Morality and Pokemon

22 Apr


I’m an original pokemon junkie.

I grew up with Red and Blue, felt dissatisfied with Gold and Silver, and didn’t even bother with Sapphire and Ruby after a cursory glance through the new pokedex left me feeling glum.

It wasn’t until I started watching the cartoon series that I started to question the Pokemon universe. Even so, it wasn’t until I began writing my own Pokemon fanfic that I actually applied critical thinking to the problem.

What I realized is this : Pokemon is horrifying.

The Universe

Pokemon are “pocket monsters” – critters (large or small, cute or scary) which can be captured using the technology of a palm-sized pokeball. Once captured, the creature is kept in the ball except to be released so that it can be forced to fight against another creature (using elemental or physical attacks until such time as one or the other creature “faints”).

The creatures level up and will periodically evolve into a larger, more powerful creature – sometimes forced to do so by their “trainer” (in quotes because I’ve yet to see any real training in-game) using elemental stones.

The Cartoon

In the game, everything’s just pixels and cute little sprites – but once I saw the cartoon, I watched pokemon who didn’t want to fight, pokemon who hated being in pokeballs, pokemon who refused to listen to their masters, and pokemon BADLY injured by battles. Trainers capturing GOD pokemon and sending them into battle as easily as they might a caterpie or a weedle!

I saw trainers with the same uncaring attitude that I’d felt when playing the game – who used their pokemon for tools and thought nothing of storing unwanted pokemon in computers, or letting pokemon faint because they could just be revived again at the next town.

I also saw the relationship between pokemon and trainers who loved them. I saw true friendships and the way that pokemon and humans could build a better life for each other.

The Fanfic

I set out to write fanfic and immediately hit upon a problem – I couldn’t sympathize with a main character who would deliberately send her pokemon into meaningless battles for glory’s sake.

I thought about this problem for a long time before coming up with a solution …

… I sent her back in time.

Back to a time when there was such a thing as a wild raichu. Back to a time when towns were small and roads between them fraught with danger. A time without pokeballs and pokemon centers. A time when getting too close to a litter of nidoran would set off a bellowing, enraged nidoqueen.

And most importantly, to a time when roving gangs of outlaws with trained pokemon would raid these townships, and the only way the townsfolk could fight back was by having more powerful pokemon with their own trainers.

A time when pokemon battles meant the difference between civilization and anarchy.

That history could easily lead to the current Pokemon universe. Battles became less bloody and more of a contest. Contests for territory became contests of skill. Contests of skill became a spectator sport. Advances in technology allowed pokemon to be viewed as equipment rather than teammates.

The Games Keep On A’Comin

Formulating that history allowed me to enjoy Pokemon again, even though the newest games have some truly gag-worthy pokedexes and they STILL haven’t made the awesome Pokemon RPG that I JUST KNOW IS OUT THERE SOMEWHERE.

If they build that RPG, part of me really hopes they build it in the history that I constructed. I think I’d have a lot more fun being a pokemon HERO than being a pokemon MASTER.

Anyone Else?

Has anyone else run into any moral opposition to the Pokemon games? Felt twinges of conscience, or wondered who was gone the day some decisions were made?

Have you come up with any reasonings or justifications that work for you?

Anyone else who HAS had a crisis of conscience yet still gets a little giggly every time you see a Pikachu in a window or on a website? (Because I totally do. Guilt or no, the original pokemon had some of the cutest critters ever devised.)

Alternately, what’s your favorite pokemon? (Vulpix/Ninetails, I love you!)


11 Responses to “Morality and Pokemon”

  1. Zachary April 26, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    That’s a great deal of thoughtfulness put into “a history of pokemon”, and I can totally see that being the back-history for the current Pokemon world.

    My brother ended up making a D&D class for someone that captured “pooka” and used them similarly, and the group had some related ethical problems.

    Oh, and summoners! Certain spellcasters can yank beings from the ether and cause them to do their will. One could claim they’re spontaneously generated from a platonic ideal rather than having a real existence elsewhere, but many descriptions of summoning (and a few humorous comics) describe them as being yanked out of another existence at your bidding. And a similar mindset prevades in that “if they’re killed, they just go back to where they came from.”

    • Tami April 26, 2011 at 9:54 am #

      Oh, I’m so glad I’m not alone! I’ll bet that D&D group was really interesting. If you’ve time, I’d love to hear an example of one of the ethical dilemmas and how the group handled it.

      I am SO with you on the summons – particularly the death bit. Somehow, I’m more okay with it when they’re demons, though. Especially those sassy WoW imps. *punt*

      • Zachary April 27, 2011 at 10:37 am #

        I was a goblin barbarian at the time, and it’s several years ago, so I don’t remember many specifics. Lessee what I can drag up, though:

        – Our pooka trainer started out enthusiastic about knocking out as many pooka as she could find, until they treated her with fear during training. After that point, she was hesitant to send them into battle, and quick to recall them if they ever got hurt. More likely to use them as tools than weapons.
        It was further complicated when we realized they were proto-gods. The death-type pooka was actually going to grow up to be a goddess of death (who was strangely absent), and training her made it happen faster. Sadly, the campaign only ran half a year, he had some really interesting ideas, I’m not sure where it was going to develop from there.

        -Also a similar question about the “Wondrous Figurines”; they’re easier to dismiss as non-living because they turn into statues rather than going into some kind of stasis or other dimension, but it’s still curious.

        -Eberron explores a great dilemma by summoning elementals and using them to power transportation. Druids hate that. I’m going to aggravate the conflict in my world by saying the elemental energy is used up and they disappear and need to summon new elementals; they probably go back to the elemental planes, but we aren’t really sure.

      • Tami April 27, 2011 at 10:40 am #

        Oooh, that’s really interesting. Particularly the proto-god bit (wow, you must have really fun D&D groups!)

        The sentimental pooka trainer sounds like a really fun character – one that would present its own problems for a GM to exploit rather than it just being another hack and slash campaign.

  2. J May 15, 2011 at 12:07 am #

    That was a terrific read. And to evaluate a bit deeper, the slowly getting tired of the ‘newer’ pokemon- I felt that too. But I felt it one season behind yours, you see, I grew up with the Crystal version. Sapphire was entertaining at most, but the adventure just wasn’t there. And as for the Pearl version- I felt no emotion at all. These games, were part of a lot of (Now probably young adults, or adults even) people’s lives. They brought out the morals in the entertained, and the arrogance in the bored. But most of all- for me, at least- they let me live the ADVENTURE. The trials, the choices, the heroism, and the TRAVEL. The best memories of my life are the ones of me sitting outside on a sunny day on my grandmother’s porch with a glass of sweet lemonade, the slight breeze, and my little adventure on a portable device. Oh how I wish I could go back to those times, I didn’t realize that I would never be able to experience them again without a hint of embarrassment from the childish feeling I would get. But what I remember most, is how, when my Tododile (Spell check, ha-ha) would faint, and I would gasp and say, ‘Oh no! I need to get to town, quick!’ or ‘Don’t worry, I’ll avenge you, Tododile!’. Good times… Pokemon provided me with a childhood, and it makes me so happy to see that others experienced what I did and took it as seriously as I did. Thanks again for the read. (Oh, and my favorite pokemon, was, and probably always, secretly will be, Feraligatr.)

    • Tami May 15, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

      ❤ LOVE to hear from someone who loved their pokemon. Fanfic has a bad rep (a partially deserved one, I'll allow) but fanfic is always based in LOVE, and I totally respect that.

      My fire versus your water … Good thing I also love Raichu!!

  3. Funbun August 25, 2011 at 1:01 pm #

    While I value the author’s observations and arguments, I felt that this article was being presumptuous.

    The author had assumed the inherent nature of the Pokemon species. Has it ever occurred to the author that Pokemon are, by nature, competitive? Perhaps Pokemon enjoy battling. While the author has observed several Pokemon in the anime demonstrating refusals to battle, could it be possible that this is unnatural? Perhaps Pokemon should enjoy battling as much as humans enjoy socializing. Thus, one cannot associate Pokemon with the social norms that human culture has created for all known species on our planet.

    The author claims that Pokemon are “forced” to evolve via various means. This is absolutely not the case. Not only is this statement based on merely the state of life today, but it also easily subverted by the number of “happiness” evolutions in the games.

    You cannot apply morality to a species in which, by the majority, thrives on fighting. It’s not like Pokemon are treated poorly; they merely faint in battle, and you may easily heal them back to full health.

    Your fanfic dilemma doesn’t make sense. Pokemon battles are not for just “glory’s sake”. Suppose Pokemon battles are exercises to get stronger, in hopes of becoming the best (i.e. Champion and beyond), as much we play sports for both fun and competition.

    I applaud your history, though. Your theories are seen in effect in the Lucario and the Mystery of Mew movie, where there are human/Pokemon wars.

    Either way, I’m not sure if the author is aware of Pokemon Black and White, which thoroughly explores the concept of Pokemon morality.

    Regardless, your article was an enjoyable read. I typically detach myself from the ethical aspects of Pokemon because it is fiction, and, if one looks at the metagame, it is, in the end, a game full of predictions, numbers, strategy, calculations. If I were to approach Pokemon in its most competitive aspect, it would appear as nothing more than a game of strategic statistics.

    • Tami August 26, 2011 at 7:40 am #

      It sounds like you have a lot more pokemon lore knowledge than I do. I based my article off of the first two games and the americanized anime, and I’m the sort of player who chose my team based more on looks than strategy.

      • shadowkid December 20, 2012 at 4:41 am #

        I personally suggest you play Pokemon black or white 2 which really give some great insight into your opinion- are we harming pokemon by catching them? that particular game gives great piece of mind about it

  4. Matteus December 2, 2012 at 9:19 am #

    I see a similar taste in what multiples are saying. Your fanfic is based on your perspective, which i respect in whatever way it is, and I would like to read it, but I have to agree with Funbun. The pokemon in the anime aren’t always forced to evolve. Bulbasaur, didn’t want to evolve, charmander just evolved casually at his own will according to the way the story-basing was set up for him. Ash didn’t want to evolve pikachu, and many seasons later, he still hasn’t done it. The pokemon also seem to enjoy fighting, yet it seems to me like they take on their trainer’s passion. Wild pokemon are of course going to be resistent to being caught unless they acknowledge the trainer, bulbasaur being an example. Despite saying all this, I still contemplate the pokeballs. Whenever a pokemon is caught, they seem to be happy and carefree. The fact that they were just resisting being caught by the trainer just dissapears most of the time. Does the pokeball do this or is the pokemon acting of its own will? There are some contemplations about ethical and moral rights and wrongs, but in the end, it’s a fantasy reality.

    I also grew up on pokemon. I’m 19, turning 20 in January, and still play it today. I have friends who are in their 20s and still play it, and they don’t hide it. As I grew up playing, at first I thought “Oh no, my pokemon died, need to heal it quickly.” Then it turned into, it’s just a video game. This lasted until some point during ruby and sapphire. I began to become somewhat sentimental towards the game. I began to hate it when they ran out of hp, but sometimes it just couldn’t be helped. If there was a pokemon center nearby, I would run back to it before my pokemon hit 0 hp. I didn’t like wasting items as money is hard to come by sometimes. I would stick near towns and fight wild pokemon and trainers in the process of making my pokemon stronger. Now I mourn over the fact that my pokemon was defeated, and I think the new pokemon black2 and white 2 ruin my entire concept. You can make movies where you’re pokemon get defeated and if you want to appease the crowd, you have to follow the script. The pokemon games are getting a lot more heavily focused on battles than what it originally was. There are other concepts behind the games that drive you away from this, like the super-time consuming berry farming and the story is also a lot better, plus theres all kinds of side features that simply distract for enormous amounts of time. I like how they continued black and white into a second version of itself, but I’m waiting for the middle version like crystal, yellow, emerald, and platinum. I’m also waiting for a mmo version of pokemon that allows you to enter all the regions and pick where you start and what pokemon you start with.,and is on the computer, although now with their current level of technology they could probably make the mmo on the ds itself. Despite this being a fantasy reality and a video game, I, like others, have developed a sympathy for the characters and get completed absorbed into the games story and setting itself. I think that the games are getting out of hand with their sequels, and the pokemon are getting kind of simple-minded, (trubbish, i.e.), but in the end, it’s pokemon. Yet another adventure awaits!


  1. Links To Elsewhere | Tami Moore - April 26, 2011

    […] Morality and Pokemon My SevenDeadlyDivas post, in which I ponder the morality of Pokemon, and explain how I used fanfiction to find a “fix” for what I saw as a broken moral issue. […]

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