So: should we take the hypothetical offer from the whimsical deity I imagined two weeks ago?
I think the rough consensus of the comment section is a qualified, reluctant “no,” which isn’t terribly surprising. Even if we make a lot of nice assumptions in our own favour (Pokémon are able to slot relatively cleanly into existing ecosystems without causing a mass extinction; our nerd-knowledge of Pokémon allows us to help smooth the transition; many people can learn fairly quickly to be competent trainers), I think it’s pretty clear that this scenario would be a major global disruption. I also think it’s probably fair to say that my particular style of bull$#!t probably attracts a fairly analytically inclined type of person who would (like me) find it interesting to think about the ways a more “realistic” setting would break down a lot of Pokémon’s utopian assumptions. It is, at the very least, an obviously risky proposal. That being the case, it seems only fair that I attempt to argue the case for “yes.”
I’d say there’s roughly two main categories of objections, with some overlap between the two:
- Real Pokémon would be dangerously destructive to both humans and the environment.
- Real Pokémon would be exploited by humans, for nefarious ends or simply out of greed.
If we want to say yes, I think we have to make the argument that either these things wouldn’t happen (or at least that we’d be able to mitigate them), or that, to the extent they did happen, the benefits (smol frens who are magic) would outweigh them.
So let’s look at destruction.
Too many risks, even if we didn’t have legendaries. Imagine the first evolved gyrados after seeing how the humans farm its magikarp brethren.
(The general point is fair, but that specific risk I actually think is relatively low; I’m prepared to be contradicted on this, but I think we have every reason to believe that Gyarados are fairly hard-core r-strategists who, in the normal course of events, don’t give two $#!ts about their thousands of Magikarp children)
And in more detail from joereviewer:
Pokemon are dangerous – being able to level urban centers even with a populace with the experience and technology to prepare for it. While large scale nations around the world would likely be able to put in protections and come up with logistic (or even diplomatic) solutions, people in regions without comparable resources would at the very least take longer to adjust to the new status quo, likely furthering global inequality.
I think some of what the games and the Pokédex claim about the kind of power Pokémon can wield and the amount of damage they can cause has to be bull$#!t, because most Pokémon apparently aren’t so destructive that you can’t stage battles in prepared indoor arenas in front of unprotected spectators, something that I’m fairly confident you can’t safely do with, say, grenades. Some of this is down to Pokémon itself being a fairly low-realism setting – like, it’s a cartoon world, it’s an acceptable break with reality if Ash gets electrocuted six times a day and is completely fine, and that safety net probably doesn’t transfer neatly to us. But I do continue to insist that it’s also because the Pokédex is, in-universe, written and compiled with the aid of children and teenagers who are prone to exaggeration, and seasoned with a healthy dose of traditional mythology or straight-up urban legend. Yes, they’re magic, and if this hypothetical is to mean anything we have to assume that Pokémon in our world would still be able to do things that seem incompatible with our physics, but I just don’t believe that a single punch from a 130-kilo Machamp can derail a fµ¢£ing train (for which a fairly conservative weight estimate might be around 6000 tonnes). The Pokédex says it can? Well, fine, Pokédex, tell me when and where it fµ¢£ing happened. Pokémon laying waste to modern developed urban centres… with the exception of some legendary Pokémon I just don’t see it happening. It’s an important qualifier, though, that even in the 21st century most people don’t live in large cities and may not have the same kind of civil defence and disaster mitigation infrastructure on tap that a lot of us take for granted.
And some of that destruction is going to be caused by humans in concert with Pokémon.
…the world as it stands would 100000% just use them all as weapons and have that poké-war people love to theorize and wax philosophic about.
I realise that in this respect I am probably something of a heretic, but I don’t think Pokémon would be exploited for military use, or at least not in the way you might at first imagine. Pokémon have some fairly potent abilities, and I think there’s too many unknowns in the physics of those abilities to argue this rigorously (…see above), but I suspect that using Pokémon in frontline combat wouldn’t be as efficient or predictable as just shooting the enemy, particularly considering the time and resources it would take to raise and train a fully-evolved Pokémon. There are some caveats to that. I do think that even the richest and most powerful militaries would find specialised roles for many types of Pokémon outside of frontline combat: you could expect to see Pokémon exploited for things like telepathic communication and psychic “scrying,” weather control, infiltration; in short, stuff related to the specific abilities of a few species rather than the straightforward combat potential of Pokémon in general. I’d also expect Pokémon to see a lot of use in asymmetric warfare, by people who can’t afford all the paraphernalia of a modern army and might turn to Pokémon as the next best thing. The other major concern is legendary Pokémon, which (depending on which Pokémon we’re talking about and which portrayal we’re basing our estimates on) very well might be more destructive than modern weapons. But I think there we also have reason to be… not optimistic, but at least not hyper-pessimistic. Portrayals of big destructive legendary Pokémon tend to take a lot of influence from kaiju movies, and I think that’s sort of how we’re supposed to think of them: as forces of nature that can’t be controlled or fought by brute force. Lots of people in Pokémon media do try to control legendary Pokémon and use them for selfish or villainous ends, and it almost always backfires horribly, often even before the good guys have a chance to take action. You can hope that Godzilla happens to fight your own enemies, but you can’t tell Godzilla what to do, and I don’t think you could make demands like that of a legendary Pokémon either, perhaps not even one you’d captured fair and square.
I have a lot of sympathy, as well, for an argument posed by Katiecat:
While obviously Pokemon can be used as weapons, I think this is actually a point in their favor. Pokemon in the games are said to become more powerful by being treated with care, and as we’ve seen in the anime Pokemon can object to being used for immoral purposes. In our current world power is largely held by those with large militaries/economies and nukes, but in the Pokemon world power would instead be concentrated with the good of heart.
Guns, tanks and bombs don’t give a $#!t who uses them. Pokémon, for the most part, do. We’ve seen time and again that this doesn’t mean Pokémon are incorruptible, and of course real people are rarely monsters through-and-through, so there are no guarantees and no failsafes here – but I think it’s inescapable that Pokémon represent a new source of power that, on the whole, over a long enough timescale, helps kind people more than cruel people. This is close to a point that several minor NPCs have made throughout the games’ history about Pokémon being “equalisers”: when you have Pokémon, your age and background don’t matter. Which, of course, is why we keep seeing these powerful, sophisticated, often wealthy villains being defeated by kind-hearted preteen children. I think there is a kind of aspirational thread to that – a wish, on the part of Pokémon’s creators, that we could see a world where kids get to tip the scales once in a while. That optimistic worldview is baked into Pokémon’s worldbuilding and storytelling in a way that wouldn’t transfer just because we wish for Pokémon to be real; we don’t get utopia for free and the real world does have systems and structures that would do their level best to oppress and exploit Pokémon and their trainers, and would probably be successful to at least some extent. However, I do think that, when you look at the strength and number of Pokémon on an average NPC trainer or anime character-of-the-day’s roster, we have every reason to think that training lots of very powerful Pokémon is actually quite difficult, and that the player character is something of a prodigy. Moreover, I think that all Pokémon media pretty consistently frame that kind of outstanding ability as the result of major characters’ compassion and empathy. The people with the most and strongest Pokémon are probably going to be people who, well, give a $#!t.
Another argument from Katiecat that I think gets at something potentially important:
A lot of Pokemon seem to act as quasi-nature deities. In a world where nature is being constantly destroyed, it might be nice for it to have some “big guns” on its side. imagine a company trying to pollute the ocean only to be attacked by Kyogre! There are also Pokemon that directly clean up nature, like galarian Weezing.
Along very similar lines, Tris Reaburn notes:
…there’s a lot of Grass types that are supposedly able to help filter air and earth to become cleaner. At this point a lot more good could be done by a lot of extremely pissed off environmentalists if they had mons to help them.
And RandomAccess adds:
I think the biggest reason why the environment isn’t (as much as) a problem in Pokémon as it is in real life is because, well, nature bites back in a much more direct way in Pokémon than it does in real life…
I don’t think it’s any secret that the basic assumptions and rules of the Pokémon world owe quite a bit to the Shintō conception of a life in harmony with nature, where reciprocal relationships and ritualised deals with the spirits of the natural world are the foundation of a healthy and stable society. To be a Pokémon trainer – particularly an accomplished and powerful one – is to have a special relationship with nature itself. Now, this isn’t an easy way to write off all concerns either. “Nature” is a complicated system, and Pokémon are foreign entities being plopped into it, so no matter how beneficent and magical they are, it will take time for them to find an equilibrium amongst the species of our world. The humans of the Pokémon world have the advantage of thousands of years of tradition and ritual that governs the way they interact with Pokémon, which we have to figure out from scratch. But again, in much the same vein as that earlier point about compassion: a world with Pokémon in it is a world where there are immediate tangible benefits to respecting nature. And that doesn’t, by itself, save the world, but I think we’re justified in hoping that it would help.
And of course there’s gotta be some clear benefits beyond just the obvious ones of “there are cool magical creatures we can look at and make friends with.”
Again from RandomAccess:
…not to mention the advancements in technology that have resulted from the study of the exotic physics that Pokémon provide would make our society even MORE advanced than it is now.
Yeah, even on a toned-down and “realistic” model of what Pokémon can do, they have some incredible capabilities. Their exotic biochemistry alone could produce incredible advances in medicine. Tied up in this is potential for abuse: once someone figures out you can get cheap, fairly clean energy from Electric Pokémon, I don’t think it’ll take long for there to be a new meaning to the term “battery farm.” All those of us who are complicit in accepting the deal would, I think, have a responsibility to actively fight that $#!t, potentially in the face of some very politically powerful adversaries. But there’s also going to be cool research into how Pokémon are able to break physics, in ways that might eventually allow us to build that utopian post-scarcity society that Pokémon media likes to imagine.
Not to mention Tris Reaburn’s point, bringing up that fandom trope from a few years back of all the ways Pokémon companions could help people with disabilities, because “service animals, but magic” is obviously appealing:
Yes, because I’m disabled and having a Pokemon around who could tell I was about to have a meltdown or needed some extra snuggles would be awesome.
Pokémon aren’t just magical and powerful, their abilities are also exceptionally varied, and I think for almost every Pokémon (or at least every evolutionary line) there’s some specific problem that they’d be really good at solving. A lot of people’s lives will get a lot better if we can get the right Pokémon where they need to be.
On the more pessimistic side, there’s an argument, which I think has some merit, that humanity doesn’t deserve Pokémon, or that they don’t deserve the world we’d be inflicting on them. You can see that thread in several contributions:
…I shudder to think about how humans would abuse the gift of real-live Pokémon…
No, absolutely not… and purely because people are shitty and definitely worse on average than the people in Pokemon media.
Pokémon could potentially solve a lot of problems … but not many of those problems are ones that I think we currently lack the tools to solve …. And yet, we often fail to apply those tools in a timely manner due to our capitalist hell-world being organized to exploit every avenue available in order to extract maximum profit …. Introducing Pokémon into such a society would, I suspect, only result in Pokémon also becoming trapped in that same system.
And that’s fair. Pokémon will be profitable and human greed can grow to consume whatever you allow it to. A lot of good might come of learning to work with Pokémon and their abilities, but we very clearly live in a civilisation where the benefits of new technology are rarely shared equally and often weaponised against the powerless. What’s more, I can’t entirely write this off with Katiecat’s argument about Pokémon giving more power to the compassionate, because even in the utopian society presented by Pokémon media, there are still villains who try to exploit Pokémon. They are not the majority, they are not in charge and they always lose, but arguably the more important point is that they exist to begin with. Characters like Team Rocket are reflections of the greed and malice of real people. And I don’t have an easy answer to this one, except to say that we would have to fight those impulses, just as we do in the real world – but there is an ethical question about whether it would be right to drag Pokémon into that fight.
To change tack entirely, another interesting point from joereviewer:
Again, even in an idealistic sense, Pokemon training/caretaking seems to be a pretty time intensive task comparable to pursuing, say, an athletic career, which means most of the key advantages would be to those who have disposable time/income.
And two points that I think are related from Mew:
Do plants from the Pokémon world also appear? If Pokémon can’t heal from their injuries with the semi-magical plants they usually have access to that would change things….
What the hell do they eat?
And, yeah, the sheer economics of Pokémon training is, I think, something that would be tricky at first. On the one hand, having one or two Pokémon that you aren’t actively training for competitive battle is generally portrayed as something that most people can fairly easily do, no more difficult than having a pet. Pokémon can also help their trainers with a lot of things, so you’re not putting in that effort for nothing. But also… yeah, what the hell do they eat? I kinda suspect that the magical abilities of Pokémon are, in part, possible because the exotic plants of the Pokémon world can give them more energy than any real foodstuffs, so maybe I should have built it into the prompt that we get some of that ecosystem for free, just so they don’t all fµ¢£ing starve to death in the wild. I think it’s a strong point generally, though, that Pokémon are probably fairly expensive to feed compared to most real pets, and if we’re all starting a Pokémon training culture from scratch, not everyone is immediately going to have the resources or freedom to participate in that.
And another semi-related point from joereviewer again:
How quickly does knowledge of Pokeballs spread (and are the simple crafting options possible without Pokemon Apricorns or are technological resources also a bottleneck). If we work to start developing analogs for the futuristic tech used for Pokemon in their universe, who gets access to those advancements first?
This is exactly why I specified in the prompt that multiple manufacturers all over the world would get Pokéball designs: if only a few companies in a few countries know how to make them, we’re going to exacerbate a lot of existing global inequalities (although, having said that, there are clearly ancient and modern cultures in the Pokémon world that have learned to do without any equivalent to Pokéballs, so we might not be doomed). I was also making the – perhaps dangerous – assumption that Pokéballs would be quite easy to make; in the games they cost 200 Money, and if the in-game currency is roughly equivalent to Japanese Yen (for which I think there is decent evidence) that’s basically $2, including the PokéMart’s markup. Even in the poorer parts of the world you can probably scrape together enough for a couple of them, and successfully catching a Pokémon would be a pretty good return on investment; if we get Apricorns along with everything else, you may even be able to make them yourself. But there is that other point in there: those cool new technologies we talked about earlier, even once we manage to develop them, will not benefit everyone equally.
And there is one final argument against taking the offer: even if it’s good in the long term, the chaos of the short term will not be good for people.
Maybe 1000 years after the change the world is a post-scarcity utopia …. But living through that change would not be nice at all!
And an even grimmer comment from Jeff:
I do want to say I did, after thinking about it, come up with an upside: I’m pretty sure it would accelerate human extinction, which sucks for us humans but could be pretty good for the rest of nature.
And here I think you could make an argument from desperation, along Jeffthelinguist’s lines. The world is not heading in the right direction, changing course appears to be politically impossible, we are almost certainly going to face escalating, spiralling catastrophes and extinctions in the next few decades. It’s probably true that we’d be staring down the barrel of a long period of severe disruption if we took the deal, I just happen to think we’d also be staring down the barrel of a long period of severe disruption if we didn’t. I’m a pessimistic person; I see a world whose leaders desperately need to work together to avert cascading ecological and humanitarian disaster, but are pathologically unable to see past short-term self-interest. In this hypothetical offer, I see the chance to force change in a way that – chaos be damned – puts a finger on the scales, however slightly, for nature and for equality. In short: yes, this would be an insane risk to take if it seemed like things were going well, but frankly they’re not.
(try not to think too hard about what this means for our actual reality where this offer is very much not on the table)
(sorry if I gave the impression that it was)
(I am not magic)
The arguments for “no” are strong, don’t get me wrong, and I think speculating about all the ways real Pokémon could fµ¢£ up the world is, honestly, just as interesting as speculating about how they could help it. What we’re doing here, ultimately, is telling stories about how things might be, and through those stories exploring our feelings about how things are – about how the world is wrong and how it could be better. And so, I’d like to give the final word on this one to Andrew C, who adds (after a perfectly fair critique of why this is obviously a bad idea):
All that said, still yes because * d r e a m s ~ c o m e ~ t r u e *
Anyway, that was the first one of These Things! I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, so I’ll start another one… I dunno, tomorrow maybe? Or the day after that, since I’ve got an instalment of the Black 2 Kingslocke run going up tomorrow. I think I want my round-ups to be slightly lower-effort than this was, if this is a format I keep for the long term; some other discussion questions I have lined up might lend themselves better to that. We’ll see. Experimenting! Trying new things! Wreaking havoc upon the world by unleashing an entire magical ecosystem upon it without warning! These are the core values of Pokémaniacal and of These Things! Thanks to everyone who contributed to the conversation, and special thanks also to the whispering voices from the Great Beyond that manifest through my Patreon supporters: Name (Required), James Crooks, hugh_donnetono, PLCM, Hamish Fyfe, Leo M.R. and Esserise.