Z-nogyroP asks:

i feel like you’ve almost certainly answered this question before, but how do you think abilities work? some abilities seem more like physical features (tough claws, thick fat, compound eyes) whereas others are a lot more abstract (pixilate, mold breaker, cloud nine). wouldn’t a tinted lens butterfree’s eyes be just as compound as one with the compound eyes ability? what makes a gluttony snorlax have less fat than one with thick fat?

I’ve tried to answer this one before; let’s see… here.

It’s a bastard of a question, to be quite honest with you.

My natural inclination is to say that abilities have nothing in common and they all work in different ways because… why would they?  As you rightly note, “abilities” covers a very wide range of traits and skills.  There’s no reason to expect that the rules governing a Butterfree’s vision would be anything like the rules governing Snorlax’s rolls of fat.  And in the Mystery Dungeon series, up until Gates of Infinity (2012/13), Pokémon did have both of their abilities.  Sure, that’s not Game Freak, but clearly someone at the Pokémon Company must have looked at the game, and at the time this particular discrepancy was sorted into the “doesn’t matter” pile (and they only changed it during generation V, when hidden abilities came in, so that may have been motivated by a feeling that three abilities at once was too complicated).  Abilities are easier to think about and make a great deal more sense if we say that “ability” is a catch-all term for a bunch of different traits that don’t interact in a uniform way, and that the limitation of one ability per Pokémon is purely a game balance constraint which doesn’t need to be consistent across media and doesn’t have any special meaning.

But of course that would be too easy, so I have to come up with a bull$#!t convoluted explanation that any number of possible retcons could render nonsensical at any moment.  Because there are things in the games that interact with “abilities” as a class of thing, and they interact with all of them – psychological, physical and mystical – in uniform ways.  There are things like Skill Swap, and Entrainment, and Simple Beam, and Worry Seed, and Role Play, and Ability Capsules, and you’ll notice that the anime tends not to show these things, because the Pokémon anime is wiser than I, and knows better than to try to make sense of the clearly nonsensical.  The last time this came up, I suggested that most things which alter abilities are probably some form of mind-over-matter effect – that is, overwriting your Snorlax’s Thick Fat with Worry Seed doesn’t actually cause it to instantly drop a hundred kilograms, so much as it makes your Snorlax forget that its fat protects it from Fire and Ice attacks, causing it to feel more pain than it should.  Which is fine, and explains most of the stuff that interacts with abilities, but not why you can have only one at a time.  And I think we can maybe understand that as suggesting that each ability requires a particular mindset to use.  All Butterfree have the advanced, tinted compound eyes that enable the abilities Compoundeyes and Tinted Lens, but they can’t focus on both the enhanced tracking that improves their accuracy and the multispectral perception that allows them to find flaws in a target’s resistances.  They learn one skill, they stick with it, and the other atrophies from lack of use.  All Snorlax have about the same amount of body fat; it’s just that some of them know how to use it to soak up heat and cold, some of them know how to use their bulk to dilute poisons, and some of them know how to override their bodies’ feeling of being full so they can store even more calories for a potential future crisis.

Now to count the seconds until someone suggests a Pokémon whose abilities can’t be explained this way…

6 thoughts on “Z-nogyroP asks:

  1. Simply to play devil’s advocate…

    What about Pokémon with insanely high intelligence like Alakazam? Surely they can multitask to focus on more than one ability at once. Metagross essentially has four (computer) brains, I would assume all four wouldn’t need to focus on one ability, multitasking is generally the whole point of multiple core processors.

    From a different angle, while mind of matter may work for some aspects like the ones you mentioned, some are so entirely physical it seems to be a stretch to say Skill Swap simply altered their mental state so they *think* they have a different ability.. If you manage to give a say a Charmander levitate (or remove it from a Magneton), it’s not a matter of taking less or more damage, it’s a matter of things that would entirely KO the Charmander won’t even hurt it (surely a little Charmander can’t shrug off Groudon’s earthquake simply because it “believed” it was floating). And if you somehow stuck Arena Trap onto a Magikarp (for god knows what reason), why is the Arceus it’s facing (sorry I’m really making this as crazy as possible) suddenly unable to flee? The fish is the one that believes it can trap god into the arena, Arceus’s mental state wasn’t altered so it shouldn’t be fooled into thinking it must stay. And no matter how much it believed in itself, a Pyukumuku that was somehow given speed boost should NOT be able to suddenly start picking up speed, it doesn’t have the physical ability to.

    Sorry, I might’ve made those scenarios kinda crazy and they’d take ridiculous skill swapping to pull off that would never happen (and not be worth the payoff), was using extremes for effect, some ability swapping doesn’t seem explainable by sheer willpower, it’s one thing if it makes the Pokémon forget it’s protected from heat/cold, but if the move wasn’t done on the opponent they shouldn’t really be suddenly believing swap target suddenly has ridiculous powers, so that Voltorb that was just given Poison Point…

    Yeah, idk what I was going for here, was trying to prove you right with your last statement that someone will suggest abilities that can’t be explained that way, I don’t really know how you’d respond at this point…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In the case of incredibly intelligent Pokémon like Alakazam and Metagross – well, we already know that their intellect doesn’t allow them to learn more than four moves, so it’s believable to me that raw intelligence simply doesn’t overcome the limits on the number of learned behaviours that Pokémon can adopt. Intelligence is a weird and waffly thing that is difficult to categorise and doesn’t work in the same way for all species, and we don’t know much about how Alakazam or Metagross’ intelligence functions other than “they’re really smart,” so it’s hard to extrapolate exactly what they should or shouldn’t be capable of.

      The reason I like the mind-over-matter thing, and do believe it can explain all of your crazy examples and more, is that this is explicitly how Metronome works. Any Pokémon that can learn Metronome – and thanks to the generation III move tutors, there are a lot of them – can use literally any move, no matter how physically impossible it may seem, simply by “waggling a finger and stimulating the brain,” (this is from the in-game description of the move Metronome, in every game from Fire Red and Leaf Green onward) tricking themselves into thinking they should be able to do it. Snorlax can fly, Geodude can swim, Cleffa can belch acid, Ursaring can shapeshift, Dusclops can produce nutritious milk, Mr. Mime can bludgeon enemies with his huge crab claws, and Hitmonlee can roar so loudly it splits time. And all of this, the games tell us, is possible by “stimulating the brain.” I can believe that a move like Skill Swap, which explicitly functions on “psychic power,” could do the same.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. I’ll be honest – I would rather not have abilities work like that. I would rather have them be divided into categories like “physical,” “behavioural,” “abstract” and so on, and have each group work according to different rules – maybe Skill Swap only works on behavioural abilities, Gastro Acid only works on physical ones, Trace only works on abstract ones, and Pokémon always have all their physical abilities but can have at most one of their behavioural or abstract abilities. But I can’t even begin to evaluate the balance implications of all that, except that Skill Swap et al. would be even more useless than they are now. I don’t think the needs of the game are consistent with a world that makes any damn sense, except by invoking literal magic, and very precisely worded and lawyerly magic at that.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Okay, I’ll take you up on that last sentence.

    We’ve all been discussing Abilities that affect the Pokémon itself, or its opponent, and your mind-over-matter explanation may at least partially explain that. But what about Abilities that affect the environment around them? The weather-setting ones are an easy example: what does your mindset have anything to do with actively changing the weather in a clearly not-psychological way that other moves such as Solar Beam and Hurricane and Shore Up can be used differently (or at all, in the case of Aurora Veil)? You might go with an argument along the lines of “mass hpynosis” but then you get to Groudon and Kyogre, and even moreso their Primal Reversion forms. Teams Magma and Aqua believe – accurately, it turns out – that those two can reshape the planet’s climate through nothing but their Abilities. Clearly in these cases these Abilities are actually affecting the physical world on a measurably tangible level, wouldn’t you say?


    1. I don’t think that’s a problem. I mean, I don’t think we’re trying to say that Levitate is all in the Pokémon’s head and just makes it hallucinate that it’s floating in the air – it’s more of a “belief makes the magic real” kind of setup (assuming this is in fact the framework we want to use… which… eh, it’s just the best I can think of, given the clearly nonsensical premises the games give us). Honestly I think weather effects *themselves* are a much bigger problem in their own right, since they’re so widely available – most Pokémon can learn Sunny Day, Rain Dance or both, so presumably those moves work by some mechanism that readily generalises to species who don’t normally have fire- or water-related powers at all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s