If you were a gym leader, what would your gym experience be like,?
So I have a really old thing somewhere, where someone asked me a question that was not this, but I answered this question instead by outlining a gym that specialised in nocturnal Pokémon where you had to find your way to the leader by reading glowing constellations painted on the floor.
Therefore, I will now continue the cycle by leaving that old answer there, then answering a slightly different question that someone else will ask me seven years from now, thus fulfilling the prophecy.
(look, if you’re going to follow this blog you’re going to have to accept that time and causality are not always super-firm in my presence; deal with it)
So the slightly different question I will now answer is what role I would like gyms and gym leaders to have, or what institution I would like to replace them, in some hypothetical future generation, which is a thing I’m somewhat interested in at the moment. Alola had trials, trial captains and totem Pokémon instead of gyms, gym leaders and badges, and I was kind of hoping that future games going forward would have neither gyms nor trials, but some other thing that was specific to the culture of each region. Galar didn’t do that, but Sword and Shield do also make an effort to have Galar’s gym culture be distinctive and part of the region’s identity, so I think I’m okay with it. I would still like some Pokémon regions to have something other than classical Kanto-style gyms, because that’s just more interesting to me, but gyms are also fine as long as you do something mindful with them, like how Sword and Shield has this clear aesthetic concept of Pokémon training as a mass spectator sport, with fame and spectacle as themes for several of the characters.
At the moment I’m kind of intrigued by the idea that we all go on Pokémon journeys as kids because going on a Pokémon journey is supposed to be part of growing up – so maybe there are regions where, in fact, it is viewed as an educational experience and structured as such. You can choose to take a year out of school and go on a journey with some Pokémon instead, and there are things you are supposed to learn from that, about how to care for Pokémon, work with them, manage their habitats, observe them in the wild and so on. So gyms exist, and they provide a place for young local trainers to hang out and practise, but they are also supposed to certify the progress of trainers who are currently on their journeys. That might involve a battle, but it usually also involves some kind of assignment you pursue outside the gym that is supposed to somehow test your commitment to the responsibilities of a Pokémon trainer, in the same way that trials are supposed to illustrate Alolan values. Maybe some of these assignments introduce game mechanics, like Pokémon breeding or EV training; maybe some of them are tied into the plot, like being sent to investigate something that’s disturbing wild Pokémon, which turns out to be Team Evil. The point is that each gym leader is there specifically to teach you something; they have to moderate their own personalities and demeanour to fit that role. Battling the Elite Four and Champion is, like, your “final exam;” you’re expected to lose but you get points for putting up a good fight, and actually winning is the equivalent of an A+. If you were so inclined, you could build an interesting story out of this about the role of formal education and assessment in perpetuating, evolving or ossifying the values of a society.
Y’know, or you could have the story be something unrelated about a legendary Pokémon that controls time or death or the primordial force of big-ness itself; whatever.