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Summer course to examine globalization of Pokémon

By Dmitriy Kizhikin, For The Miami Student

It often feels like every day brings a new trend with it. From silly bandz to leggings, our cultural icons are constantly changing.

But how do we hear about foreign trends, such as Pokémon? How can culture from across the world reach the United States?

ATH 390Z answers these questions and more. Students study the globalization of Pokémon, anime, Godzilla and soap operas. By studying Japanese people and culture, students are able to understand how and why certain aspects of other cultures can thrive anywhere.

Three years ago, Mark Peterson, professor and chair in the anthropology department, suggested the course to the language department.

"It wasn't serious at first," said Peterson. "The department needed more courses in the culture section, so I brought up Pokémon and Japanese culture as a joke. We all talked about it, and the more I thought about the class, the more I realized it could be a really good class."

Peterson first thought about the globalization of Japanese culture during his time studying Middle Eastern and East Asian culture.

"When I came back from my travels around the Middle East, my kids and everyone their age were crazy about Pokémon," said Peterson. "It peaked my interest, and when I went back to Egypt, everyone was crazy about Pokémon there too."

"Pokémon: Local & Global Cultures" is the course that sprouted from Peterson's proposal.

The class ran for the first time in the summer of 2014. It was an on-campus summer course, something that students could take to fulfill their global requirement if they were not able to study abroad.

Alexander Calnon, a senior East Asian languages & culture major, took the course when it was first offered two years ago.

"I found out about the course through an email," said Calnon. "I really enjoyed the course. It gave me a different perspective on the global flow of culture."

Anthropology can be a difficult category for courses, mostly because the ideas and people studied are so out of reach to the group studying them. A course like ATH 390Z gives students an opportunity to connect easily with the coursework. Even if they haven't played the game, most people are aware of Pokémon and its cultural significance.

"It's awesome to see a class on something that you love," said Reno DiFonzo, a first-year student.

Difonzo, like many students, is interested in the course, but would be unable to stay on campus in the summer. ATH 390Z was cancelled in the summer of 2015 due to low enrollment.

After the cancellation, multiple students emailed Peterson saying that they would have taken the course online.

"At first, I wasn't really excited about it," said Peterson. "I liked teaching the course in person because the class creates a lot of interesting discussion. It felt weird to take that away."

Peterson was determined to make the class something special, even if it was going to be online. He stumbled across the concept of gamification - turning a traditional course into one with game elements such as point scoring, levels and graphics.

Peterson picked up the idea from a university in California that taught an entire course of chemistry through a gamified format.

"This format has been used around the country for technical classes, like hard science, to cultural classes, like my course," said Peterson. "The more I studied gamification, the more I liked the idea."

The main appeal of gamification is leveling up and earning trophies and achievements. This reward system helps students look at work in a less dry fashion.

Despite this appeal, some students cannot learn without being there in person.

"Personally, I don't like online classes," said Calnon. "Still, I think the idea of making the course like a game is cool. The course is still being developed, so it isn't a bad idea to try a new style of teaching."

Peterson hopes that the new gamified version of ATH 390Z will bring in enough positive feedback to become a staple in the cultural section of national studies.