Pokemon Go has a lot of immersion thanks to it’s AR nature. Being able to see Sandshrew at the beach or Geodude in the mountains makes the game world seem alive. However, certain aspects of the game have changed so much of the basic Pokemon experience. At first I thought it might just be the nature of the mobile device, but after carefully considering some of the adaptations, there are a few slightly disturbing signs that have my questioning the Pokemon Go trainer’s role in the world.
5 – Our Pokemon Don’t Evolve Naturally
The trainer’s pokemon don’t evolve naturally by leveling, trading, bonding, or stone exposure as they do in the main series. Instead, we force feed them candies, which is usually the sign of a poor trainer (or at least a lazy one). This goes back to the original game where the use of “rare candy” to level your pokemon would result in a weaker pokemon unless you used a specific trick. There are very few games that leave out evolution, but even the ones that do have us helping people or pokemon.
4 – You’re Not Rescuing Pokemon, Helping People, or Even Collecting Badges
Rescuing pokemon, helping people, and/or collecting badges are at the core of all Pokemon games. Not just the main series, but in the Ranger games, puzzle games, Colosseum, even the recent fighting game. We do none of that in Pokemon Go. Fighting with pokemon is supposed to result in something, even if it just means being the organized league champion. Our lack of badges means our fights are unsanctioned and nothing more than territory battles, which should hint that, at the very least, we’re not heroes.
3 – We Join Teams
Building teams of pokemon is one thing, but joining an organized team is another. Think about the games, or even the anime and movies. There’s Team Rocket, Team Magma, Team Plasma… all bad. Not only that, but we battle other teams based on different ideologies, which is something the evil teams tend to do (i.e. Team Magma vs. Team Aqua). The hero never joins a team unless it’s a rescue team, which we’re clearly not a part of. The hero tends to unite people, sometimes even opposing teams, even temporarily. Clearly we’re battling for territory, but why?
2 – “Professor” Willow Doesn’t Send You Out to do Real Research
Normal professors store pokemon for you, or you release them into the wild. They conduct meaningful research and give you some goals. Willow says to go out and research the locations of the pokemon, but he does some rather strange things completely unrelated to your research. In fact, I’d argue some of them would, at the very least, distract you from conducting research.
For example, none of the legit professors, who often have published papers to read in the game world, would take all of the trainer’s extra pokemon without giving a good reason to do so. The fact that Willow bribes us with candy for doing so isn’t a good sign, nor is it that he encourages us to join a
gang team. Like a weapons dealer, it doesn’t matter who fights who since the weapon dealers (or in this case, Poke-dealers) still come out on top.
Think about it. The only people who take pokemon en masse with little to no regard for the quality tends to be the bad guys. We see in the anime and manga that Team Rocket prefers strong pokemon, but even weak ones seem to be worth taking to make a little money. However, if there is a gang war going on in addition to the usual pokemon selling business, someone could make a pretty penny supplying pokemon to busy trainers and potential collectors. Even if he is a researcher, so many pokemon being sent to him probably means there’s pokemon-testing going on, if they’re lucky enough not to be made into food. There are so many potential professors and we’ve seen pokemon used in various industries, someone’s got to be supplying them. It could be that “Professor” Willow could be a supplier, tricking young trainers into working for him. For candy.
1 – Our Pokemon are Used as Tools, Not Friends
Your starter pokemon is weak and really not worth spending dust and candy on. Unfortunately, as your trainer is unable to naturally evolve your “friends,” force feeding them candy and using strange dust on them is the only way your poor trainer knows how to make them stronger. Many people end up sending their poor, weak starter pokemon back to the professor to get candy. You’re taught pretty quickly from experience that you need to throw out weak pokemon for strong pokemon.
That’s at the core of nearly all the evil teams and the reason the hero is able to beat the villains. No matter how strong the enemy is, that hero trainer is able to awaken something in her pokemon with the power of friendship. Our trainers apparently lack that. Though Pokemon Go may be able to walk with their pokemon now, Rocket member Jesse walked Arbok, and James walked Weezing. Walking your pokemon isn’t enough. So few pokemon even receive names in Pokemon Go too, especially with their disposable nature, being left to defend gyms on their own.
While some players may simply collect pokemon or raise the ones they like, these players are like street level thugs, participating in gym battles with minimal effort to ensure that they still get some real money. That means sending Supplier Willow poor, weak pokemon and getting paid in candy until the trainer has won enough turf battles to be able to afford pack space. No one is innocent here.
Road to Redemption?
As a Pokemon Go trainer, you simply collect pokemon for some suspicious “professor” who trades you candy for living animals. Rather than taking the time to get to know these creatures, you pump them full of candies, force them to battle each other, fill them with various “potions” and dust to strengthen them, abandon them to fight in territory battles, and eventually send them away when they’re too weak to be useful in exchange for a single candy. While blood sport has always been acceptable in Pokemon, at least it’s an organized sport with members who still help their communities and stop the local teams and their turf wars. This is, sadly, not our role. Pokemon Go trainers, we’re the bad guys, but with any luck, future updates will give us a way to redeem ourselves, a gameplay option we’ve seen once before.Related: List, Niantic, Nintendo, Pokemon, Pokemon GO