Ghetsis

Ghetsis’ original design from Black and White.

The Dark Council has convened, and by the will of my mysterious Patrons, my fate is ordained: we’re talking about Ghetsis, the villain of Pokémon: Black and WhiteBlack and White have always been games that I have very mixed feelings about, for all sorts of reasons, and Ghetsis and his role in the story are inextricable from those feelings.  I love the story of Black and White and their sequels; taken together I still think they have the best plot a core Pokémon game has yet produced (although more recent games have different strengths of their own).  I also think they’re deeply flawed and could easily have been so much more.  Ghetsis is a fantastic character – but he and his relationship with the games’ anti-hero (anti-villain?), N, are at the heart of what holds Black and White back.  I’ve talked about Team Plasma, N and Ghetsis before in places, but that was ages ago and some of that old stuff is a little patchy, so this has been a long time coming.  Let’s talk about what makes Ghetsis arguably the most evil character in Pokémon’s history and how he shapes the story of these now-classic entries in the series.

We meet Ghetsis almost at the very beginning of the game in Accumula Town, the first stop on our journey after leaving home, earlier than any other villain in the core Pokémon games, with the exception of Chairman Rose in Sword and Shield.  From listening to a rally of Ghetsis’ supporters, we immediately learn that he is a leader in a group called Team Plasma, whose stated goal is “Pokémon liberation”: they believe that Pokémon are oppressed by trainers and kept from reaching their true potential, and must be set free by ending the culture of Pokémon training altogether.  In stark contrast to Teams Rocket, Aqua, Magma and Galactic, who are all actively engaged in theft or harassment when we first encounter their members, this first interaction with Team Plasma is basically neutral.  They aren’t yet trying to enact Pokémon liberation by force; Ghetsis merely asks listeners in the crowd to “consider” his arguments.  The locals are more confused and sceptical than anything else; Pokémon training is just too deeply embedded in their worldview for his words to make any sense to them, let alone offend them.  If this isn’t your first Pokémon lore rodeo, it probably even occurs to you to think that Ghetsis might have a point.  Pokémon are “subject to the selfish commands of trainers”; it is plausible that “humans only assume” their relationship is mutually beneficial.  And frankly, even if we accept the point that other characters tend to make against Team Plasma – that good trainers regard Pokémon as their partners, care for them and never force them to do anything against their will – the exceptions exist; Team Rocket is out there, and they aren’t even the only ones.

Team Plasma grunts.

Ghetsis is a speaker, a persuader and a scholar, who surrounds himself not just with minions but with intellectuals who quote famous works of philosophy at us.  As a member of the so-called Seven Sages, Ghetsis is in theory a mere advisor to Team Plasma’s true leader, the mysterious N.  Ghetsis reveals to us quite early in the story that Team Plasma isn’t just staging rallies and talking: they want to re-enact an ancient myth of Unova, in which a mighty Dragon Pokémon (Reshiram or Zekrom, depending on whether you’re playing Black or White) appeared to a hero and gave them the wisdom and strength to unite the region.  Even when he explains all this, though, Ghetsis doesn’t speak of himself as the hero and doesn’t threaten conquest, but says he wants N to use the great dragon’s power to “win hearts and minds” to the cause of “Pokémon liberation.”  He even goes along with it when N decides that their re-enactment needs to include another hero – the player – to partner with the second dragon and represent the opposing vision for Unova’s future (secretly he thinks this is a waste of time, but is willing to indulge N and exploit the theatre of it).  Ghetsis’ ostensible plan, which he will happily explain publicly, is all about using the spiritual authority that N will gain by completing the hero’s path to persuade people of the value of Team Plasma’s ideology.  N himself seems to be fully on board with this.  In fact, I’m not sure anyone in Team Plasma realises that Ghetsis’ true goals are more sinister – the other Sages, when you meet them again during the epilogue, speak as though Ghetsis deceived even them, and seem confused about what really happened.  Zinzolin, who returns to Ghetsis’ service in Black and White 2, could have known all along, but honestly, the way he talks about their mission, I don’t think being fooled would have even mattered to him.  As far as anyone who cares can tell, Ghetsis is running a non-violent campaign of persuasion and ideas.

The Seven Sages (minus Ghetsis); from left to right: Zinzolin, Gorm, Bronius, Giallo, Ryoku, Rood.

Early in the story, another of the Sages, Gorm, tells us that Ghetsis “will liberate Pokémon with words alone,” while the rest of Team Plasma uses force.  True to those words, although we meet Ghetsis half a dozen times over the course of the story, we fight him only once, at the very end, when his plans are coming apart, and we never see him ordering Team Plasma grunts to attack anyone or take their Pokémon.  He persuades, he lies, he manipulates, on occasion he makes veiled threats, but violence is not a normal part of his toolbox (or at least, he’s careful to maintain plausible deniability).  On the one hand, this seems to any reasonable person like an admirable quality.  On the other, a lot of Pokémon media – because it wants to encourage an environment where players battle each other in a spirit of good sportsmanship – likes to promote an idea that battles are an exchange of two trainers’ truest beliefs and feelings.  N, who doesn’t even seem to be a trainer in the conventional sense and wants to end Pokémon training altogether, nonetheless battles the player repeatedly, and claims to have gotten a better sense of the player’s character and their bond with their Pokémon in the process.  Fighting in Pokémon is pretty formal, even ritualised in a very martial arts-y way, and is almost more about expression than violence – or at least it’s supposed to be.  In a Pokémon story, the fact that Ghetsis doesn’t fight means that he doesn’t put his beliefs on the line.  Because he never battles anyone, it’s difficult for Pokémon trainers – even wise and experienced ones like Gym Leaders – to get a sense for the kind of person he really is.  And again, Ghetsis says things that are perfectly reasonable.  The Castelia Gym Leader, Burgh, says that Team Plasma’s views raise important questions and promises to change his approach to Pokémon training, and Gym Leaders are set up as characters we’re supposed to respect, so Burgh’s opinion is worth taking seriously.

Ghetsis confronts the player in N’s “castle” at the end of Black and White.

Someone saying all the same things about Pokémon and humans – maybe even in Ghetsis’ exact words – could be the good guy in a different story.  On the other hand… he just has a certain vibe.  Ghetsis’ personal style is grandiose, even in comparison to more recent Pokémon villains.  Dude has serious Final Fantasy villain energy.  It also doesn’t take long before we get more explicit hints at his sinister nature.  In our first hostile encounter with members of Team Plasma, who are harassing a Munna in the Striaton Dreamyard, a wild Musharna creates a vision of Ghetsis to intimidate and threaten them.  “T-this isn’t… Ghetsis when he is gathering followers,” they say, “or Ghetsis when he is trying to control people by tricking them with speeches!  This is Ghetsis when a plan has failed and he is about to issue punishment…”  In mixed company, Ghetsis is civil, articulate, thoughtful and devoted to the greater good.  Those who serve him, however, know well that just beneath the surface he is wrathful, dangerous and cruel.  They’re scared of him.  What’s more, even while speaking about Team Plasma’s benevolent vision, Ghetsis slips up occasionally.  He’ll talk about his vision of “the world that I – I mean, Team Plasma – desires,” or admit that he loves to watch “the moment when someone loses all hope.”  And then, when it looks like he’s won – when N has awakened his legendary Dragon Pokémon, but the player has yet to do the same – he can’t resist gloating, and comes to you on the Tubeline Bridge into Opelucid City to speak one-on-one for the first time.  He still doesn’t tell the whole truth, still says “Team Plasma” when he means himself and still talks about “liberation,” but admits that what he really wants is a world where “we alone will be able to use Pokémon,” and sketches out a course of events where “foolish” and “gullible” people will release their Pokémon first, until a critical mass of public opinion forces everyone else to follow suit.

Ghetsis commands Kyurem to attack the player with Glaciate at the end of Black and White 2.

Maybe the most compelling thing about Ghetsis to me – the thing I remember most about him, years after playing Black and White and their sequels – is how completely he breaks down when each of his two main plots is discovered and defeated.  N gets his climactic showdown of Black and White, Yin and Yang, Dragon versus Dragon, a battle to symbolise the entire ideological conflict of the story, and he loses.  N accepts this loss, and the challenge to his worldview that it represents, with grace.  Ghetsis… does not.  The façade cracks.  Furious with N’s failure, he apparently can’t stop himself from revealing his true plans: to rule the world, humans and Pokémon alike, when no one can use Pokémon to battle but Ghetsis himself and his trusted minions.  Eventually, after Ghetsis himself has been defeated too, he is reduced to impotently yelling “I AM PERFECTION!” and ranting abuse at N, whom he calls “a freak without a human heart,” until he is dragged away by Cheren and Alder.  The same thing happens at the end of Black and White 2, including the same insult to N (“don’t talk like a person, you freak!”).  This time though, it’s his own personal servants, the Shadow Triad, who realise that “Lord Ghetsis has… lost control” and take him away, apparently out of concern for him and seeming almost apologetic as they speak to N, after which we never see Ghetsis again.  Ghetsis has always been calm, self-assured, persuasive and capable of real, challenging arguments about the philosophy of Pokémon training.  It’s hard to reconcile the man he appears to be with the evil we know he’s responsible for.  At the very end, we can see, though – this is who he’s always been, hateful and angry and abusive.  He’s just very good at wearing a mask.  I think that contrast is very powerful, and even though it had been clear to me for a while that Ghetsis was intended to be a bad guy, the sheer venom of his reaction to defeat was startling when I first played Black and White, while the totality of his collapse in Black and White 2 is enough to make me feel pity for arguably the most evil character in Pokémon’s history.

Ghetsis as a villain is great; the fact that we see him for what he is long before anyone else can is honestly kind of satisfying, and the scale and cynicism of his manipulation and deception make him feel really worth hating.  But that’s also… well, it’s also why Ghetsis is kind of the problem with Black and White.

This is a story that presents the possibility for a radical change in how the entire setting works.  It takes something that had previously been set up as a fundamental part of Pokémon’s value system and acknowledges that it might be Bad Actually, in ways that are taken seriously by characters we have reason to trust.  Then… at the end of the day, we learn that all of that was a lie; that the wise sage is evil, that the people working for him are misguided zealots at best and opportunistic thugs at worst.  And much as I like Black and White, and their sequels, I find it difficult not to suspect that the reason the story goes this way is because the alternative would put too much at risk in the real world.  Ghetsis has to be wrong and he has to be evil, because if he’s right, you can’t go on making Pokémon games – at least, not without rewriting a lot of the rules of the world from scratch, both mechanically and narratively.  If Pokémon training is part of a system of oppression, then it’s one that the creators of the game are pretty heavily invested in.  You can’t have the kind of radical change that Team Plasma asks for, then go on to create the Kalos region and set X and Y there and remake Ruby and Sapphire as if nothing had happened.  You have to write a story where that challenge is defeated, and it’s proven that only minor changes are necessary; otherwise it’s your games and your plans for the future that are on the line.

And at this point… although this article is still in principle about Ghetsis, we kinda have to talk about N.

N.

N’s backstory comes to us in pieces, with the most thorough exposition of it coming from N himself at the very end of Black and White 2.  N is… at the very least implied to be Ghetsis’ son – by his own account, he grew up with wild Pokémon in a forest until Ghetsis showed up, claiming to be his father, and took him away to join Team Plasma.  Ghetsis could easily have been lying (it certainly wouldn’t be out of character for him), and there are notes and interviews from the game developers that indicate they meant for N to have a somehow “mystical” origin rather than normal human parentage, but I don’t think there’s anything in the games themselves to make that clear.  Growing up as their anointed “king,” N was kept isolated, allowed to socialise only with members of Team Plasma and select Pokémon who had suffered horrible abuse at the hands of humans, so that he would develop a warped impression of what it meant to be a Pokémon trainer.  Ghetsis did all that, not to make N grow up sharing Ghetsis’ own worldview, but to turn him into a figurehead for the belief system Ghetsis hoped to impose on everyone else.  That’s the behaviour of a literal real-world cult – forcing someone into beliefs you don’t even sincerely hold yourself.  Ghetsis is ultimately responsible for a lot of terrible things, probably including a lot that’s strictly speaking worse than what happened to N.  I think his abuse and manipulation of N hit home more than anything else though, for several reasons: N is a major character whom we’ve gotten to know and care about by the time we learn about his past; he was a child when Ghetsis brainwashed him; the nature of what happened to him was deeply personal and has probably damaged his ability to relate to other humans permanently; Ghetsis had to exploit the trauma of other Pokémon as well in order to indoctrinate him.  Sure, Ghetsis didn’t try to literally end the universe or anything, but what he did was evil in a much more complex and personal way.

Grunts of the Team Plasma loyalist faction, who continue to serve Ghetsis in Black and White 2.

Nonetheless, N is arguably what makes the whole of generation V work; he’s someone who sincerely believes in the ideals that Ghetsis only feigns, and although he holds those beliefs because of the lies he was fed, the games also give us plenty of reason to think that N is special and worth listening to.  He has a mystical ability that lets him talk to Pokémon, he’s coded as some kind of genius savant, and he wins the allegiance of a legendary dragon just like the player does.  As Unova’s Champion, Alder, points out, N’s beliefs can’t be solely the product of Ghetsis’ manipulation; if there weren’t something real there, he could never have become attuned to Reshiram or Zekrom.  At the same time, N’s unique powers make it very important that we’re able to convince him.  N doesn’t have to take humans at their word, because he can actually ask Pokémon whether they’re happy – and he does, repeatedly.  By the end of Black and White, he no longer wants to separate all humans and Pokémon, but he still has lingering doubts, and leaves Unova to travel and think.  Those doubts are still very much in play two years later in Black and White 2, and one of the things I like best about those games is that they allow room for a less one-sided view of the conflict.  They actually show us a splinter faction of Team Plasma led by Rood, another of the Seven Sages, which faithfully follows N’s ideals and is dedicated to helping Pokémon who have been hurt by people.  The original games gave us glimpses of this sincere, noble side to Team Plasma, but the sequels take much more time to develop it.  Even they, though, shy away from validating any of Team Plasma’s radical beliefs: Rood’s people were good, but they were still wrong, and they explicitly see their service to Pokémon now as a kind of penance.  N reaffirms at the end of the story, when Ghetsis has been beaten a second time, that something has to change; specifically, he wants “Pokémon and humans [to be] freed from the oppression of Pokéballs” (my emphasis), which is still an extremely radical proposition for this series.  In the epilogue, though, he eventually gives up his dragon to the player (who is a different character from the protagonist of the previous games), meaning that both Reshiram and Zekrom are now partnered to conventional Pokémon trainers.  Harmony is restored, and N’s vision of a world without Pokéballs is left as a dream for the distant future.

Ghetsis’ darker, more sinister design from Black and White 2.

And what’s Ghetsis doing during all this?  In Black and White 2, Ghetsis has apparently relinquished formal “leadership” of Team Plasma to the eccentric scientist Colress, and takes a back seat for much of the duration of the story.  He is still very much in charge behind the scenes, though, showing up near the end to lament how Colress has failed him by prioritising scientific inquiry over the goals of Team Plasma, and to explain what his goal is this time.  Ghetsis’ new plan is to conquer the world with the third legendary dragon of Unova – Kyurem, whose relationship to Reshiram and Zekrom is the subject of more fandom discourse than we could possibly cover here.  Reshiram and Zekrom supposedly represent Truth and Ideals, and will only make common cause with a hero who proves worthy of those principles.  This is why Ghetsis originally needed N.  Kyurem, on the other hand, represents emptiness and void.  According to Ghetsis, this means it can act as a “vessel” for his all-consuming ambition – exactly what he hoped N would be, when Ghetsis found him: a “freak without a human heart,” a blank slate for his false ideology.  He tries to empower Kyurem by forcing N’s Reshiram or Zekrom to merge with it, creating the monstrous White or Black Kyurem.  This, quite conspicuously, doesn’t work; in gameplay terms, Kyurem simply isn’t the world-ending threat Ghetsis believes it will be, and is actually much more easily dealt with than his own Pokémon team.  I honestly think this may just be a failing of the game design, which doesn’t have many ways to make legendary Pokémon “earn” their plot significance in battle.  However, I have another reading I like better.  The player can later form Black or White Kyurem as well, and that process is described as using Kyurem as a vessel for the “truth” or “ideals” forged by the hero.  I think Ghetsis did that by mistake, introducing N’s values into Kyurem’s empty soul so that it became more than just a vessel for his megalomania.  He does this because he still doesn’t understand; he still sees N, Reshiram and Zekrom as tools without their own agency, not realising that their beliefs and values actually have a lot more substance than his own.

Just as N is like Reshiram and Zekrom – passionate, innocent, utterly devoted to searching for truth and upholding his ideals – Ghetsis is like Kyurem: ultimately, he doesn’t believe in anything at all except power, and that is his failing.  When N loses, his beliefs have taken a hit, but he still has bedrock principles to fall back on and build into new beliefs.  He still sees problems with the world and potential for a better future – even if the games aren’t interested in showing us that.  All Ghetsis has is power and hate, and when he loses, those are gone.

When Ghetsis loses, there is nothing left of him.

So that’s why Ghetsis is a character I have mixed feelings about – he’s an enjoyable villain with an interesting plan, and a powerful contrast and foil to N.  But he’s also the reason Black and White kind of give us permission to write off N and his beliefs as the misguided and short-sighted delusions of a brainwashed dragon cultist.  Of course N believes humans and Pokémon should be separated – wouldn’t you, in his position?  But it’s fine; once he sees what the world is really like, he’ll realise that it’s not actually that bad.  True, there are those lines from the end of each story that seem to validate N and express a hope for future change, but that’s not what the game is about; the game is about stopping him.  A story that asks “what if the status quo is not just suspect but actually terrible?” and concludes “no, some things need to change but basically the world is fine” is… certainly a choice, and to be fair I think it was probably easier to write that story in 2009-2010 than it would be in 2020 (although this is also a criticism I have of Sword and Shield).  However… Black and White act sometimes like they want to be a clean break from the games that came before – for instance, by using no Pokémon from previous generations, and by being the first games set in a region outside “Japan” – and this story sets up so much potential for a really dramatic break that would change what Pokémon is forever.  That change never comes, because there was never any flaw in the world or its people that needed to be repaired: there was just one bad guy, consumed by his own narcissism, ambition and cruelty.

Special thanks to my eternal and deathless Patrons for supporting my work, and especially to Intonyeon, the recently appointed Minister for Heresy of my Dark Council, who suggested this article topic.  Each month, the members of the Dark Council get to choose any topic for me to write about; next up is a review and discussion of none other than the immortal mascot himself, Pikachu!  If you’d like to support my writing and maybe get some input into future writing projects, consider signing up to make a regular donation at https://www.patreon.com/pokemaniacal – every little helps!

21 thoughts on “Ghetsis

  1. This is a great article, there are a several things that speaks about his character – 1. He sees pokemon as tools, and not ‘sentient beings’, (this is elicited when he says as he battles you, “a pokemon, even if its revered as a deity, is still just a pokemon”, and his intelligence/power is proven by his “champion” level team in black and white. His signature pokemon is Hydreigon, a cruel dark dragon that seeks to annihilate all that moves. What are your thoughts on his actions in Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon?

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    1. I believe Giovanni also saw Pokémon as tools, especially considering how he treated and spoke to Mewtwo (probably not his brightest moments). Giovanni was closer to a real world villain though while Ghetsis was still closer to an anime villain (though not nearly as bad as Cyrus in that regard).

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      1. Tbh that’s just the franchise’s go-to characterization for “this is a real bad guy”. All the villains we aren’t meant to empathize with to some extent have it, and it’s basically peak evil in the series. Team Rocket, Team Galactic I’m pretty sure? (Cyrus respects nobody so I guess specifically pokémon might not get that much attention), about half of Team Plasma plus Ghetsis, Team Flare but not Lysander.

        Meanwhile, Team Skull, Magma, and Aqua are mostly exempt, and Lusamine does care for Pokémon, just in a twisted way- which we can see was once healthy.

        I think it’s kinda neat, if cheeky. Judge a man by how they treat their servants and all that.

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  2. Additionally, now that I’m thinking about it a bit more, His and N’s last name is Harmonia – the same as the King in the abyssal ruins. Your thoughts on that?

    Also what about the three different theme songs he has – black white, b2w2, and us/um? I’ve heard that the drums used in them is because he considers himself equated to or higher than arceus.

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    1. Dunno. In the first place we don’t, strictly speaking, *know* that that’s the king’s name. It could be that they’re descendants of this ancient king and that N’s powers come from a special bloodline. But also… we know that Ghetsis has studied the Abyssal Ruins, and honestly I don’t think it would be out of character for him to just… be lying. Like, he’s the only person who tells us that his surname is Harmonia. If it’s true that N is descended from this king, *but also* that he isn’t Ghetsis’ biological son, then I think it’s actually more likely than not that Harmonia isn’t Ghetsis’ real surname.

      As for his battle themes… I’m not a musical person so I’m usually extremely cautious about reading anything into music like that. But… well, he *does* call himself “the perfect ruler of a perfect new world” so I don’t think “god complex” is too extreme a description for how he sees himself.

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  3. I’ve always been of the opinion that Ghetsis is a particularly nasty kind of narcissist, and he shows a few warning signs of Borderline Personality Disorder as well. Not enough to come to any kind of informed conclusion, but certainly enough to make me think that N’s life with him as his ‘father’ must have been a particularly unpleasant one.

    He’s absolutely the most actively ‘evil’ antagonist in the series for me. (Lusamine in the original SuMo games certainly comes close, but I feel her actions come less from a place of active malice and more from one of untreated mental illness.) Everything Ghetsis does is calculated on a level that is legitimately frightening, and the more his actions are examined, the deeper the rabbit hole becomes. Even when he’s working in ‘secret’ in BW2 there’s a level of grandiose malice that never fails to give me the jibblies.

    It’s probably telling that I’ve always found psychological horror like the new Invisible vastly more frightening than shit like the Saw movies…

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    1. I think just how calculated Ghetsis’ actions are is a good indicator of how evil he is. He’s evil enough to put a plan into motion that won’t pay off for… what, over a decade? All that time repeatedly causing abuse to warp N into his proper tool, with plenty of time to second guess himself. Furthermore, that is very controlled evil. He’s not chaotically lashing out (and, as Chris noted, only seemed to do that when his plans were completely derailed), he’s very deliberate in the evil he causes. And he’s quite cunning too. He’s intelligent and charismatic and that’s what really separates evil from mentally ill. To keep the plan on track for so long, he couldn’t slip up in front of N or tarnish his image. I could see him being narcisstic (in fact, I agree he is), but what he did took an ungodly amount of control. Heck, as awful as I’m sure N’s childhood was, Ghetsis had to be sure that N couldn’t trace it back to him. He had to ensure N would view the world as the one with problems and not his “father”. For all that N was, I believe he never implied any fear of Ghetsis, even if some grunts feared him. He definitely was aware enough to make sure that, if he lost control, it would be in front of those who were expendable to his plans.

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  4. I never really thought about how much Ghetsis did ruin the “moral” of BW. Like… yeah, he’s a great villain in a lot of ways, but your points about turning it into a “Ghetsis was wrong and the world is right” took away what could’ve been the most impactful story in the series (though it’s still by far the best, in my opinion). It’s understandable why they didn’t want it to end with the message that Pokemon battling is ethically wrong, but still… so many moral questions brought up and then ignored for the anime villain puppet master plot. I feel like there could’ve been a way to write that WITHOUT shooting themselves in the foot…

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  5. A good article, Chris, but I think you really sabotaged yourself here. Posting this right after you linked to such a magnum opus as the “Ghetsis is Baphomet” theory makes your analysis meager and pale in comparison.

    And you didn’t even talk about what him being Baphomet means for the story! You could have added something meaningful that way, but choosing not to makes this whole song and dance miss the true purpose of the games.

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  6. I think the plot was less “challenging the status quo” and more “evil villain takes advantage of people’s good nature in order to dismantle their main line of defense so he can take over”. It was also never really a question that Pokemon Training is a system that is mutually beneficial to both parties involved in most cases in all sources of Pokemon media, and the cases where it isn’t (ie Team Rocket and some other evil teams) are universally opposed by society. Hell N’s whole deal against pokeballs is contradicted by the anime’s first episode where the pokedex explains that most Pokemon are comfortable inside them and even notes that there are exceptions (of course that could be an anime only thing). It’s also worth noting that some aspects of the status quo are objectively good and questioning them without serious evidence is rightfully seen as being ludicrous. It’s possible Team Plasma’s “liberate Pokemon” shtick is more akin to the anti-vax crowd than calling out actual oppression.

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    1. Whether it’s consistent within the setting is not the point – like, if the writers want their world to be perfect, they can just say that it’s perfect; they’re in charge. It’s like house elves in Harry Potter. Canonically, within the world of the story, according to all available evidence, the vast majority of house elves are happy to live their lives as servants to wizards with extremely limited rights and independence. Within the world of the story, there is no moral quandary there; they *like* being basically slaves and that seems to constitute a good life for them. *Outside* the story, in the real world where we read those books, there’s still a level on which it’s kinda fµ¢£ed up to put that in your kids’ fantasy series as an element of your fictional society, then characterise efforts to change the social order as delusional.

      Works of fiction say things about the real world, whether they want to or not, and not always the things the creators actually had in mind. You don’t always get to control what your work “means” once it’s left your desk.

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      1. I also don’t think the idea that Team Plasma’s position is *intended* to be obviously ludicrous is particularly well supported by the text – like, we have acknowledgements from characters we’re supposed to respect that Team Plasma has a point; we have N winning the respect of a legendary Pokémon from his quest; we have that final line about “the oppression of Pokéballs” (I mean… if we’re supposed to read that line and think “well, that’s obviously bull$#!t,” then what on earth are we supposed to think of N in that moment?); in the sequels we have Colress (who knows *everything* about Ghetsis’ plans) sincerely questioning and researching whether or not Pokémon are stronger with humans. And if it *is* supposed to be, like, anti-vax-level nonsense, then what does the game have to say about phenomena like fake science and bull$#!t ideologies? “Experts” like Burgh are much more receptive to these ideas on initial exposure than ordinary people, who mostly just seem confused, and the movement only gains momentum when it has something undeniably *real* – a legendary Pokémon – on its side. What is *that* supposed to mean?

        I think if we read Black and White with the assumption that there really is no question about the morality of Pokémon training as an institution, then the story is just… not particularly good or interesting.

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          1. That’s… not really an answer. Because if your answer is just “well, yeah, obviously the plot is just bad and dumb” then why come here and talk about it? Why bother reading a nearly 4000-word article about one of the major characters if you actually believe that this is not a good enough story to expect coherence from?

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        1. Plus I think the Pokemon Training system is something that’s upheld by humans and Pokemon alike because, honestly, if Pokemon really wanted to they could completely level all of humanity if they wanted to so it’s hard to believe they aren’t getting something out of the deal.

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          1. See, this is not something I’ve ever bought, because I don’t think we have any reason to believe that Pokémon would have the opportunity or even necessarily the capacity to organise collectively like that. What interest does a wild Dragonite have in “liberating” your Pidgey? None, as far as I can see.

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            1. I don’t see a direct counter argument, but I also don’t think this is a particularly strong argument. We know, see, are told that different pokemon might very well together and as you’ve pointed out yourself, even mons with a low intelligence are still akin to a particularly dumb dog.

              Additionally, the world and story tell us that yes, this system is beneficial for trainers and pokemon alike. Something you’ve even pointed out yourself in this past. Travelling with a trainer allows pokemon experiences they might otherwise not have, and sometimes even induces new ways of evolving. There are benefits to travelling with a trainer. Simultaneously, strong pokemon need some sort of proof of skills, which badges are a symbol for, to be willing to obey a trainer (but please don’t ask me how this works exactly, I kind of assume that it’s not that badge but the battle it symbolises that is considered proof)

              Not to mention that as you point out, the setting is already considered ‘perfect’, or at the very least very good. There’s is no deeply flawed system that abuses its subjects and where most are actually unhappy. Sure, it’s idyllic, but is that a crime? In this sense, the game shows us something that could be, but not necessarily how to get there (because there is no clear cut path for that)

              Not to mention that tampering too much with nature, or selfish pursuit of wealth or influence will eventually negatively affect humanity in the Pokemon world. There’s a whole slew of Sinnoh myths and legends that specifically expand on this.

              At the same time, it doesn’t mean N’s questions and concerns can’t be genuine, and indeed this worlds is very much focuses on battles and proving yourself to ‘be the best’ to the extend it sometimes negatively effects humanity and pokemon alike (or threatens too). I think Cheren is the example of this, his goal of gaining raw power without regard for how or why actually holds him back. And this is not even out of malicious intent or neglects of his team, he’s simply shortsighted.

              Long term players at the start of BW will also probably already see some of the issues with a complete separation of humanity and pokemon (which I think is very much akin to organisations like PETA which advocate for a total separation between humanity and nature, but that’s a different point). Team Plasma doesn’t just want to abolish the trainer system, they want complete separation, and abolishing trainers, who are the symbols of the relationship between humans and pokemon, is the first step to that.

              But considering how many species are actually dependent on humanity, in one way or another, this separation would most likely have disastrous consequences. And that’s where N realizes he’s wrong, even if he still continues to hold onto some of his believes and some of his point remain valid.

              And in that sense, I think Amie builds upon this, semi-unintentionally, as it highlights the non-battle relation between a pokemon and its trainer.

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              1. Well, yeah, the writers are *allowed* to do that, and it’s *fine*; they can have their perfect world and include stuff to smooth over anything that seems problematic, and I can write about how I think all of that is implied to work, and we can go on playing Pokémon and not feel like we’re endorsing slavery. Whatever, it’s *fine*. But in the end that’s not really what this is about, for me; I think the story is *more interesting* if N is right. Conflict is interesting, change is interesting. I think if you have a world where there are problems like this built into its most basic assumptions, then trying to make them go away is shying away from your potential. That’s the whole reason I think Black and White have the best story in the series, but it’s also the reason I think they could have been so much better.

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        2. The problem inherent with Pokemon is that questioning the ethics of this fictional world destroys the lighthearted, child-friendly nature of the series. If they want to try to eliminate the ethical issues, then the signature game mechanics (capturing/battling) would need to be heavily altered. If they acknowledge the issues but don’t change anything, they’re basically asking the players to accept that their favorite protagonists are participating in an oppressive system. They don’t want kids to doubt the righteousness of their heroic self-insert. As a result, any moral dilemmas are going to be presented in a halfhearted manner.

          Take Pokemon capture for example. Many Pokemon want to be captured because they understand the benefits of human companionship, but we’re also led to believe that any Pokemon that doesn’t want to be captured won’t allow itself to be because Pokeballs are not like cages. However, the game mechanics have contradicted this from the very beginning. The fact that you are encouraged to weaken wild Pokemon in order to capture them implies the Pokemon doesn’t have a say in the matter. The Pokeball shakes because the Pokemon is trying to escape until they eventually become too weak to break the ball’s seal. We can twist ourselves into a pretzel to come up with an alternate explanation, but it’s very obvious what’s going on. Our ability to capture Mewtwo is the final nail in the coffin. An angry, highly intelligent, frighteningly powerful creature with a grudge against all of humanity is not going to willingly partner up with the first person who fights it in a cave, no matter how special our character is supposed to be. If free will actually mattered, Mewtwo would be un-capturable, but that’s not fun from a gameplay perspective.

          I don’t think there’s a way to fix this without overhauling the very foundation of the series. A character like N can drive the plot and even be presented as sympathetic, but he can never be “correct.” He’s the game designers’ way of saying “Yeah, we see the problem, we’re not dumb, but things aren’t going to change.”

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          1. Right; it’s hard to tell more serious and interesting stories when your world hasn’t really been set up that way and you never thought through the ethics of your setting’s basic rules and assumptions. I don’t think the fact that it’s for kids necessarily makes anything else a hard “no,” though – like, *should* we teach children black-and-white (lol) morality? Is that really all kids are capable of understanding? For younger children it’ll just go over their heads, sure, but so will a lot of stuff that’s already in these games. It’d definitely take a pretty high degree of skill on the part of the writers to approach that in a way that doesn’t get too explicitly brutal, but I don’t think it’s theoretically impossible.

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