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?