Systema Pokémonum: Assessing Pokémon’s Place in the History of Science

well, it was only a matter of time before I found an excuse to talk about Pokémon for an academic conference

Trinity History Con is an annual conference on intersections of science and pop culture, run out of Trinity College Dublin. It’s been in-person previously, but is all online this year, for… obvious reasons… so the presentations are all on YouTube. And I submitted one! My co-writer and presenter here is Elena Romero Passerin, who’s doing a PhD at St. Andrews (where Jim the Editor did his PhD) on the history of biology in early modern Europe, specifically botanical gardens in the 17th and 18th centuries. We talk in this video about the “collector” mindset of enlightenment naturalists, the involvement of non-professionals in scientific research, the utopian ideals of western science, and Pokémon’s place as a cheerleader for environmentalism and life sciences. We put a lot of work into it, so I hope you enjoy it!

also, if you’ve watched any of Jim’s Final Fantasy streams you will have heard my voice by now, but for most readers this will be the first time you’ve seen my face (albeit in a tiny corner thumbnail), so get ready to be blown away by my sheer on-screen charisma

A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXVIII: Bouldered!

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

What should Scallion do?
– Just make it a straightforward fight – Scallion should be favoured.
– Brock’s tough; you should try to come up with something more creative.

[AUTHOR TIEBREAK: Well, it would really be a shame to waste all the interesting suggestions for option B that I got in the comments and my Q&A inbox…]

The next stage of the fight goes just as you predicted.  Geodude is already tiring, and after a few rounds of dodging, circling and jabbing, you spot it lowering its guard and call out.  With an almighty THWACK, Scallion springs a coiled Vine Whip forward and nails Geodude right between the eyes.  Geodude lurches back, lists in its formerly smooth hover, spins around drunkenly and crashes to the arena floor.
“Super effective, babyyy!” hollers Abner from the stands, tossing his Metapod up into the air and catching it in celebration.  The bug catchers all cheer, and out of the corner of your eye you even notice Lilac(?) slowly clapping, an enigmatic smirk dancing across his face.
Brock joins the applause as he strides out onto the field to help his Pokémon pick itself up. “Now that’s a Bulbasaur,” he exclaims approvingly, before crouching to take his Geodude’s hand.  “Good job as always, Geodude.”  He gives his Pokémon a quick once-over before recalling it to its Pokéball and returning to his end of the arena.  Scallion joins you back at your end of the field as well.  “Well, I guess that means it’s time to get serious.”  Brock suddenly has another Pokéball in his hand, and throws it high, higher, up towards the ceiling.  “Onix, go!”

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXVIII: Bouldered!”

RandomAccess asks:

The new Dreepy evolutionary line, to me, brings up some pretty interesting questions about the Pokemon world’s evolutionary biology. They’re apparently aquatic Pokemon that lived in the ancient past that became spirits once they became extinct, and now fittingly have the “ghost/dragon” typing in the modern day. What’s interesting about this is you must wonder, why isn’t this more common, that being why isn’t there a ghost type variant of every existing Pokemon, since all Pokemon are living creatures that shed their mortal coil eventually all the same. This seems to imply that becoming a distinct ghost-type pokemon is something only some are capable of, while the rest just become normal wraiths like Pikachu did in the Pokemon Tower episode and presumably eventually pass on. Might there be some “metaphysical” (or possibly just physical, since this is just how things work in this world) laws that determine how adaptive a Pokemon’s spirit is? And judging what we know of Pokemon that are suspected to have once been the departed spirits of humans (such as Yamask and Gengar) and how different they look compared to humans, how many ghost type Pokemon might be the result of the ghost of a known or unknown species of Pokemon? Hell, if we could somehow find the spiritual version of “genes” would it be possible to trace common ancestry with their mortal relatives, and add ghostly branches to the Pokemon tree of life? The implications of this are both overwhelming and exciting.

Yeah, it’s an interesting problem.  I really love the idea of a Pokémon that’s not a fossilised prehistoric creature, like so many we’ve seen before, and instead the ghost of an extinct creature, but it does raise that question – why this Pokémon?  Why is Dreepy unique (well, not quite unique; Galarian Corsola seems similar, but they’re obviously unusual)?  I would not actually default to thinking that Dreepy became lingering spirits because of something inherent to them, though.  In folklore, people become ghosts because of something about the way they died – maybe they have “unfinished business,” or weren’t given the burial rites their culture requires, or were killed by a particular monster, or just died in a particularly unpleasant way that somehow damaged their soul and prevented them from moving on to wherever spirits are supposed to go.  In Pokémon, we often aren’t explicitly told where Ghost-types come from, but when we are, my impression is that it’s more often a magical or spiritual cause than a biological or scientific one (of course, then the follow-up question is whether we’re supposed to believe what we’re told about Phantump, Sandygast, etc. or just see it as a mystery yet to be solved).  Given what little we know, my first guess would be that Dreepy exist in their current ghostly form due to something about the nature of the event (or competing species, or predator) that drove them extinct.  Maybe their species was wiped out by something unusually sudden or traumatic, or maybe there was some Ghost-, Dark- or Psychic-type predator (now extinct itself as well) that could manipulate and damage souls, or maybe – just maybe – they were the victims of some kind of spiritual calamity, like an eruption of the spirit world into the “real” world.  That’s the sort of place my mind goes when you raise the question, at any rate. I think in the absence of anything more explicit from an official source, the “correct” answer is probably whatever you feel is the more potentially interesting.

Camper Smoke asks:

I know you have said India is ideal, but how would you feel if game freak made a Pokemon region out of scandinavia?

I guess predominantly “fine”?  Like, I have multiple preferences ahead of that, and particularly if we’re thinking generation IX – that is, immediately following another northern European region – I don’t think it makes a lot of sense in sequence.  But I’m not sure I can think of any place on Earth that I’d be offended or upset or even really disappointed to see as the setting of a Pokémon game.  Scandinavia’s got a lot of affluent multilinguals who are part of Pokémon’s global community, it’s got distinctive modern aesthetics that fit in well with Pokémon’s distinctive blend of tradition and techno-utopia, it’s got Vikings, it’s got fjords, and what else do any of us really need in life, when we’ve got fjords?

Jim the Editor remarked on this that it could be interesting to have a very cold region, and it certainly would.  On the other hand, the cynic in me says that Game Freak would shy away from creating a region with very few habitats for desert and tropical Pokémon, and especially from having to deal with the polar day-night cycle, in favour of just putting in a few more snowy areas than most games in the series, and otherwise keeping the climate mostly temperate.  Which… I think is an issue not just with this idea in particular but more generally.  There are things that the Pokémon games like to keep formulaic – say, having a variety of biomes to slot a large number of existing Pokémon into, or having a certain ratio of small towns to big urban centres – and if a region doesn’t obviously have those things, I kind of suspect they would get shoehorned in anyway, potentially at the expense of its unique character.  Not that it wouldn’t be great just to see Poké-Stockholm and Poké-Copenhagen, but… y’know, I think if you want to have a Scandinavian region, you want the northernmost areas to experience midnight sun and polar night, and you want that to be mechanically and narratively significant somehow; you want big parts of the map to be sparsely populated like the Crown Tundra, and you want the player spending a lot of time in those areas and thinking about them; you want the ocean to be important as something you explore and learn about, not just travel through.  Honestly, now that I’m saying all this, can we have, like… a sprawling Pokémon region based on the whole Arctic Ocean, something with big environmental themes, maybe some light survival mechanics?  Can we just put that one on the list, after India and Brazil?  I’ll just pop over and let Shigeru Ohmori know that I want that on the list.

Ty asks:

Over 10 years ago, there was a unique fan-made Pokemon project called “Pokemon Spirit Chronicles” that had a very unique concept and nice (but limited) concept art. It’s really hard to find anything related to the project these days since it eventually died out, but I was able to find this thread which contains a lot of the concept art from it: https://plus4chan.org/boards/coc/res/25552.html

The basic premise was an alternate world where Pokeballs were never developed, and you’d have to capture their spirits and forge those spirits into weapons and armor to survive in that world. I’m curious what your thoughts are from that concept and what limited fruits the project came to bare. Also if you could magically pick up those pieces and somehow create that concept in your own vision, what other details might you add to flesh out the concept, the world, and what direction would you take the story? This last part is only if you find the concept interesting enough to warrant a theoretical investment.

So… hmm.

Continue reading “Ty asks:”

A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXVII: School of Brock

[Catch up on the story so far here!]

Which Pokémon do you plan to open with against Brock?
– Jane Doe, the Zorua

Which Pokémon would you like to talk with?
– Jane

You’re a reasonably down-to-earth kid.  You’re not going to go charging into your first gym battle with a Pokémon on your team that, frankly, you barely know.  You’re going to figure out what Jane’s deal is.  As far as Jane herself is concerned, her deal is primarily rolling over and receiving belly rubs, and to be clear, you are 100% down for this.  She is a good girl and her fur is almost outrageously soft and silky.  You still want to know what her powers do, though.  Jane’s species isn’t even in your Pokédex, but the Pokémon Centre has a book room with a decent collection of field guides and textbooks.  With a little help from Jane herself, who yaps encouragingly whenever you find pictures of Pokémon from forested central Unova, you quickly find a profile in a recent trainer’s almanac.  Like I said, Jane Doe is a Zorua.  She’s a Dark-type and a fiercely intelligent ambush predator.  She should be able to learn a range of speed-based techniques, as well as attacks that strike at an opponent’s senses or mental state, and she has certain unique abilities that make your eyes pop out like an old cartoon character’s when you read the book’s description.  This definitely warrants a little practice before you go to bed.

Continue reading “A Pokémon Trainer is You! XXVII: School of Brock”

Galarian Weezing

Right, where was I?

Galarian Weezing

I’ve been doing the regional variant Pokémon up until now as blocks of two or three, but I don’t think that’s going to work for the rest of them – I’ve been stuck for weeks trying to do another set, and I’m not sure there are useful themes I can use to tie them together.  There’s also just… a lot more to say about the Galarian forms than the Alolan ones, partly because some Galarian forms evolve into totally new Pokémon, partly because the design changes are more radical.  So let’s not do that – let’s just talk about Galarian Weezing, the steampunk capitalist keeping Galar’s air fresh and clean!

Continue reading “Galarian Weezing”

RandomAccess asks:

I just saw the YouTube video “Trope Talk: Dragons” from the channel “Overly Sarcastic Productions”. Basically a brief summary about how a dragon is defined (or rather how they lack a concrete definition) and how they play an important role throughout almost every human culture in the world. If you have seen the video (or probably more accurately, decided to see it after reading this) I’m curious if you have thoughts on it regarding how these ideas might apply to the variety of the dragon type in Pokemon.

Well, it’s a good video!  No corrections! (Here it is, for anyone wanting to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eXAPwjASEQ)

Continue reading “RandomAccess asks:”

Name asks:

Lore-wise, how is aura sphere a fighting type move if other pokemon besides Lucario (Togekiss, Clawitzer, Zeraora to name a few) can also learn it? And why is aura wheel electric?

Well, Aura Wheel is a different thing from Aura Sphere, because if you go back to the original Japanese, the “Aura” of Aura Wheel is オーラ, ōra – just the English word “aura” written in katakana. This is, I have to assume, a reference to the new-age/pseudoscience concept of auras, visible, colourful energy fields that represent your personality or mood (which is why Aura Wheel changes type according to Morpeko’s mood).  The “Aura” of Aura Sphere, also mentioned in Lucario’s flavour text, is はどう/波動, hadou, which means something like “wave energy” (see also the classic Street Fighter move Hadouken, or “Wave Motion Fist”).  Despite the English translations, the two are completely unrelated.

As for the other Pokémon that learn Aura Sphere – the move is supposed to represent, basically, weaponised spiritual energy (it’s… well, it’s a Dragonball Z ki blast; there’s no other way to put it).  Lucario gets it because of the mastery of spirit produced by intense martial arts training.  Other than Fighting-types, it’s primarily learned by Pokémon with what you might think of as “strong souls”; Togekiss, Mewtwo, the Sinnoh space-time trio, Magearna.  Clawitzer and Blastoise, on the other hand, get it because of their Mega Launcher ability, which powers up things with hadou in their Japanese names (the “Pulse” moves).