Gym Badges

The eight Kanto region badges. Clockwise from top: Boulder, Cascade, Thunder, Rainbow, Soul, Marsh, Volcano, Earth.

One of the seemingly immutable fixtures of the Pokémon games is the system of gyms and badges.  In each game (barring the Alola generation) the main challenge set before you, as a young trainer, is to visit eight Pokémon gyms, battle and defeat their leaders, and earn their badges – little bits of metal and brightly-coloured enamel that you pin to the inside of your coat, so you can flash them at people to get into clubs and impress boys.  I assume.  Today, in this article brought to you by the Dark Council of my Patreon supporters, we’re going to talk about badges and their history and meaning.  I honestly don’t know how that’s going to go, but that’s what’s happening, so let’s get to it!

There is a venerable video game trope of “Travel the World, Raid the Dungeons, Defeat the Bosses, Collect the Things” that provides a useful structure to hang your story on.  There’s multiple Things of a single class that you’re trying to collect, or perhaps multiple pieces of a single Thing, and they’re in different places being guarded by different enemies.  This means developers can do things like, say, create a series of thematic dungeons with thematic boss fights, without having to come up with a unique story rationale for why you’re going to each one – it’s more gameplay mileage out of a single story element.  That sounds lazy, but creating a video game is essentially about training players to do something, then presenting them with more and more variations and twists on that thing, so some amount of repetition can be part of good game design.  Arguably the most straightforward and best-known examples are from Japanese games – Pokémon Red and Blue are themselves classic examples by now, but there’s also things like the elemental crystals of early Final Fantasy, or pieces of the Triforce in the Legend of Zelda series, as well as plenty from western games.

But why badges?

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Pikachu

Pikachu

Somehow, after writing on this blog for nearly 10 years(!!!) and having reviews of individual Pokémon be a pretty big part of my schtick, I’ve never actually talked in depth about Pikachu – the beloved mascot, the one Pokémon everyone knows, even people who have never played a Pokémon game or seen an episode of the TV show; heck, I’d wager there are people who don’t even know what a Pokémon is who’d recognise Pikachu.  But no more, for I have been commanded by the mysterious cloaked figures of my Dark Council to write next about the most famous Pokémon of all.  So… what exactly is Pikachu’s deal, anyway?  Where did it come from, and what makes the design so effective?  Whence Pikachu?  Read on, as we delve into the history of Pokémon’s favourite child.

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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.

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Staryu and Starmie

Staryu.

The Dark Forces from Parts Unknown whose occult powers sustain my life and strength have anointed new emissaries to convey their terrible will!  By which I mean, I have two new Patreon supporters pledging $12/month, the amount required to bribe your way onto my Dark Council.  The Dark Council can vote once a month on any topic (I mean, I assume Pokémon-related, but strictly speaking I suppose it doesn’t have to be) for me to write about at length, and this month I’m writing on the suggestion of Miame Irohara (thank you so much for your support!) whom I have named my new Chancellor of Fate.  By the authority vested in the Council, she has requested that I write about her favourite generation I Pokémon (and some of mine as well): Staryu and Starmie.

This is actually pleasantly topical, since Staryu and Starmie are among the Pokémon who weren’t previously in Sword and Shield but have become available in the Isle of Armour expansion (reminder: even if you haven’t bought the expansion, you can still trade for Staryu, or transfer it from an earlier game via Pokémon Home), and as any veteran trainer knows, they are some seriously kickass Pokémon.  If you’ve never had the pleasure of training one, maybe give this article a read, pick one up and take it for a spin (…literally).  But first, let’s talk about starfish.

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Bye Bye Butterfree and Pokémon Migration

This is the first of what will, in principle, be a monthly “series” of investigations into topics chosen by the unfathomable whims of my shadowy advisors, the Dark Council.  The Council is made up of everyone donating at least $12/month to me on Patreon – at the moment that’s one person, the newly appointed Lord President of the Council, Verb, who therefore gets THE SUPREME POWER to dictate the direction of these studies.  However, if you value what I do, think I deserve something in return for my work, and would like me to maybe someday be able to do more of it, YOU TOO could be inducted into the Council’s hallowed ranks, nominate topics for future months, and vote on them (listen, bribing your way to power and prestige is totally on theme with the whole “cult” thing I’m going for here).

Here is the prompt I was given this month:

“I’ve often thought about the episode of Indigo League in which Ash’s Butterfree is released in order to join the migration, and it’s caused me to wonder the effects that similar migrations might have on Trainer culture, with their inherent desire to remain with their chosen partner Pokemon potentially conflicting with the Pokemon’s own desires.”

So let’s talk about Pokémon migration and what happens when Pokémon leave their trainers!

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