The Dag asks:

What do you think is both the origins(s?) of ghost Pokemon and how they’re unified by a common theme; I. E. How some are explicitly defined as spirits of dead humans, while others are merely natural creatures with ghost-like powers, Vs possessed objects given life through other forces, and how it all ties into the Pokemon world.

Welllllllllll I think we have decent reason to believe that Pokémon’s creators imagine a sort of “spirit world” that exists apart from the material world, and that Ghost Pokémon are all in some way “touched” by that plane, but don’t necessarily all have the same relationship with it.   Maybe some of them are from there originally, while others were once normal creatures that have been altered by exposure to it, or have developed the ability to access it as a source of power (which might also be a thing humans can do in the Pokémon world, as channellers or mediums, or through whatever “ancient science” was used to create Golurk).  Beyond that… I don’t know, and I think that might be kind of the point?  Like, I think the actual real answer to this question might be “there are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” – that is, there are some things in the universe that just are mysterious, and you can’t logic them out or determine the answer experimentally.  That’s not because we’ve missed something or because the lore is poorly thought out; it’s actually the point, because it’s meant as a comment on the limits of scientific thinking (which… well, to be honest I don’t think Pokémon has a very well-formed idea of how science might work in a fantasy world, and the writers need to read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, but this is neither the time nor place).  The spirit world doesn’t have consistent rules and different Pokémon relate to it in different ways, because if we could understand it, then that would defeat the purpose.  Moreover, many Ghost Pokémon have powers of illusion and a reputation for deception and trickery; they have the means and the desire to obfuscate the issue.

6 thoughts on “The Dag asks:

  1. Well, in my (alarmingly enough, not very humble) opinion, a fictional “magic system” is done right when there are no consistent rules and done wrong when there are. Or if the creator decides to set rules to prevent themselves from abusing magic to solve awry situations they’ve put themselves in, they should take care to never explain themselves too much. Actively obscuring the rules awards you a happy-face sticker in the corner!
    Ghost-types get at least five happy-face stickers 🙂

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    1. It depends on what the story is about, surely? Like, if your protagonists regularly use magic to solve mysteries and overcome obstacles (like, say, the Harry Potter series), then if you don’t set up any rules or limitations, the resolution of every plot is just “and then magic happens and they win,” which… seems like really terrible storytelling. Maybe you have secret rules, but if the audience isn’t allowed to know them, what difference does that make from their perspective? You might as well just be lazy and have things happen at random with no explanation.

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      1. TL;DR: Well yeah, but I’m going to write five paragraphs about it anyway 😮

        When it comes to the Harry Potter series, I’d actually be inclined to view it as a low-rule, low-explanation setting. Obviously the later books are less whimsical than the first few, which is sort of necessary as the books progressed into darker themes and more intricate plotlines and all that stuff, but as a whole, they compare favorably to some (one) other books (book) I’ve read where some Dumbledore archetype just up and lectured the protagonists about the Complete Rules of Magic at some length.

        There is obviously this conflict between maintaing the “aesthetic” of magic as unpredictable and fantastical and writing a solid, good, cohesive plot (which a lot of people are into for no good reason and it really grinds my gears I tell you). I still think you can get the best of both worlds with some effort, though. One possibility is to use descriptive statements (“No one has discovered the secret to immortality…”) rather than prescriptive (“The X rule of magic states that you can’t create food out of thin air”) ones as tools to establish the stakes/mysteries/limitations.

        And another approach is to go hard on the whimsical when it comes to plot-irrelevant stuff. Rowling’s books are filled with these nonsensical things that are mostly just there to establish the setting, and I think it works well. (Settings that completely revolve around something supernatural, such as Harry Potter and Pokémon, have to sort of accept that the shock-and-awe effect of their supernatural feature will be diminished, in contrast to comparatively low-magic settings like LotR, but whimsy is a good replacement.)

        I think the loser on all accounts have to be more standard-fare RPG:s (like Final Fantasy). They sort of can’t forgo -interface- predictability and systemized rules for gameplay reasons, which often has some rather nonsensical implications on the plot (and though that’s exactly my cup of tea, these RPG:s seem to aim for serious plots, which do suffer a bit when Phoenix Downs can’t resurrect Aeris this time). And on top of that, since gameplay also benefits a lot from magic being commonplace, the “fantastical” feel of magic is sadly dented. (I tried coming up with a magic system for a standard-fare JRPG that would be able to achieve my ideal for the perfect “fantastical” feel; by my estimation that game would be half as balanced and twice as haxxy as Gen I OU. Half the game would be incredibly frustrating and slow-paced as you’d have to suffer and heal /realistically/ from injuries for a long time lest the aesthetic impact of Healing Magic be tarnished.)

        “You might as well just be lazy and have things happen at random with no explanation.”

        Well, I think someone who /effortfully/ and /conscientiously/ has things happen at random with no explanation will achieve the superior results. But laziness is a good runner-up. So basically, yes please!

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        1. I feel like we’ve had this conversation a couple of times, around whether it’s good for fiction to “make sense,” and every time you say something that I just cannot parse. What does it mean to have things effortfully and conscientiously happen at random with no explanation? Like… effortfully is not random, and conscientiously is not unexplained. Those are contradictions. I feel like you and I just don’t mean the same thing when we use these words.

          Like, I disagree, fairly strongly, that Harry Potter is low-rules. There are set spells that the characters learn that do specific things and tend to be fairly predictable in that. There’s no “physics system” that explains where magic comes from, why saying a particular incantation causes a particular thing to happen or why you need a want, but magical incantations are well enough established as a “thing” in fiction you don’t really *need* those; you can ask the audience to buy into that when they start reading. If you compare it to magic in, say, the Lord of the Rings (where magic is a symbolic force of goodness or evil, rather than a subject being taught in a high school), it’s dramatically more consistent and predictable.

          Alohomora opens physical locks on doors and chests, and if in the last book Rowling had a character discover that you can also cast it on a person to “open their heart”… that would seem like a really bizarre violation of the way magic generally seems to work in the series. It would be more random, and discard the rules that have been set up in Harry Potter’s magic, and make less sense, and those are all things that I *think* you’ve said are *always good* in fiction, but I struggle to see how it could be anything but really, really dumb in context. Yet I can imagine a different series, where magic is less predictable and runs more on metaphor (a lower-rules one, if you like), in which that would be a perfectly reasonable and creative use of an “open locks” spell that would feel like it made sense in context. That, to me, is not a *better* story or setting, just a different one that would suit different themes and emotions.

          Or, to be even more extreme… if the Harry Potter series ended with Harry casting Lumos, but this time the Lumos spell summons aliens from Tau Ceti who destroy Hogwarts by pouring ten billion tonnes of concrete on it from orbit… is that a better conclusion than what actually happened? Or is that not actually “something happening at random with no explanation”?

          I mean, I absolutely agree in principle that any given story only *needs* a certain amount of rules and logic, and that taking time to set up more than that can render the story clunky and awkward, and that implicit rules that are revealed gradually as they become relevant (if at all) are more elegant than a chapter-length exposition dump at the beginning. And I *feel* like maybe that’s all you’re saying, but I’m not quite sure?

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          1. So it is possible that I, when noticing that I’ve stated an opinion in a way that sounds reasonable, opt to change the wording (or the opinion) to make sure it sounds ridiculous instead. I can see how that might not be the most expedient way to, you know, have an actual discussion.

            I – genuinely – think that the “Lumos opens your heart” twist could work really well on an emotional level; the “Lumos pours ten billion tonnes of concrete” twist would be funny, of course, but in that “Internet meme”-random kind of way that I think would be detrimental to the overall feel of a series such as Harry Potter. So the latter example I would consider a worse conclusion than what actually happened.

            Basically, I’m more inclined to judge media on grounds of emotional impact (sadness, comedy, sense-of-wonder) rather than, so to say, “making sense”. (And I suspect this makes me a philistine when it comes to literature specifically.) I hope you can sort of understand what I mean by this, whether you agree or not. While I enjoy being willfully obtuse to amuse myself it’s not with the intent of wasting someone’s time trying to figure out what I mean – especially when it seems we basically agree, to various degrees, on many things here – so I hope I am not now being /accidentally/ obtuse.

            I could try and clarify what I mean by effortfully and conscientiously created randomness and unexplained…ness(?) since it something I try my best to achieve in my own work, but it would probably become an overly wordy comment and sound really, really pretentious as well.

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            1. I think that’s the difference in what we’re trying to say. If media successfully does something that has emotional impact, then everything that goes into that moment qualifies to me as “making sense” on a thematic level. If something’s in there for a reason, and that reason is to set up a particular reaction from the audience, that “makes sense.” I think stories should *usually* have some kind of logic to them, but it’s fine for that to be a logic that answers to character growth or allegory or theme, rather than, like, the literal laws of physics – as long you take the time to set it up that this is the kind of story you’re telling.

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