriate here.

Q: Nazism seems to have become just another Hollywood trope nowadays. Are you concerned about how Nazi Germany is depicted in current games?

A: Here is the problem: if your game is about Nazis, but in your game, they do not commit any war crimes, there is no Auschwitz, no Shoa, then you create a historical narrative in which the Nazis didn’t commit these crimes.

And that’s the narrative that is told by Neo-Nazis who try to white-wash historical Nazism, so people are less hesitant to open for far-right ideologies.

Video games is the most important narrative medium of our time – as developers we must take responsibility and tell things the way they happened just as movies did a couple of decades ago.

Q: Current gaming culture is often referred to as toxic, where sexist, racist, homophobic behavior unfortunately abound. Do you believe that might be related to the ideals that games historically presented? Can game developers help change this culture?

A: Yes, I think so. The way games were marketed since the 1990’s until recently, towards young men, featuring the ideal of tough white guys who like hot girls and solve problems with their guns, appealed to a specific type. And this type feels now entitled to games. They think it is their medium and that developers need to create games for them and only for them.
This was never true, because of course there were always all kinds of people playing video games, but we now have this extremely entitled, extremely loud and toxic bunch of guys who yell the loudest and think they can dominate the Internet and our medium.

We must not let them. We must not listen to their demands; leave them stew in their own juice and just ignore them. Let’s make games that are open and inclusive, for an open and diverse audience instead of making games for the Christchurch killer[2].

Q: So, let’s turn to the game now. What exactly is the players’ goal in Through the Darkest of Times?

A: You play a leader of a civilian resistance group in Berlin in 1933 when Hitler becomes chancellor. You try to fight the regime with acts of sabotage and later attacks, educate people and let them know the truth about the Nazis’ plans and their doings, and help the persecuted, by hiding them or getting them out of the country.

Your goal is to persist as a group until the end of the war and do as much of the three things mentioned as possible without being caught by the Gestapo.

In order to achieve this you need to send your members on missions and organize resources necessary for your fight.

The group members are civilians, who are suddenly thrown into a situation where they must do something illegal and risk their life to resist the regime. Members have different biographies and political views, which can lead to conflicts within the group and keeping up morale and members from simply giving up can be tough.

So you try to do as much good as you can and lead you and your group through the darkest of times.

Q: There are some games out there with a healthy dose of historical backgrounds, such as Ubisoft’s Valiant Hearts and Assassin’s Creed. How does Through the Darkest of Times approach History?

A: Every turn in the game is one historical week. At the beginning of each turn you get the news with what happened in that week – based on the historical events of that week. But history influences the game mechanics too: at the beginning you don’t need to be too worried, there are even public protests against the regime happening in the streets where you and your group can join. But over time, the repression increases; after the Reichstag fire, the city is full of SA and things are dangerous; and once the Gestapo is founded and the first concentration camp is built, things are dangerous.

There are also big historical events that you witness through narrative sequences to give you more a feeling of being there, than just in the strategy mode.

History also influenced the looks of the game. Sebastian was inspired by German expressionists of the 1920’s who were later banned by the Nazis as un-German art. He tried to create a look that the Nazis would have banned.

So I would say, history plays a very important role in Through the Darkest of Times.

Q: What kind of source material did you use while building the game? Books, historical documents, interviews?

A: All of this. We read a lot, we went to places and museums – luckily, as we are in Berlin and the game takes place in Berlin, there are a lot of memorial sites and local annalists we got in touch with. We read interviews of course and we talked to descendants of civilian resistance fighters.

Q: How faithfully does the game follow real-life events of the Third Reich? Can the players expect to “change the course of history”?

A: In the main game, the historical events and what you read in the news all follow the actual historical timeline. Your character, the members of the group and your supporters are fictional though, and so are their actions against the regime.

But characters and actions are inspired by real civilian resistance groups that were active in Berlin at that time, such as the Schulze-Boyssen/Harnack group or the Jochen-Baum group.
Most of the missions wouldn’t have an impact on grand politics – if this is what you mean by “changing history”. However, the way we see it, history is not only changed by generals and leaders but by all of us.

Who saves people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea today is changing history – more than most politicians and in a better way if you ask me.

But since we have all these rogue-like elements in the game and since we like the idea, we are thinking about a second mode – a “New Game+” if you want – in which events happen less predictably and you might be able to stop the regime before the end of the war.

Q: Do you hope players will learn something about German and World History by playing Through the Darkest of Times?

A: When I talk to people about the Nazi time they often have the idea that it started with war and holocaust right away. But it didn’t. Hitler got elected. He became chancellor in a legal way, because we had conservatives who thought that they could handle a fascist in power and that this would still be better than the left – 12 years later half of Europe was destroyed and millions of people had died.

I hope people might be able to recognize the patterns when playing Through the Darkest of Times when they look at what is going on in the real world.

Q: Is there any takeaway message you’d like the players to get from your game?

A: It would be great if our players took away the same message that we took away when we started to learn about civilian resistance fighters: some developments are so wrong, they are so evil, that we have to overcome our day to day disputes, unite and fight for the fundamental human rights even if it means taking a risk.


About the Team

Paintbucket Games is a Berlin-based indie game studio founded by two ex-AAA developers. Jörg Friedrich does design and code and Sebastian Schulz does art and design. They have been making games for more than 13 years each and worked on 10 of those together. Among the several titles they worked on are: Spec Ops: The Line, Dead Island 2, Albion Online, and Desperados 2.


[1] Be sure to check out their website (http://paintbucket.de/).

[2] The Christchurch mosque shootings were two terrorist attacks conducted by an Australian alt-right white supremacist in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 15 March 2019. Over 50 people were killed and another 50 were injured. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described the event as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.” (Gelineau & Gambrell, 2019: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-mosque-killer-white-supremacy-20190315-story.html)


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