If we think about the world of Pokémon as a full natural universe, it makes total sense to illustrate it the way that these women were presenting our known environments. It also feels almost obvious to layer in some other systems that Victorians were creating to understand, define, and sort this incredible quantity of organisms that were being cataloged as new-to-them discoveries.
Like, how would you build a deck if you didn’t understand how different organisms/cards/Pokémon could work together!?
And this is where the misters, who were granted access to “serious science” add to the mix. We’ll start with Darwin and his Origin of the Species, published in 1859. While the word “Darwinism” is now commonly used to describe a collected set of scientific theories, the concept has gone through a lot of … change (see what we didn’t do there?) since the original publication. But that’s a different story!
Thomas Henry Huxley recalled that after he had read Darwin’s Origin of Species, he had exclaimed to himself: “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” (Huxley,1900, 1: 183).
The narrow part of this broad theory that we’re talking about is the idea that following generations of organisms are more likely to carry forward beneficial traits. Literally, the idea of Darwinian evolution is gameplay in Pokémon. It’s weird, obviously, and not 100% one-to-one. But it’s there! Thanks Charles “Victorian Man” Darwin!
And how does Air do against Psychic again?
And now, while trainers were out in the world discovering all these variations and life stages of all of these new and exciting Pokémon, we come into the problem of how to document their attributes and (even more game-specifically) how to make it usable on a playing card. For sure, Pokémon Trading Card Game built on the lessons of Magic: The Gathering and (Dungeons and Dragons et al.) to crack this nut, but those two games were aping the content hierarchy methodologies of our mega-collectors, the Victorians.
The trading card game concept offers a real pressure cooker of needs – the cards have to relay a lot of information about each creature, with no assumption of external reference materials, and it needs to be super quick read.
Botanists tackled this earlier. The classification of plants, in particular, had been a work in progress since the time of the ancient Greeks, but most systems really crumbled when applied outside the developer’s immediate set of examples. It’s just too big once you go into a different ecosystem. A student of Aristotle tried sorting plants based on the formation of their growth, lots of them sorted by medicinal uses, and Hieronymus Bock made headway in the 16th century by including information about lifecycle and environment in the descriptions. But having a disparate society of enthusiastic intellectuals, without a way to collaborate, led to everyone making their own system; some without consistency or rigor, and none matching. To their credit, it seems like every big-brain-time era has been blessed with project manager librarians who wanted to standardize this stuff and make it usable for as large a group of people as possible.
So they did! Concepts of evolutionary traits got layered into a naming system that provided information on the relationships between organisms and chunks of information got grouped together with ample indenting and white space to make it easy to find the section that you’re looking for. Bless their hearts. We love to see it.
And the teams working on trading card games needed to figure some stuff out too. While they couldn’t exactly ape the systems that Victorians established, the lessons about consistency, information hierarchy, and readability certainly were shareable.
Dungeons & Dragons established, early, the idea of a standardized table to describe monster traits and a reusable log format for character creation. And Magic: The Gathering did a lot to shrink all that down onto the same size card that Pokémon would eventually use.