“Gotta Go Fast”
It’s time to once again dive into the murky waters of one of the most popular video game franchises of all time to search for their messages and outlooks on the social world. This time I’m delving into the franchise that without a doubt has the most bizarre following behind it. For over 20 years and counting, this franchise has been running through the minds and hearts of fans. I’m talking of course about…. Socket.
Wait, sorry…That was a terrible rip-off. Of course I mean:
Sonic The Hedgehog
I say that the franchise has a bizarre following with as much affection as possible, as the Sonic Franchise is the one franchise I have dedicated the most time in my life to. Years of message boards, Sonic Fan Art, and lack luster titles, I’ve been with the franchise through thick and thin. Thus, if there’s any franchise I know more about it’s the one with this spikey blue 90s product. However, it’s worth mentioning that the franchise is quite different today than it was in its early years. For the sake of not having a breakdown trying to decipher the hidden messages in titles like Sonic The Black Knight and Shadow The Hedgehog, we’ll be sticking with the classic games in this piece. There are social and cultural themes in a franchise about a blue, super fast, hedgehog fighting against a egg shaped maniac? Surprisingly yes! Let’s go a little deeper.
Nature Vs. Industry
The first and probably most prominent theme in the franchise has and will always be nature rebelling against the evil of over industrialization. That’s deep for a franchise that has a two tailed fox flying a plane. The original Sonic The Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis in 1991 had Sonic pitting off against Dr.Eggman, an evil genius who has been capturing animals for experimentation and transforming the once beautiful world into a industrial wasteland. Throughout the game the player finds themselves freeing trapped animals and destroying machinery while pitting off against Eggman’s complex designs. This seems to convey the message that over industrialization is ruining our natural planet, which is a pretty big social critique for a colorful, kid aimed video game. In case you haven’t become an environmentalist from the original alone, subsequent games push this theme of anti-industrialization by making the stakes higher: Sonic 3, for example, features Eggman tricking native inhabitant, Knuckles, into helping Eggman seizing his own homeland. With all of these themes of colonization and anti-industrialization it’s easy to forget that you gotta go fast!
From a sociology stand-point, if the franchise is instilling themes of anti-industry and pro-environment, then it’s fair to say that the franchise is socializing fans and players towards a specific ideology. THANKS FOR THE INDOCTRINATION SEGA.
More Money, Less Problems
Unlike a franchise like Pokemon, which is without a doubt influenced by capitalism, it’s hard to say that Sonic is specifically about gaining more wealth. However, it is fair to say the franchise pushes themes of accumulation for the sake of safety and betterment. In the games there are rings littered across the world; rings floating in the sky, in Tvs, and you can even gamble for rings in certain games (Hook em while they’re young!). For those who haven’t played everyone’s favorite Needlemouse, players collect golden rings for life and security; A single hit and you’ll lose all of your rings and be vulnerable to death. You might be saying “Wow, what a statement on the fickleness of wealth and security”, and you may be right. Sonic, intentionally or non-intentionally, teaches us that you can go from rich to broke in a matter of seconds. You can be riding high, almost at that sweet 100 ring goal to get an additional life, when a stray crab takes it all away. What a lesson…
Of course the more rings you accumulate, the more chances you have to collect lost rings once hit. The rich don’t fall harder than the poor. So the game actively pushes you to get more rings for the sake of security, as acquiring lots of rings nets you additional lives and even gives you access to bonus levels. Money gets you places, kids.
These aren’t bad lessons. It’s smart and logical to teach kids about saving for security. Besides, you gotta counteract kids thinking that the Mushroom trade is the key to economic success. Thanks Mario.
What? No…That can’t be right, can it? How could a Japanese developed game have anything to say about American values and beliefs? Oh, you skeptic. The franchise was originally developed to be a competitor to the once and still dominating video game icon Super Mario. With The United States being the emerging and most profitable gaming scene in the world, Sega wanted to focus their efforts on it. Thus, Sonic The Hedgehog was designed with America in mind. Everything from his red and blue colors to his snarky demeanor was intended to appeal to American audiences; in many ways the original Sonic design is a reflection of Japanese beliefs about American consumers.
Some noteworthy beliefs about America Sega made with Sonic (Rightfully in most cases):
- America likes Santa and Disney: An odd combination, but Sonic’s character design was heavily influenced by Mickey Mouse and Santa.
- Americans hate to wait and have attitude: Sonic was designed to be what Mario was not – filled with attitude, inpatient, quick, and cool. Original concept art had Sonic saving a hot-to-trot girlfriend named “Madonna” and Sonic even had his own band! PRETTY RADICAL.
- America is home to the Thriller: Sonic’s shoe design was directly inspired by one of the biggest icons of the time, Michael Jackson. The king of pop himself even worked with Sega to create the soundtrack for Sonic 3. Although Jackson’s team pulled out of the project before completion, certain Sonic 3 and Knuckles tracks are distinctively similar to Michael Jackson songs.
- Sometimes our Villains look like out leaders: Dr.Eggman’s original design was heavily inspired by American President Theodore Roosevelt. What this says about American presidents is up for debate, especially considering Eggman’s design was borrowed from a concept for the hero of the franchise.
Jokes aside, the Sonic franchise stands as an interesting survey on what Japanese game developers believed to be appealing to American audiences. For better or worse, Sonic The Hedgehog is a cultural mirror of American pop culture in the 90s. That’s bizarre to think.
Make it What You Want
Up top I said that the Sonic franchise has the most bizarre following, and that’s true, but I forgot to mention that the franchise also has one of the most passionate and dedicated fanbase in the video game community.
Unlike any other franchise, the Sonic franchise has spawned more fanart, fan fiction, and fan response than any other franchise out there. Countless fan characters, fanfiction stories, and sprite comics have been made to convey fan’s passion for the franchise. There’s also a strange dark side to this passion that includes far too much cartoon pornography and slash fiction, but for the most part the passion leads to harmless things…I try and forget that stuff exists. Despite this, the Sonic franchises shows that fans can embrace a franchise and make it whatever they want it to be. It’s a testament to their passion and the distinct impact that the series has had. More interestingly, it shows that a product can become something much more than a character on screen; it can become a social and cultural character that effects and instills passion and love in countless people, bringing them together in interesting ways. Sonic’s a social catalyst!
Again, we try and forget all of the strange stuff.
This theme is one that may be lost on those coming to the series now-and-days, but Sonic was born with the theme of competition ingrained in every aspect of the original game.
For those who weren’t there, in 1991 Sonic The Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis was the title to compete with Nintendo’s powerhouse franchise Super Mario Bros. Prior to its release of the Sega Megedrive/Genesis Nintendo dominated the home gaming console market with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sonic The Hedgehog and The Sega Genesis gave Nintendo a run for their money and provided for the greatest console war of all time. What was spectacular about the Sega/Nintendo console war was the level of quality games it spawned both companies to create. Some of the greatest games of all time were created in this rivalry, including Super Mario World, Sonic 2, Altered Beast, and A Link To The Past. It was a healthy competition that grew the video game market and made the statement that it was possible for two consoles to co-exist and compete. Regardless of which side you were on, or if you had both consoles, the rivalry between Sega and Nintendo was both beneficial to each company, gamers, and the industry. It was great time to be a gamer that resulted in the creation of many gaming icons and staples. While Nintendo has their hands a little more full these days, Sega and Sonic have stood the test of time as being mainstays in the video game industry. The story of Sonic and Sega is one that is worth telling, and teaches us all that something great can come from a little competition.
Other Quick Social Lessons Classic Sonic Has To Teach
- Blast Processing is what you need and what doesn’t actually exist.
- Mutant foxes make the best companions
- Being a jewel collector grants invincibility
- Check your pinball machines for small rodents.
- Foxes and rodents are the greatest enemy to scientists.
- Smashing TVs give you special powers, especially if you see your own face on TV.
- Never look up your name + Hedgehog on the internet.
- If you’re drowning, just grab a bubble.
Alright, we’re at the end of the zone, let’s slow down. The Classic Sonic titles are a great set of games; Some of the spin-off games and handheld games are pretty terrible, but the original Genesis titles and Sonic CD are some of the greatest games of all time. If you haven’t already played these titles they’re available on every platform known to man, (They’ve even been ported to consoles with lesser graphics!) so there’s no reason not to play these beloved classics. The Sonic franchise may not be the most sociologically relevant one, but it certainly has some messages to say. Perhaps one day I’ll delve into the messages modern Sonic has to put forth, as there’s some ridiculous messages about rodent Gun Control and why experimenting on animals will lead to psychic abilities (The franchise has gone to strange places…) but for now we’ll put lid on this speedy forest creature.
Please let me know if these type of articles are worthwhile. I know their scarce on the actual sociology, but I hope they’re at least a little entertaining.
For more Lessons from Classic Franchises, check out these two: