Out of Context

Before this month I had never seen a Pokemon player outside of a tournament. I had a running joke with my (real life) friend and fellow player that the people we knew from tournaments didn’t exist in the real world. That they lived in some sort of alternate Pokemon dimension separate from our own.

This month however two of my friends (who I had only seen a handful of times at the World Championships) came to visit in New York. Seeing them out of context was highly disturbing but also incredibly interesting. It sounds silly, but I hadn’t totally realized that these people had full lives outside of the TCG community. Both are top level players (one the world champion) and have celebrity status at tournaments. They sign autographs, get their pictures taken, are followed around by swarms of little kids asking them questions, etc. This was my vision of them, but when they visited I realized how much context changes your views.

Katherine Hayles talks about information theory and how context changes the meaning and interpretation of information. What she calls “structural information” is the context that informs you how to interpret data.  When the structural information was a Pokemon event, I interpreted these people as important, famous, and popular. When I saw them out of context, and in the structure of my life in New York, I experienced a complete change in perception. The “information” was the same, the same person with the same personality and achievements, but without the backdrop of Pokemon they lost their hero-status and appeared to me as the socially awkward boys one would expect played Pokemon TCG.

This got me to thinking about them in other contexts: in their jobs, school, relationships, childhoods- anything not Pokemon related. Gregory Bateson explains how we perceive a tree as partially related to rules which are “imposed by the external tree” but emphasizes that much of perception is made by the perceiver. My friends at Pokemon have intrinsic, empirical elements to them, but my perception of them, or their teachers’, or the little kid’s asking for an autograph is constructing their idea of  that person based on their own internal “restraints” and the context they’re currently in.


-Tori Hill


Bateson, Gregory. “Part V: Epistemology and Ecology.” Steps to an Ecology of Mind. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972. 406-473. Print.

Hayles, Katherine M. “Contesting for the Body of Information: The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics .” How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago.: University of Chicago Press, 1999. 50-83. Print.

~ by torifranceshill on October 16, 2013.

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