Pokémon. Many a video gamer has grown up on the series, whether the first Red and Blue games on the Game Boy back when Nintendo was king, or the contemporary fourth and fifth generation on the DS. And with the series still going, people will perhaps continue to do so into the future. Still, the classic Pokémon has a special place in our hearts.
Maybe that’s why we don’t think about the world of Pokémon that hard. It has a light-hearted atmosphere, an innocent charm that deflects concentrated attention from the fine details and encourages us to simply have fun playing through the games.
Let’s push aside the nostalgia and give it some scrutiny, shall we?
The Pokémon Themselves
First glance: Come on, everyone knows the basic concept of the series; people known as Pokémon Trainers capture powerful creatures known as Pokémon in devices known as Pokéballs. Trainers live up to their name by trying to build up a powerful team via capturing wild Pokémon, and then let them gain experience by sending them into competitions and battles against the Pokémon teams of other Trainers.
Closer look: Pokémon are dangerous. I mean, some of the most powerful ones are creatures out of myth like dragons. Then there’s the psychic Pokémon, and the ghost type Pokémon… Even at their worst, Pokémon come across as being able to severely harm human beings. Why are they being caught and used only for simple sport? And how moral is it to beat them up, capture them in Pokéballs, and then press them into service when they are seemingly intelligent and reasonable creatures?
First glance: Isolated townships separated by large stretches of uninhabited territory and wild Pokémon-filled paths. Visit the small points of civilization amid a world of adventure and challenges to restock between ventures out into the great unknown as you travel around the world on the quest to defeat the 8 Pokémon Gym leaders.
Closer look: Sure, from the perspective of an outsider, a video gamer, it’s a pretty good deal. The towns let you stock up on items and heal your Pokémon team, and the routes between cities provide good challenges between the ‘boss fights’ of the gym leaders. But think about it from the viewpoint of a citizen within the world of Pokémon; where are the farms? Where does the food come from? Are there even any animals other than Pokémon? Heck, where’s the government, who leads these towns? Nearest thing to that would be the gym leaders. But why does everything seem to revolve around Pokémon and their Trainers?
Maybe it’s because the Trainers are the only people who can get from town to town? Think of all the wild Pokémon infesting the paths between villages that attack without warning. They’re probably cut off from each other like the medieval days. Of course, they aren’t the only obstacle…
The Pokémon Trainers
First glance: Along every route you’ll encounter other Trainers, who will challenge you to battles. Your Pokémon team faces off against theirs, with victory bringing you a prize; a reward from your defeated enemy.
Closer look: The assumption is that it’s a friendly match, but here’s the thing; you can’t refuse the offer to fight them. It’s totally involuntary, and it lasts until one team or the other is completely beaten. So, people that are dangerous in combat lurk around common paths between towns, ambushing any traveler they see. What does this sound like?
They’re bandits. They’re trying to mug you. They want your money and your items, and they aren’t asking nicely for it. By this count, the paths are not only infested with dangerous animals but also vicious criminals. But at least they’re independent and unrelated, and not organized, right?
First glance: Team Rocket is an organized crime syndicate whose main focus is to steal, capture, sell, and exploit powerful Pokémon for profit, with aspirations to take over the globe.
Closer look: Read that again. Now stop thinking of them as ‘the bad guys’ and another challenge to defeat and think of them as an actual organized crime syndicate who almost certainly acts like one. Blackmail. Extortion. Murder. They do it all, they are an organized gang like the mafia, the IRA, or the Yakuza at best, and a terrorist organization at worst.
Worse yet, not only are they seemingly one of the only large scale organizations in Kanto, there doesn’t even seem to be an organized police force opposing them, simply the loose-knit Pokémon league of gym leaders and a group known as the elite four. And Team Rocket is lead by one of said gym leaders.
Perhaps worst of all, through scientific experimentation on Pokémon, they artificially created Mewtwo, the most powerful Pokémon in the game. And they are almost certainly going to try to perfect the process further.
They are technologically advanced. They are spread over the entire region. They have resources. They have influence within what little government there is. And they have no morals whatsoever.
And there are similar organizations based in the other regions spread around the world.
The Pokémon League Competitions
First glance: Grand Pokémon tournaments are held and draw entrants from far and wide to vie for victory. Trainers and their teams compete against other in matches amid a coliseum full of spectators, as they fight for the right to be named the best; all in the spirit of sportsmanship of course.
Closer look: First off, supposedly nonlethal or not, considering the level of power that high-end Pokémon have, there is no way there’s no risk of death in these matches. So even if (at best) it is a rare occurrence, Pokémon die in these competitions while fighting for their Trainers.
These tournaments are important. It’s a mix of roman gladiatorial entertainment, a bloodsport that pits living creatures against each other to fight for fame and fortune, and a trial by fire for the trainers who want to rise to the top and become the most powerful entity within a world dominated by Pokémon Trainers. There really is no direct analogue to real life for them; dog fights and gladiatorial contests aside, there is no culture in our history that had a competition so vital to the inner workings within a society like that of the Pokémon world; a society that is built from the ground up to be utterly centered around the titular Pokémon.
The Player Character
First glance: Having just reached the necessary age to become a Pokémon trainer, the player character receives their license, starter Pokémon, Pokédex, and Pokéballs, they are ready to go into the wide world of Pokémon and face all comers. It’s time for a great adventure as you quest to become the Pokémon Master, the most powerful Pokémon Trainer in the region!
Closer look: Pokémon Trainers get their licenses at age 10.
Ten years old.
Becoming a Pokémon Trainer isn’t rare, or even hard. You literally just need to have had your tenth birthday and want to become one. That’s it. The majority of the population is Trainers. It’s just something you do as a part of growing up, like getting a driver’s license. Except what you’re being given access to is the technology to control powerful and dangerous creatures with which to fight other powerful, dangerous creatures.
And it is necessary, because that’s what humanity needs to do to survive.
Think about it; could a human being really take on a Pokémon of note with even a fair chance of winning? No. The only way to be able to take on Pokémon is with other Pokémon. Becoming a Trainer is the norm, because in this world, it’s a basic skill necessary to even travel between towns, defend oneself against violent wild Pokémon- and against other Trainers and their Pokémon.
It’s the Dark Ages all over again. Crime is rampant, bandits add to the threat of wild Pokémon to make travel dangerous and isolate communities. The loose system of government is based around who has the strongest Pokémon teams, with the greatest earning the title of Pokémon Master and ruling as king. Until they are beaten and the title is taken by another. Pokémon tournaments are organized as bloodsport, gladiatorial competitions for fame, money, and power. Well-funded, trained, far-reaching amoral organizations conspire to topple the current system and take control, with plans to eventually conquer the entire globe.
And like the Dark Ages, the immense danger means that most people don’t die of old age or natural causes. Like the Dark Ages, people are considered to be grown up and become elders earlier than they do in our contemporary time.
In the world of Pokémon, once you hit your tenth birthday, you’re considered an adult.
And it’s time to go out and face the world.
Audience Participation Round: How Does Humanity Even Fit Into The World of Pokémon?
First glance: Not even touched on.
Closer look: Think about it. How would humans evolve in a world like this? How would they survive before they had the advanced technology to capture Pokémon? They’re unlikely to have developed alongside them, as that would imply humans are a form of Pokémon themselves, which they’re clearly not. Even putting that aside, they would still almost certainly have been wiped out via natural selection before being able to become advanced enough to create the technology used in the series. Without a way to control them, humanity would have been unable to compete with the powerful Pokémon that inhabited the world before them. Not to mention, the crude society depicted by the games is wholly unsuited for scientific innovation and discovery.
So, perhaps the Pokémon came (Arrived? Were created?) after humanity had achieved an advanced civilization? One able to invent and produce the technology to control the Pokémon? One that has long since fallen and been forgotten?
Food for thought.
And consider; what does every 10 year old kid dream of doing?
Changing the world. For the better.