Pokemon_collection
Pokemon’s 20th anniversary is upon us, so we’re looking back on their influence on Wikipedia. Photo by Jarekt, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Twenty years ago today, the first Pokémon video games launched in Japan, and that phenomenon made a lasting impact on Wikipedia: the “Pokémon test” became an argument used on Wikipedia to save articles from being deleted.

It was so named after editors used similar arguments to try to “keep” other articles—if [named Pokemon character] has an article, why shouldn’t this topic? For example, in arguing against the deletion of an article in 2005, one editor wrote “Wikipedia is not paper; if we can have articles for every minor character in Star Wars, Star Trek, and each of those pesky Pokémon, we can have an article about Professor Hopper.”

The Pokémon test has left quite an impression. Years after it was last employed by Wikipedia editors, The Telegraph wrote on Wikipedia’s 15th birthday last January that “The world probably doesn’t need zillions of explanatory articles about the Japanese video game franchise Pokémon.”

Back in the earlier days of Wikipedia, each of the-then 400 Pokémon had their own article. While you might not be surprised to find Pikachu, the most enduring and popular creature from the series, you probably would not need a separate article on Bellsprout. At one point, the minor character Karen even had her own article, leading to the related “Karen Importance Test”—a defense used enough to be known by the acronym KIT.

“References to Pokemon articles have always been a running gag on Wikipedia,” long-time editor Robert Fernandez (Gamaliel) told me, but the cutely named test belies a controversial foundation. These Pokémon Wars were vitriolic enough that Fernandez stayed as far away as possible.

The conflict was a microcosm of a long-held and still living debate between inclusionist and exclusionist editors. A reader of the January Telegraph article put the former argument in a nutshell: “The number of Pokémon articles being produced in no way restricts the number of other articles being produced, so what is the complaint here exactly?” Exclusionists, closely related to “deletionists,” counter that “Often what is not said is more important than what is said.”

Outside the philosophical arguments, Fernandez notes that Pokémon were “a handy way to discuss systemic bias or content gaps by comparing particular topics to our copious coverage of Pokémon. People will write articles about whatever they are enthusiastic about and Wikipedia harnesses that enthusiasm to expand the encyclopedia.”

Today, only the most ‘notable’ of these characters and creatures have their own articles after the introduction of specific rules for fictional characters, including Ash Ketchum, Pikachu, Team Rocket, and Meowth. The majority of the creatures are named in a large series of lists.

Ed Erhart, Editorial Associate
Wikimedia Foundation