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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