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Pokemon Black/White: Gotta Catch 'Em All - An expose in a disturbing subculture among modern youth.
"A reporter goes undercover to witness street gangs, organised animal fights and capture of wild Pokemon" but discovers more than just a world of competition and collection.
I'm an undercover journalist for the Evening Bugle and I've spent the last month infiltrating the young street gangs of this country. I've been attempting to gain better understanding of a subculture with its its own rules and obsessions; a competitive world of fighting, acquisition and rites of passage often not understood by their parents' generation. To give you a better insight into this incredible world, I would like to being by telling you about the day I attended a meeting of gang members; the day I attending alongside a Police bust. Sergeant Bill Oak knows the streets around this town well and as we drive to the address we've been given for an illegal underground fight, he talked me through the neighbourhood and it's history. "It's been around for years, this kind of thing," he explains, "I think it started in Japan and it was a pretty huge thing over there. After that we started to see it more and more over here. Collectors, trainers, fighters -- everybody seemed to want a piece of the action and they found it a rich ground to cultivate... uh.." he stopped talking and looked ahead, squinting into the dawn sun. He spoke to the driver, "turn here." Reaching down, he grabbed his lapel mic and barked rapid orders to the officers in the other cars. "We're here, let's get ready to move. I want Stewart and Briggs to cover the rear fire exit and pick up anyone who tries to make a run for it; everyone else with me." Sergeant Oak turned to look at me, "we need to be ready to move quick, are you ready?" I felt a bit cold. By now I'd become accustomed to moving among these gangs as an accepted part of their society. To arrive now on the end of a battering ram come to smash open their door -- I felt suddenly aware of the conflict. I nodded to Oak and we moved towards the building. The courtyard between the abandoned brick warehouses were a reminder of the town's industrial past -- underfoot the crack of shattered pieces of broken, bottle-green glass broke the silence. We entered the building with Sergeant Oak in the lead, immediately followed by five other officers and then finally myself. As we came in we could hear the excited shouts of a crowd around an animal fight in progress. Above the din, we could hear the plaintive cries of the combatants themselves. Creatures locked in a deadly mortal battle while their owners and trainers made bets and goaded on the action. "This is the police!" Sergeant Oak's declaration of our presence cut through the scene like a crack of thunder. There was a mix of reactions in the room. Some made an instinctive bolt for the fire exit, while others stood dumbfounded, waiting to be rounded up by the officers. In the centre of the dark hall was the ring, in which lay the panting forms of two small creatures. Without their trainers to urge them on they no longer fought; they simply lay passive. A small panda-like creature whimpered in one corner, with evidence of burns and cuts to its fur clear to all onlookers. Hulking in the other corner was some breed of pig, with small flames and smoke issuing from its mouth. This then, was the calling of the "trainers"- the self-appointed owners of these creatures called Pokemon and the orchestrators of this battle between animals. ***** A month earlier I had been introduced to the leader of one of these gangs: a young man known as Ash. Ash is of no fixed abode and spends much of his time travelling around the country. He seems comfortable in his camp and his collection of Pokemon scampered around him. He plays with them -- quite kindly, it seems to me -- and laughs as they scamper around. At the time I remember thinking that this image of a young man enjoying his pets was not in keeping with the picture I had been painted of hardened street-fighters and dealers. I began by asking him why he spends his days travelling away from home. "Everyone in my town has the same Pokes," he says, "from what I hear it's same all over. Different towns have people with different Pokes -- but there tends to be like, y'know, groups of Pokemon in those towns, you get me? If you wants to find the best and the rarest ones, they're out in the country. Also, for a guy like me, I want to train my Pokes against the Pokes of other trainers, you get me? Like me, they all out travelling. No use sitting still." I asked him why they all do it and what it is that drives them. Why does he do it? "For me," he begins, a look of determination on his face, "I want to be the very best. Like no-one ever was, you get me?" He explained to me that every young person that goes on this journey is looking to create the most diverse and complete collection and to demonstrate their skill in raising the Pokemon to a properly trained level. The members of these Pokemon gangs aim to be "Masters", a title they seemingly apply to themselves when they feel they have suitably proved themselves among their peers. "'Dis journey I'm on," he continues, thoughtfully, "it's like it was made for me. I travel 'round and everything seems to fall into place. Even though people have been training Pokes for years, yeah?, new people are still coming to it. This new route I'm taking, even the new trainers are finding it perfect to get to grips with catching and training. It's a great time to be a trainer." I spent some time travelling with Ash, to really understand what it is that he spends his time doing. When he found a Pokemon he wanted, I have to admit that I was a little shocked. The creature was exhibiting ferocious behaviour towards us as we walked through the long grass and I felt sure it would attack. Ash's reaction was very different to my own flight response. He sent one of his existing Pokemon toward the wild creature and began issuing instructions. The fight was brutal at times; the wild creature lashed out with poison, claws... even kicking sand in the eye's of Ash's prize pet. Eventually, however, the evidence of Ash's detailed tutorship of his Pokemon came to the fore and the wild creature was beaten into an exhausted submission. "Whoa, that battle was well sick!" Ash declared as he deployed his 'ball,' a snare used by Pokemon Trainers to capture creatures and leave on it an imperceptible mark of ownership. Soon the creature was caught and in Ash's possession. I had not expected his next actions to be what they were. We rushed to the nearest veterinary clinic and Ash insisted that we could not leave to continue our journey until his new Pokemon was restored to full health. What surprised me most was not only the joy with which Ash received his fully healed Pokemon back into his care, but the excitement and happiness which the captured Pokemon seemed to hold for Ash. Even though this creature had seemingly fought to be free -- to within an inch of its own life -- you would now never know that these two had ever been anything but firm friends. Watching Ash take care of his new charge and choose a name for it I began to understand the appeal these creatures hold for the self-appointed Masters that capture and train them. There is a mutual dependency and benefit between Trainer and Pokemon. In an increasingly isolated and fragmented society, these young people are constructing their own circle of loyal and dedicated friends and family as well as committing themselves to acquiring more and more skill. "There ain't nuffin' quite like it," Ash explains, "most of us are given our first Pokemon by someone else. That's a quality moment -- but from the moment you catch your first Poke on your own, you is hooked. Seeing them turn and become friends for your journey -- I wouldn't swap that for nuffin, you get me?" ***** As the scene of the Pokemon fight was being cleared by the police and the Pokemon placed into the care of animal services, I noted with sadness that one of the young Trainers being placed in the back of a squad car was Ash; his head was now bowed low with shame, but I noted that he seemed more agitated as to the whereabouts and welfare of his collection than for his own predicament. Sergeant Oak came to talk to me about all that I had seen and his own experiences in dealing with "Pokemon Masters." "A lot of them claim simply to be collectors, traders or breeders. That wouldn't be a crime, where ownership is clear. But most of these kids scour the countryside for wild creatures which they attack until they are tired and defenceless and then they snare them. After that the creature's future is to be hardened for fighting. These trainers..." he shakes his head sadly, "no matter what they say: to catch them is their real quest; to train them is their cause." Oak went on to talk about the history of the scene, "we've seen previous generations of Pokemon breeders and trainers. If anything this generation is one of the most focused purely on catching, training and fighting. We'd actually started to see more positive trends in the last couple of generations. One pair of gangs, known as the HeartGolds and the SoulSilvers not only found a way of getting their Pokemon to compete athletically, but also showed an interest in Safaris, going for long walks and growing legal health supplements. The previous generation to this even got involved in cooking, talent shows and treasure hunting. Fighting has always been a part of it, but the other gangs seemed to have other distractions to balance it out. This generation doesn't seem to have the same level of other interests. It really is just about catching and battling Pokemon. It's a shame really. Not that I condone any of it, but if I had to choose I'd have the golds and silvers back over these..." I wondered about the impact this current generation will have. Certainly the creatures available to a trainer now are more varied and arguably more appealing than they have ever been, with a huge range. The newly discovered breeds add some wonderful variation to an established scene. With today's technology, the recordings of these fights also look better than ever and it won't be surprising if many aspiring trainers are attracted by the bright lights, clean images and fast nature of the world which they will be entering. But it also seems as though this latest resurgence of Pokemon training may not enjoy a position at the peak of the generations. As Sergeant Oak pointed out, previous generations of trainers seemed to have more varied activities on which to spend their time. This new arena is large and it may be that there will be more discoveries to be made; however I have seen little evidence of this, even with the month I spent with the gang. It is likely that, if there is more to uncover, only those trainers who are able to commit the most time will be able to reap the full benefits. But with the new communication options available to them, sharing thoughts and ideas and finding other trainers may be easier than ever. We shall have to wait and see; only time can fully assess the impact of these latest Pokemon and their dedicated trainers.
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