This article explores how Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon use Hawaiian musical tropes and nondiegetic signifiers throughout the games, helping to “situate the player in the game.” This identification relies on a combination of player cultural literacy and game musical literacy to contextualize the Pokémon region of Alola. The soundscape of the game is made up of the underscore, incorporating traditional instruments from the steel guitar to Ka'eke'eke drums, alongside diegetic sounds to evoke and situate gameplay in a culture and geography most likely foreign to the player. The player’s ability to contextualize and situate themselves in this region relies on a combination of their cultural and game musical literacy.
This investigation will also address the consumption of Hawaiian culture both within Japan and in the West, and the portrayal of its traditional music and performance within not only the Pokémon franchise but other AAA game titles that have been enjoyed globally. The use of these musical tropes and nondiegetic signifiers simultaneously grounds the player in the region of Alola, whilst constructing a sense of “otherness” in a Hawaiian soundscape designed by composers who are observing and enjoying the culture as tourists and visitors.
The soundscape developed for Alola takes inspiration from traditional Hawaiian culture and music, but it ultimately diverges from these musical traditions and thereby produces a sonic environment unique to the fictional region. Consequently, players develop a literacy built through a return to the sounds traditionally associated with the Pokémon game franchise with a new addition of Hawaiian musical tropes to create a region that serves as something of a pastiche of Hawai'i, packaged to be culturally palatable and consumable to nonnative audiences.