Osprey asks:

This is a slightly odd question (or set of questions), but I’ve been thinking lately about how Pokemon perceive or relate to their own type, and whether type distinctions induce some kind of cultural difference among Pokemon. Are Pokemon aware of their own type? Do type distinctions arise “naturally,” or are they simply human-created terms used to organize and taxonomize Pokemon by their salient features? Do Pokemon feel culturally closer to Pokemon who share their type? What about Pokemon from “allied” types, like Water and Ice, or Rock and Ground? Is a Pokemon like Abomasnow who has two types that are fairly “far apart” from each other able to “code switch” to an extent– to “lean in” to his Grass-type features when he’s hanging out with other Grass pokemon, and to his Ice-type aspects when he’s up on the mountain with the other Ice-types?

What do you think about this?

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm…

I tend to think that the world makes more sense if Pokémon type is a construct created by humans in order to understand how Pokémon fight and predict which Pokémon will have advantages against certain others.  If Pokémon type is a natural thing that exists independently of humans, then you need to do a lot of work explaining what it is and how it arises (especially considering that Pokémon of the same type do not usually seem to be related species), and this is work that Game Freak has not done.  I think it would probably imply that each type corresponds to some metaphysical source of magical power that Pokémon can tap into – and honestly I think that might be true anyway for some of the more mystical types like Dragon and Fairy, but for most of them there simply isn’t anything that hints at it in official sources.  Of course, because this is something that Pokémon’s creators probably haven’t thought about, there are a few stray things that do strongly suggest Pokémon types are in some way natural and absolute, like Arceus having forms for every type, and Hidden Powers existing for every type (except Fairy), and there being no exceptions to the type chart.  So… basically, I know what the answer would be if I were in charge, but I’m not confident in anything given the world as we actually see it.

As for what Pokémon themselves think about their types and other Pokémon that share them… well, it probably depends on the type, and on individual species.  Even if we assume Pokémon types are largely human-defined constructs, they still describe properties and powers that a lot of Pokémon have in common.  Those powers might constitute a base of common ground and shared experience that help Pokémon of otherwise very different species to understand and empathise with one another (and I would direct you here to one of my favourite episodes of the Pokémon anime, Bulbasaur the Ambassador, in which the Water Pokémon and Grass Pokémon of Professor Oak’s laboratory grounds are at each other’s throats).  Or… they might not.  One Normal-type doesn’t really have anything in particular in common with another Normal-type, since Normal mostly indicates the absence of any other elemental qualities.  Some Ground-types are linked to the earth as an elemental force, but others are just physically powerful and… well, live on the ground.  I wouldn’t necessarily assume that a Pokémon like Marowak or Nidoqueen “gets” the fundamental nature of earth and soil in the way that Dugtrio or Camerupt might.  Water and Flying are also extremely broad.  On the other hand, Grass Pokémon share physiological differences that set them apart from all other Pokémon, while Fire-, Electric- or Ice-types share the common experiences of embodying elemental forces, Psychic Pokémon can communicate with each other on unique mental channels, and Dark or Fighting Pokémon each have their own sets of specific ethical perspectives that are shared to some extent with Pokémon of the same type.  So there are several ways in which two Pokémon of the same type might be inclined to look at one another and think “ah, yes, you’re like me, and those other Pokémon are not like me,” but we’re not necessarily entitled to generalise much about how that would work for all species.

We can illustrate this with your specific example of Abomasnow.  Abomasnow has plant-like physiology that might help it relate to other Grass Pokémon, whose lives also revolve around things like good soil and exposure to sunlight.  They each understand, intuitively, what the others’ priorities are and what kinds of problems they might regularly face.  Abomasnow’s Grass-type traits probably mean that it has a lifestyle that is a bit alien to most other Ice-types, who don’t have a lot of biological commonalities with it.  On the other hand, Abomasnow mostly live in areas where other Grass-types are pretty unusual, while a wide variety of Ice-types are much more common.  It will know about Ice-types and have direct understanding of how they live and what they care about, even if it doesn’t actually share all the same concerns and experiences.  So you can imagine that it will be able to relate to both, but in very different ways (I like the metaphor of code-switching; I think a short story that explores the concept would be interesting).

8 thoughts on “Osprey asks:

  1. Sense? What fun is there in making sense?
    Come to think of it, nonsensical results raise more questions, and are therefore more exciting from the viewpoint of a proper scientist.

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    1. That’s because a scientist can go on to find the deeper underlying cause and figure out why it actually does make sense according to rules that were previously unknown. When something in a work of fiction doesn’t make sense, it just doesn’t make sense.

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  2. Not-making-sense is in my opinion a superior aesthetic in art and media; things make sense all the time in real life and mostly in horrible or boring ways so it’s nice to have an escape.

    I especially enjoy when things aren’t just unrealistic, but don’t even make internal sense – especially when it pertains to the supernatural. (The exception would be when the work in question is trying to prove a point or when something ostensibly “smart” doesn’t stand up to any serious scrutiny.)

    The Pokémon type chart is an outstanding example of the fundamental “elements” aspect of RPG:s, since it expands on the idea and combines it with other game mechanics in a convenient and stylishly seamful fashion. I especially like how it eschews symmetry and balance (I probably appear sarcastic now, but I’m not.) The distinction between “Rock” and “Ground” is one of my favorite features, aesthetically (and also actually makes sense, sort of, in that it removes the need for further game mechanics – if it was Earth-type, they would have to add another factor to every single Pokémon to determine if they were hit by Earthquake, for example).

    This whole rant isn’t especially relevant to this specific Question but reflects on a few things I vaguely recall you writing about a long time ago. 😛

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    1. I’m not sure I understand your point. The type chart isn’t symmetrical or balanced, but it *does* make internal sense; there are intuitive relationships between the types that function by analogy to phenomena in the real world. If Bug were strong against Steel, Grass were strong against Normal, Ghost were strong against Ice and Water were strong against itself, then I don’t know if it would necessarily be any less balanced, but it would certainly make much less sense. Would that in your view be an improvement?

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      1. (To be clear, in my previous comment I’m not really polemicizing as much as I’m just rambling on about my appreciation for Game Freak’s approach to “elements” as a game mechanic (because the question here made me think about it)… So yeah, I basically don’t have a point here to begin with! Good thing I realized that before writing down four additional paragraphs on the subject – oh wait:)

        Well, it mostly makes sense, but more precisely, many kinds of sense, and there are a few kinds of sense it really doesn’t make…

        To be less obtuse: from what I’ve concluded after many years on the mountaintop, pondering this issue, Game Freak set out to create an asymmetrical and unbalanced, but not unreasonably unfair, type chart where each type interaction either a) makes some kind of sense, or b) doesn’t make no sense. For a), there are obvious things like Fire being strong against Grass, or Flying being strong against Bug, and for b), there are things like Poison resisting Fighting and being weak to Ground, which isn’t really anything self-evident but doesn’t actively defy all reason either – and Poison had to have *some* interactions. And some interactions that would make sense are omitted to prevent any one type from being excessively overpowered (Ghost could be concieved as being immune to all physical types due to the whole incorporeality thing, but being immune to only Normal and Fighting gets the idea across without breaking the type).

        Moreover, though most type interactions do make sense by themselves, some of these interactions start to get dubious when applied to actual Pokémon: Grass is weak to Flying since birds eat seeds and fruit (…is the most common interpretation I’ve found, at least), which means that a shambling mass of vines, a grass-covered goat and a haunted seaweed clump would rather be pelted by rocks or suffer through an earthquake than get struck by a wing. It makes sense that Flying is immune to Ground, and it makes sense in some way that a bone attack would be Ground-type, sinces bones are connected to burying (and burials) – now you can’t hit a bird with your Bonemerang.

        When it comes to improvements I have no grievances as pertains to sense-making, however I think that some underpowered types could be cut some slack by making a few modifications that don’t offend common sense too much – for instance, Grass could use a buff and Flying would probably surive a nerf…

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  3. When I read this question, I immediately thought of a longtime favorite insight ascribed to U.S. thinker Richard Rorty:

    “The world does not speak. Only we do. The world can, once we have programmed ourselves with a language, cause us to hold beliefs but it cannot propose a language for us to speak. Only other human beings can do that.”

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