Quriosity asks:

Can you say something about disabilities in the pokemon world?

Well, the Pokémon world certainly seems to have more advanced medical technology than ours; I’m sure a variety of sophisticated prosthetics are well within their capabilities to produce, and probably all manner of other wizardry designed to make life more convenient for people with sensory impairments, mental illnesses, atypical neurological development, and so on.  We don’t see much of this in the games or anime, probably because the creative leads prefer to quietly believe that all such difficulties have been either solved or obviated by technology, like most social, medical and environmental problems in the Pokémon universe. But I suspect that’s not what you’re getting at.

I’m going to make the (possibly unfounded) assumption that this is a request for me to riff on the concept of “service Pokémon” that got a fair amount of traction in the fandom a couple of years ago – Pokémon who possess special training that allows them to partner with disabled people and in some way alleviate their conditions.  I don’t have any particular original ideas, though I’m a fan of the general concept.  You’d have “seeing-eye dogs” for the blind, just like we do in the real world, but a whole bunch of other variations as well – humanoid Fighting-type Pokémon could push wheelchairs or even just carry people around; Chatot could assist with speech therapy; we already see Chansey trained as nurses who could administer medication to people with extreme allergies or the like; empathic Pokémon like Kirlia and Audino could sense the discomfort of people with a range of psychological conditions and take action to calm them; Togekiss’ aura of happiness could mitigate depression; that sort of thing.  I might stop short of having Loudred serve as living hearing aids for the deaf, if only for the sake of everyone else’s eardrums.  I think in some cases people are a bit cavalier about using the specific supernatural powers of certain Pokémon to relieve various physical or mental symptoms, just because we’ve actually seen in the anime what happens when you try to use a Hypno to treat insomnia – it works perfectly, except a bunch of unrelated kids in the surrounding neighbourhood go insane.  I can imagine special training regimens would be formulated to prevent that sort of thing from happening, but I’d be wary of just giving one of these jobs to an ordinary battle Pokémon – you’d really need to anticipate everything that could possibly go wrong and plan around it.  In principle, though, I love the idea.

And it’s frankly a bit weird to me that official Pokémon media have never picked this up or run with it.  Again, I sort of suspect this has something to do with an assumption on some level that most people with disabilities have just been “cured” by some miraculous technology or other.  And maybe this is something to do with differences in attitudes to disabilities between Japan and “the West” – I don’t know – but to me it’s not just an obvious gap but something of an unfortunate one.  Like, I don’t think the anime has ever shown a blind person, or a person in a wheelchair, or a person with really any other recognisable disability, and… well, when you’re different from everyone else around you, it’s empowering and uplifting to see people like you in the media you love, especially in prominent roles (like, say, Gym Leader…).  That’s true whether you’re disabled, or queer, or a member of an ethnic minority, or of a religious minority, or whatever, and Pokémon’s been getting better about gender and race lately but it still has a long way to go.  Disabled Pokémon trainers seem like a no-brainer, just because the idea actually opens up interesting new creative space.  In particular, Pokémon has always been disproportionately popular with autism-spectrum people; the revered creator, Satoshi Tajiri, has been reported as having Asperger’s syndrome (but see the talk page on his Bulbapedia article; reliable confirmation has been difficult to find and the original source may have been suspect); heck, I’m Asperger’s. There’s something about the core mission of the Pokédex quest to document and categorise that is appealing to that sort of mind.  Pokémon is, for that reason, almost uniquely well positioned to tell stories that present autistic and other neurodivergent people in a positive light, and give those stories to kids and their parents, who are just the ones who need them.  And I get that it’s hard to write characters who represent some minority identity without being defined by it, but it’s not that hard; other game studios are doing it.  It’s part of the responsibility that comes with the power of being a driver of culture.

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 )

Google photo

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

Twitter picture

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s