The Dag asks:

Why do you think Poison-type Pokemon were so commonplace and widespread in Gen I and since then have been relatively scarce since?

Honestly, maybe the fact that it’s true is the reason for the thing itself?  Like, if balance of the number of Pokémon in each type is something that Game Freak cares about at all, then you could fairly look at the 33 first-generation Poison-types and say “okay, we have more than enough of these.”  Per Bulbapedia, Poison is still the 8th most common type out of 18, despite gaining only three new members in generation II, four in III and just two (Skrelp and Dragalge) in VI.

I think Poison is just… a weird thing to even be a type, frankly.  It’s like Flying, in that it’s more something a Pokémon does than something a Pokémon is (except arguably in the case of industrial waste Pokémon like Muk and Weezing), and it’s not hard to imagine its abilities being given fairly freely to Pokémon who aren’t actually members of the type.  And… well, think of other JRPGs.  Poison is always a status effect; off the top of my head I can’t think of any games that have a concept of status effects where poison isn’t one of them.  However, I think I’m justified in saying that it’s very rarely, if ever, a trait of monsters that affects their general strengths and weaknesses.  Having Poison as a type at all is a very weird decision, both conceptually and in terms of mechanical game design, and generation I also slaps it on several Pokémon for whom poison is… arguably not a very strong part of their identity – Bulbasaur, Golbat, Nidoran?  I’m really going out on a limb here, but it’s sort of plausible to me that Game Freak’s designers genuinely didn’t know what to do with the Poison type for quite a while after the first games.

23 thoughts on “The Dag asks:

  1. To be fair, Poison isn’t even the weirdest ‘element’ to be made into a type; I would say that honor goes to Bug. All Bug Pokémon are Bug-type purely because of what they *are* and not at all because of what they can *do*. In fact, most Bug-types moves have little-to-nothing to do with bug-ness (X-Scissor? Fury Cutter? U-Turn? Silver Wind? Megahorn?); the only ones that do are probably Infestation or Vespiquen’s Orders.

    I do wonder how they perceived the type in Gen I though… What motivated them to assign the type to, as you said, Bulbasaur, Golbat, or Nidoran? What was their thought process, and how has it changed over time? I have a sneaking suspicion that Poison’s original purpose was to be ‘the bad type’ – hence Team Rocket’s reliance on it, both in the games and the original anime. But if so, how does that explain Koga? Questions abound.


    1. I assume the Bug-type exists at least in part because bug collecting inspired the franchise to begin with. I surmise bug collecting is a more common hobby in Japan than in the Anglosphere (and that bugs are, overall, better appreciated).

      I’m paraphrasing the reputable Dr. Bogleech on this next part: bugs apparently also have a Superhero (…Sentai I think it’s called?) connotation in Japan, and some of the moves are simply flashy stuff meant to reference that. X-Scissor and Megahorn refer to insect anatomy (pincers and the horns of rhinoceros beetles – Megahorn made more sense when it was Heracross’s signature move).


      1. Oh yes, bug collecting is (or at least was) a massively popular activity in Japan, an activity that has been steadily declining due to the country’s rapid urbanization. Lamenting that fact is partly what inspired Tajiri in the first place.

        Point of correction: ‘sentai’ refers to a team of costumed heroes complete poses. Think Power Rangers or Sailor Moon. But you are right that bugs are commonly depicted as superheroes in Japan; a lot of samurai armor have insectoid motifs and the Kamen Rider franchise likely codified the look in modern culture. I suspect this is why Bug is super effective against Dark (aka the Evil type)!


        1. Indeed – and before Dark was introduced in Gen II, Bug and Poison were super effective against other, which in my book conclusively points to Poison being intentionally cast as the bad guy type.


      2. Frankly, “Bug”-type (or better said makes the least sense to me as an example of making a body- or animal-type into an elemental-type or class. (I mean, the “Bug”-type is basically all arthropods sans crustaceans like Kingler, Crawdaunt, Clawitzer, etc which are primarily Water-type.) I would be all for eliminating the Bug-type altogether so dual Bug-types become mono-types* (ie, Paras & Parasect become Grass-type only, Heracross becomes Fighting-type only, etc) & mono-Bug-type Pokémon become Normal-type while most Bug-type moves & signature moves are reassigned to the Normal or Fighting-types. I get it that in early Pokémon games GF tried to pay homage to bug collecting (hello Bugsy & other Bug Cathers / Bug Maniacs!) but as a standalone concept, the Bug-type often feels like an after-thought in terms of “game balance”, strategy, or design.

        * not to over-think this (I am) but there would be exceptions, possibly like Scyther, which could work as a Normal-type or Normal/Flying-type. Meanwhile, Lepidoptera-inspired Pokémon like Butterfree and Vivillon could become Normal/Flying-type; Dustox would become Poison/Flying-type (ditto for Beedrill, arguably).


    2. Yeah the “bad” type idea doesn’t really work with all the grass/poison mons (Bulbasaur, Oddish, Bellsprout). Poison seems to be as simple as “has poison or venom”, and like, only in cases where that’s a part of the actual design (outliers remains like Bulbasaur). Even the slightest bit of venom, canonically, makes it poison (at least early on).

      Bug may be weird, but I think Name (required) already stated some of the best counter arguments. I think flying is a weirder type than bug. At least bugs all more or less have A unified trait (they’re bugs). Flying is… well things that fly, things that float, things that jump high, things that are light, things that have wind elemental powers, Doduo… and then there’s things with those traits that AREN’T flying. Flying has no unifying trait, big or small.

      Not to mention fighting is also way too abstract. Early on it seemed to imply human fighting styles, whether it be martial arts or even basic punches and kicks… except some punches and kicks were normal. Over time it’s gotten less and less consistent and we’ve reached the point where we have non-humanoid fighting Pokemon that don’t fight at all like a human would. There’s a weird blurry line between normal and fighting types.

      What I’m saying is, I honestly feel bug is one of the more explainable types.


      1. Oh no, I get that Bug is a very cohesive type by way of their physiology! I’m just saying it’s peculiar as ‘an elemental power in an RPG’. You look over at other massive JRPG franchises like Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, or Shin Megami Tensei and none of them have anything even resembling ‘bug’ as a power or even a status effect; at most it’s a type of monster.

        I think Flying makes more sense when you consider that it’s originally supposed to be the Bird-type. I assume GF started with that idea, applied it to the Normal/Flying Pokémon and the Legendary birds, then changed their minds and reworked it so it would also apply to any Pokémon that either can fly or has wind powers. The fact that all Flying-type specialists almost always uses bird Pokémon (as well as the existence of Bird Keepers as a Trainer class in general) is rather telling of how GF views the type.

        To me, Fighting is less about, well, actual fighting and more about a dedication to a physically-demanding lifestyle. Martial artists, athletes, knights, bodybuilders, construction workers, and even juvenile delinquency all fall under this category. Either that or a reference to a real-world cultural practice (Heracross = insect fighting). The only ones I absolutely cannot figure out are freaking Primeape and Mega Mewtwo X…


        1. And bug IS a monster type in Pokemon. You have to take into account that monster types and “elemental powers” are the same thing in Pokemon. I can’t really think of many RPGs that do that (and the ones that do have the same sorts of issues). It’s more of how the game mechanics are set up.

          I’m of course we’ll aware of bird type but that argument doesn’t really fit later gens, since they abandoned it before gen 1 even came out – remnants remain in gen 1 (like Doduo, who has no business being flying type despite being a bird), but even in that gen they gave flying to things that weren’t birds. My point was flying is now a hodgepodge of different ideas. And there’s plenty that don’t even fit into the three groups you stated (is a bird, can fly, or wind powers). Like Jumpluff who is flying type because… it’s light and floats? Or Mantine, who’s flying type because… uh… the way manta rays swim look sorta like they’re flying through the water? Flying type is an absolute mess, and the “well it used to be bird type” only can really apply to why Doduo is flying (as far as I can think).

          And there’s plenty of Pokémon with physically demanding lifestyles that AREN’T fighting type, and there’s Pokemon without physically demanding lifestyles, that just doesn’t fit. It’s not a cohesive type. It’s another hodgepodge of ideas that often require different rationale each time. Most Pokemon are constantly training for battle. A dedication to their training isn’t a fighting type thing.


          1. I really like your first point there! I agree; I think ‘Type’ does kind of roll ‘elemental power’, ‘physiology’, ‘habitat’, and even ‘behavior’ (thinking of Dark literally being the Evil-type in Japanese) into one all-encompassing category. It does, however, have the side effect of multiple Pokémon fitting more than two types at once but for differing reasons.

            I find it parsimonious to assume GF’s change-of-mind on what the Flying-type is supposed to be happened mid-development of Gen I. That’d explain why we got the likes of Dodrio and Farfetch’d but also Golbat and Gyarados, and they just kept making both birds and vaguely airy/windy/floaty things and classifying them under the same thing. Fighting… I don’t know man, I’m just trying to make sense of this hodgepodge of ideas and that’s the best I got. I do find it odd how certain body attacks (that don’t have explicitly elemental powers) aren’t Fighting-type… Like, is there any objective difference between e.g. Body Slam and Body Press? Only Game Freak knows, I guess.


            1. Wow, didn’t see this until now! Sorry!

              Yeah, the inconsistency of what “type” means created a lot of issues that at this part are too far gone to address. And many Pokemon at this point need more than two types to accurately address them individually… but that would lead to chaos.

              I do agree that the nature of flying types switched in the middle of development for the first games… but they didn’t follow through on whatever idea they thought it was even in that gen, let alone later. Some flying types have no wind powers but can fly. Some flying types can’t fly but have wind powers. Not to mention the “neither” cases like Jumpluff. Even that pattern of birds always being dual flying types got abandoned in gen 8. Ultimately, yeah, flying type as multiple ideas shoved into one group. Would it make more sense to at least split it into “flying” and “wind”? Probably. Is it too late to do so? Yes. Do we really need another type? Probably not. Is there any world where Jumpluff deserves flying type? No. (Maybe I’m being harsh there, but to me “being light” is hardly a reason to be flying type, and as far as I’m aware it’s just at the mercy of wind.) Is this a pointless conversation to carry on with? Likely, I think we’re at least in close agreement and it is what it is!

              But fighting… man, fighting. It’s just a mess. I tried to take into consideration what was consistent about gen 1 fighting types and… nothing is? We have two martial artists, which under any definition should be fighting. We have a bodybuilder, which… is borderline fighting? Obviously Machamp has the muscles to pull off some serious hits, but generally body building is more about show than application, and… okay fine, I guess it’s fighting, it does train a lot, even if it seems to be to build muscle than follow a specific fighting style. We have a… swimmer? That’s the only reason I see Poliwhirl as fighting type, it’s athletic. It can punch, sure, but so can most things with arms. And then Primeape. Freakin’ Primeape. It… fights? I can intuitively say it’s fighting type because I’m programmed to think that but I have no actual reasoning besides “it can punch and kick”. Later gens didn’t help either, and we’re at the point where we have fighting types that are construction workers smacking things with steel beams. And as you pointed out, the moves don’t help clarify it. How’s a mega punch less fighting type than a mach punch? There’s some weird vague cutoff between fighting and normal moves, and we can make justifications for ever move (and Pokemon) but that shouldn’t be necessary, it should be clear at first glance, ya know?


      2. You know what else doesn’t have a unified trait? Normal. You would think Normal Pokemon would be the most straight forward, and yet, I don’t think anyone could effectively answer the question of “what makes a Pokemon Normal Type?”

        You might respond with something like “They aren’t associated with any other type,” but then what about dual-type Normal Pokemon? Why is Sawsbuck specifically classified as Normal, but other mammalian Grass Pokemon like Gogoat are exclusively Grass? What makes Pyroar Normal while other Fire Pokemon who aren’t literally on fire, like Arcanine, aren’t? What qualifies Heliolisk to be Normal/Electric, but Pikachu is pure Electric?

        Moreover, why is sound considered Normal? Normal is resisted by Rock and Steel Pokemon, and Ghosts can ignore Normal attacks completely, but that should be the opposite for sound. Sound travels faster through solids than it does through liquids or gases, so Pokemon that are far more dense, like Rock and Steel Pokemon, should be taking more damage from sound based moves than other Pokemon, not less. And what would make Ghosts objectively immune to sound attacks?

        It seems to me that Normal is just a vague concept randomly slapped onto Pokemon without anyone actually knowing what the type is supposed to be.


        1. I’d say Normal’s “unified traits” are any and all of: plain boring animals + brute bodily force, as well as vague uncategorizable weirdness + isolated specificity. Not very tidy, but I’ll defend it anyway:

          Most types “consist of” (or rather, suggest) a sequence of traits, none of which need apply in every single instance – much like any human conceptualization, or words in general, outside of scientific contexts.

          I strongly agree on the details though: I would also like Game Freak to be a bit more organized about the way they hand out types. And I think you raise a good point about sound-based moves. If they were classified as Fighting-type moves, they’d at least be strong against the Solid types, and (personally) I kind of like the idea of Fighting’s Special moves being sonic attacks. It sort of works with Fighting’s dedication & training angle, at least from a human point of view.

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  2. The Bulbasaur line is based on toads*, which do make sense as being Poison-types. (Bold speculation: maybe they didn’t feel like it would be “right” for an animal to be pure Grass at that point?)

    The Nido’s are at least stated to be Poison Pin Pokémon, though that comes across a bit as though they felt like Poison was the best aesthetic fit for them and slapped on the poison pin flavor after the fact.

    As for Zubat…
    Uh, maybe they all have rabies?

    (*Which has apparently been Officially Confirmed – Gen I’s approach to monster design does leave them rather ambiguous about it.)

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    1. Huh. I always thought the Bulbasaur line looked more… dinosaur (Jurassic Park dinosaur, not real world bird dinosaur). Granted, not like any real dinosaur, but at least more reptile than amphibian. Honestly thought the patches implied scales.


      1. That probably has as much to do with their English names as anything else… but Bulbasaur’s Japanese name basically translates to “what is this I don’t even” so…


  3. You know, reading all you guys’ comments I have to say, I think the franchise would be quite a bit more boring if we lost all the types that “don’t make sense”.

    Poison and Flying have no unifying characteristics? Well, what else do we do with zubat? Is it a dark type? A normal type?
    If we didn’t have bug, it’d be harder to codify and find a place for designs like pinsir, scyther or ninjask.

    Poison helps us codify scuzzy pokémon that are kinda nasty without being supernatural, flying helps us codify… well, lots of things. Air associated things. Mons like drifloon deserve flying powers, but so do mons that just are birds, it makes sense the type is messy because it has several associations.

    I don’t want more types, fandom ideas like “cosmic” “light” or “sound” are just attempts to be exotic without substance (sound is popular but if each gen tried to introduce a single line of sound pokémon, it’d get repetitive immediately.)

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  4. General comment on the weirdness of types like Poison, Bug, and Flying:
    It’s admittedly intuitive to interpret types through the lens of “elements”, ie fundamental forces of nature and all that stuff, as that’s one of the most ubiquitous concepts in RPGs (and both video games and fantasy in general). From that approach stuff like Poison (and “Earth” being split into Ground and Rock) is strange indeed.
    But I think they decided to call Types “types” and not “elements” specifically because they’re not supposed to connote “elements”, or anything in particular, at all. They’re just a game mechanic intended to combine and simplify several different aspects of RPG gameplay into one single framework, to make it easier to keep track of 151+ different playable characters, who are also simultaneously your roster of enemies.

    In a typical JRPG the player characters would have the usual list of stats (HP, Strength/Attack, Magic, Agility/Speed) and several equipment slots (and the equipment also has stats). Enemies don’t necessarily share the same set-up. Elemental powers and resistances either follow a strength-and-weakness system, like in Pokémon but much simpler and more linear, or are listed as a separate set of stats (especially for enemies, PC:s will usually have these resistances tied to equipment). And then, depending on the game, you will have additional binary properties (“hit by melee attacks”/”airborne”) – that are individually assigned to enemies, and sometimes players – to keep track of as well. For a game with 151+ PC:s, learning the type chart is less messy, I’d say. The type mechanic lets you infer a lot of strategic information from one/two points of data (“Fire/Flying”) that would otherwise have to be individually assigned in a much more decentralized fashion.

    (I’d say this “justifies” the existence of Flying, Rock and Ground. Say you have a JRPG with “Earth” as an elemental attribute. How does it affect the Roc? In the strength-and-weakness system, you’d have to choose between the bird being hit by the Quake spell or not being hit by the [projectile-rock] spell. Or you could give it the binary property of “airborne”, and then also assign “hits airborne enemies”/”fails against airborne enemies” properties to each individual attack, possibly on top of an elemental system – arguably at least as complicated and messy as Pokémon’s system.)

    Moreover, it makes this mechanic an aesthetic affair of sorts as well, adding, more identity and specificity to creatures and attacks that would usually just be clumped together in “Physical”/”Non-Elemental” in standard JRPGs. Poison as a type admittedly stands on shaky ground even from the mechanical standpoint, but IMO it’s one of those aesthetic quirks that makes Pokémon stand out among its fare, in a similar vein to them foregoing the obvious “Light”-type addition in favor of the more unique and evocative “Fairy”.

    /end tangent – I’m not really out to contradict anyone here, but this Type Apologist Essay has been on my mind for a while now 😛

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  5. I agree that “Poison” type was ostensibly the original “bad-guy” type but GameFreak never had a clear or consistent conception of what exactly Poison-type entailed. I’m willing to cobble together various moves & abilities that would otherwise be considered Grass-, Water-, or even “Evil”-type under the umbrella of “substances that are caustic, foul-smelling, or make target Pokémon feel sick” but for me the Poison-type’s biggest failing is its lack of super-effective options. If you think of the Poison-type as unified by a theme of toxicity (hello Toxic Badge!) I don’t understand why Poison attacks are not also super-effective against Water- or even Ground-type (ie, think of the Poison-type as inflicting some kind of pollution) targets beyond maybe “game balance”. Again, I think the Poison-type suffered from GF’s half-baked thinking that was never properly addressed in more recent generations.


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