Larry asks:

What are your thoughts on Pokémon evolution as a biological process instead of as a gameplay feature?

Larry has no shortage of his own thoughts so I’m gonna break this up.

Most evolutionary lines are very clearly meant to be not only progressions of power, but also of physical maturity and aging. There are outright “baby pokémon”, but it’s not like those are children and the rest are all adults. Most first stages in three stage lines, and some in two stage lines, are made to look and act like children, small and playful.

Right, but at the same time, most unevolved Pokémon are viable on their own, which is interesting.  Pidgey can survive and reproduce without evolving into Pidgeotto; you can have a whole community of Pidgey without a single Pidgeotto and they’ll probably manage.  With the exception of “baby” Pokémon, who can’t lay eggs (presumably because the designers saw them as “too young” to reproduce – it’s weird that Gold and Silver didn’t extend this restriction to a few other pre-existing Pokémon, like Caterpie), an unevolved Pokémon is a “complete” organism.  So I think in a lot of cases it’s not just maturity as such but maybe a social and/or hierarchical thing.  More evolved Pokémon might need more space and more food or other resources, so maybe it’s advantageous to the whole community if only a small number of them evolve.

However, pokémon that evolve by level can hatch from their eggs and can grow into adults in no more than a day if you work the newborn hard enough. And pokémon that evolve by another criteria apparently cannot grow up without it- this can be understood as friendship evos needing to socialize for psychological development, but in the case of stone or trade evos it just doesn’t make sense. (Then again, no trade evo besides Shellmet/Karrablast has ever made sense and I hate them with BURNING PASSION.)

The suggestion that I have tried to offer in the past for stone evolutions is that they represent an old and now largely-defunct evolutionary pathway.  Pokémon like, say, Arcanine used to be more common in the wild and their evolution used to be part of Growlithe’s natural growth and maturation – but, for whatever reason, that second stage became unnecessary for the species’ survival.  Maybe there were no enemies in their normal range that demanded that kind of power, so it was simply more resource-efficient for all of them to stay as Growlithe.  Eventually, the evolution to Arcanine atrophies out of them altogether, but there are still dormant genes in them that can reawaken if exposed to the right stimulus.  I don’t like this for every stone evolution; Eevee in particular is tricky because it seems like Eevee’s whole deal is supposed to be a riff on adaptive radiation.  There are hardly any Pokémon, though, that seem clearly too juvenile to survive before using a stone – certainly not when you compare them to all the other Pokémon that can evolve by level, but usually don’t get that far in the wild.

Another possibility – and this is actually one that I think is worth considering for some of the weirder corner cases of Pokémon breeding as well – is that wild Pokémon don’t actually need the stones (or whatever other special evolution method they use; trading for instance) at all.  Pokémon may have ways of evolving that we can’t emulate and maybe just plain don’t know about; it’s a constant of almost all Pokémon media that there is always more to learn about them.  The stones are just a “replacement” for some other triggering condition that sometimes occurs in the wild, but never comes up if you live with a trainer.  Life with a travelling human trainer and a team of diverse Pokémon of other species is radically different from what a typical wild Pokémon is “supposed” to experience in its life.  I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest that our powers as trainers simply have limits.

Anyhow, the real meat of the subject is, for example, whether a newly-hatched pokémon would be unable to keep up with a league challenge, not being able to evolve before a few years, and probably not keeping up with others of its own evolutionary stage either, being just a calf. I think this kind of thing seems like it makes more sense than the games.

I think the thing to bear in mind is although the core Pokémon games have had time mechanics since Gold and Silver, they’ve never really attempted to make those time mechanics meaningful to their events or progression.  In-game time was introduced so we could have nocturnal Pokémon and a touch more atmosphere, and that’s… kinda still the main thing it does.  So yeah, you can have a baby Pokémon evolve to its most mature form and become a seasoned battler within a day, but you can also pick up your first Pokémon in the morning, travel the entire region, foil a huge mob operation, become the Champion and be home in time for dinner.  Time in the Pokémon games is primarily aesthetic, not practical.  We’re supposed to imagine days, weeks, maybe months passing over the course of a few hours of gameplay – but at the same time, you can also leave Team Rocket to their business in the Radio Tower for hours, then come back and find that only minutes, or even seconds, seem to have passed.  Other games use their time mechanics to achieve a realistic sense that the world is moving on around you while you act and make decisions; this is well within the grasp of modern game design – but that feeling is not something Pokémon has ever promised us, or led us to expect.  Time passes only as you, the player, imagine it to pass.  How long do you think Pokémon take to grow up?

8 thoughts on “Larry asks:

  1. I feel like a lot of people don’t get how much of Pokemon’s presentation is deliberate abstraction.

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    1. The problem is, the setting doesn’t like to focus on worldbuilding and consistency, so it can be hard to figure out what’s meant as a part of this world, abstraction, suspension of disbelief, or just something the devs didn’t wanna think about.

      In Johto, you’re straight up given an egg that hatches and is kind of expected to go into the player’s party. It recieves quite a bit of in-story attention, so it’s not just gameplay-story segregation. Does that mean baby pokémon are functional calves that can walk and play and even fight already since being born? Or is that abstraction? It’s not early installment weirdness either, since Galar has the route 5 toxel who appears to be newly hatched.

      And how old are the starters given out for young trainers? Can a juvenile bulbasaur be expected to grow into a venusaur in a year or so, which is how long the gym challenge would probably take by my estimate? (Galar has its League Challenge event be yearly, as well.) Does that make it more physically mature than other bulbasaur of the same age that didn’t evolve, due to hormones and changes in its morphology? C’mon, it’s very hard to imagine a child venusaur, so do you think a child bulbasaur can’t evolve?

      I sent this question, after running into a fic writer who had pokémon aging and evolution presented as the exact same processes, and assuming a newly-hatched pokémon could grow into a full adult in a few months- and it was an author I found believes the theory that pokémon are aliens deeply disconnected to the setting’s humans, which I’ve never particularly cared for. But I don’t know what to think about how pokémon evolve throught their lifespan. Chris has good points though.

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  2. This brings up a good point, what if time moved in pokemon seperate to the player, say Team Evil is only in this area for a day or two, and if you don’t, your rival takes them out and is that much stronger, meaning when you fight him next, he has more items or higher level pokémon, or say your rival challenges you to race them through the gyms, and how many days it takes you to do so determines whether your rival has any new moves, pokemarts could have different items depending on the time of day, say normal stuff like potions and pokeballs, and some after dark items like x items dusk balls and the like, there are many interesting possibilities that could be done.

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    1. The game would become unplayable for everyone except kids who can (and want to) dedicate hours of every single day to playing this one game. Animal Crossing is already a pain when you have a job that keeps you from playing in the daytime and still getting a decent amount of sleep, don’t add an even MORE punishing time aspect to Pokemon

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      1. Not… really, I mean, adults who play animal crossing can time travel to certain events by adjusting the time in game, plus I am a stark supporter of the whole story aspect of Pokémon not being the main focus, and things like the Pokédex overtaking the gym challenge in importance, and a real life time mechanic could help with that, I actually like the idea of a pokémon game more like animal crossing, think Pokémon Crystal Clear, an open world fan game, fused with Jelloapocalypse’s Let’s make a Pokémon game and a dash of the ideas from the If I Were in charge articles on this very site, and it would less be a punishment for missing events and more if a reward for doing them, I suppose a stronger rival as the penalty might be extreme, but you are still missing some optional experience, also, something like that could help with the difficulty problem of older fans needing to Nuzlocke a game to get any challenge in it, just don’t do the events, and if you want an easier casual experience you can do the events for some rewards, I personally really like this idea, but I understand that others might not.

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        1. Gamefreak can’t even handle difficulty levels, so I don’t think they could handle something that needs even more sophistication. And while part of me finds the idea interesting, I feel a game like that would too quickly penalize anyone who can’t afford to spend several hours a day on it.

          I also don’t think AC is a good comparison, cause the entire game is designed to be leisurely and relaxing. Critters will come back in season, stick will change, NPCs will visit again. And just like Pokémon games it will penalize you for time travelling. Not majorly, and you’re not locked out of doing it, but it’s not meant as the way to play the game.

          You could potentially tie it to playtime, which seems far more appropriate, or a combination of both (like the stages of growth of the town tree in ACNL). But honestly, I feel like a difficulty system would be a much better investment of resources.

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          1. I think if you want to use time mechanics for more than Pokémon currently uses them, it’s probably just a bad idea to have game time be 1:1 with real time. Better to have time pass depending on what the player is doing and how long certain actions “ought” to take. Decide, as a matter of worldbuilding, how long you think a rest at a Pokémon Centre should be (two hours? Three? Longer?) and declare that that’s how long it takes, but don’t ask the player to actually sit and wait for three *real* hours while it happens. If a player wants to encounter nocturnal Pokémon, they can just declare that they’re waiting until nightfall – but maybe other things happen in the time they’re skipping, so they need to decide whether they’re okay with missing those events.

            Or, y’know, don’t do that. It seems like a lot of work, and it would profoundly change the feel of the game. I think implementing a realistic-feeling time system in Pokémon would be really interesting, but it certainly doesn’t *need* it.

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            1. Honestly, fair enough I do agree that a timing system similar to LOZBOTW, my idea was to put a clock in Every building to change the time in.

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