The Pokémon World, seen in the Pokémon anime.

Poké-Pandora: Why Ten-Year-Olds Catch Monsters and Force Them to Fight

The most brutal space-war in the fictional history of the universe.

There’s one huge problem with the Pokémon series, a problem that’s spawned thousands of memes, thinkpieces, and water cooler jokes. The problem is, of course, that we’re all playing a game about ten-year-old children running the equivalent of a dogfighting ring. The Daily Dot opined:

Interactions between trainers and Pokémon are limited to either pumping them with steroids (stardust) to improve their combat abilities, or coldly discarding them by giving them to Professor Oak (sic) for “research.” The game basically normalizes digital dogfighting.

There’s a darkly amusing comic on Dorkly, suggesting that the Pokémon world defines not forcing your pets to fight as abuse. Even PETA got in on the joke, going so far as to release a parody game in which players fight to free Pokémon from their trainers.

So why the hell are a bunch of preteens capturing monsters and forcing them to battle, instead of watching Dance Moms and avoiding their homework? (As a matter of fact, why aren’t there any non-Pokémon related schools in Pokémon world?) I think I’ve figured it out.

There are basically three differences between Pokémon World and Earth:

  1. Pokémon, a bizarre hybrid of organic and digital life.
  2. The age of majority seems to be ten.
  3. Although non-Pokémon animals exist, they are rarely seen or mentioned.

It’s that third point which caused the pieces to click together in my mind (thanks to Amy Vernon for her Facebook post questioning what’s eaten in Pokémon World). The entire Pokémon series is actually about Earth-humans overtaking and terraforming an inhabited, Earth-like planet on which protecting a fragile human colonial civilization is the sole priority of every human being from age ten onward.

The Planetary History of Pokémon World

Pokégod.

According to the mythos of the Pokéverse, Arceus created the universe. From Bulbapedia:

In a vortex of complete chaos and nothingness, a single Egg comes into being, which then hatches into Arceus, the first Pokémon in existence. Arceus then creates Dialga, Palkia, and Giratina, giving them power over time, space, and antimatter respectively. Giratina, as punishment for its destructive nature, is sent by Arceus to live in the Distortion World. Dialga and Palkia then succeed in creating the universe and Pokémon world and retreat into their own dimensions afterwards, with a point of access being at the ancient Spear Pillar in Sinnoh.

The first widespread Pokémon were Mew, which eventually mutated into other Pokémon species. There is a Pokéfossil record over 300 million years old, featuring prehistoric species including Kabutops and Aerodactyl. There was even an Ice Age, during which Mamoswine apparently flourished.

Humans, on the other hand, have a more tenuous place in the history of the Pokémon world. The myths of Sinnoh suggest that humans cohabited with the ancient Mew tribe, but that can’t be true, given that Mew’s population collapsed over 300 million years before the first-generation games.

The first durable evidence of human presence on Pokémon World is the horrific, 3000-year-old Ultimate Weapon: an incredibly destructive piece of technology literally powered by the life force of sacrificed Pokémon, whose graves line Route 10 in the Kalos region. Grim! Around the same time, various relic items were created, further establishing that humans had some presence on Pokémon world 3000 years before “modern times,” so to speak.

What if that was just the first invasion?

Brass Tower, a monument to friendship and hope that later burned down, killing three Pokémon inside.

In Pokémon World, there are twin towers approximately 700 years old, built “to foster friendship and hope between Pokémon and people.”

Sounds like the symbol of an ancient peace treaty between warring species, doesn’t it? And, if there’s anything humans are great at doing with peace treaties, it’s breaking them.

Here’s my theory: In the Pokémon universe, humans are a spacefaring future civilization, which, following thousands of years of war, gained the upper hand against Pokémon in the battle for control of their planet. Bell Tower and Brass Tower, those 700-year-old monuments to friendship and hope, are in fact the symbol of Pokémon’s surrender. Pokémon accepted after 2,300 years that they would never rid their planet of human colonization and decided to try getting along.

200 years later, a scientist “of uncommon genius” slaughtered innocent Pokémon to create a psychic robot Pokémon with a heart powered by the sacrificed creatures’ life force. Around the same time, Spiritomb appeared, composed of the vengeful spirits of deceased Pokémon. The immortal, angry Pokéghost proceeded to terrorize humans until it was sealed in a tower. Sprung from prison after 500 years, Spiritomb was still mad.

I think it’s fair to say that the “let’s all just get along” plan didn’t turn out so well.

In Modern Times: Terraformed and Colonized

Team Rocket: Are they eating Pokémon, or Earth animals?

So, why don’t humans feel badly about what they’ve done to this former paradise, where a once-thriving Pokémon civilization is now ground under the heels of fifth-graders?

Simple: In the future, just like today, victors write the history books.

On Pokémon World, children are taught a history in which ancient humans worshipped Pokémon, rather than the reality, in which human warships vanquished Pokémon.

I think I can prove this — as much as anyone can prove a ridiculous fan theory about Pokémon — based on two factors:

  1. The singleminded focus of every human being on Pokémon World on maintaining human dominance over Pokémon. Mothers voluntarily send their ten-year-old children on Pokémon quests, conscripting every elementary-aged child on the planet. This is necessary because humans can rely only on technological superiority to stop a Pokémon uprising. Every human on Pokémon World must move as many wild Pokémon as possible into Pokéballs, at which point they can be safely stored and transferred via computer networks.
  2. The presence of non-Pokémon animals on a planet that cannot have supported their evolution. The writer of the original Pokémon series confirmed that animals do exist on Pokémon world, and that they aren’t genetically related to Pokémon. Given the impossibility of Earth animals surviving an evolutionary competition with superpower-wielding Pokémon, these animals must be an example of terraforming — they were brought across the universe by humans, for a literal taste of home.
Attempted Pokémon liberator “N.”

It’s basically Avatar, but realistic. In Avatar, Pandora was saved by a single soldier “going native” and somehow beating back the military forces of Earth. (How did they not just send more troops?) On Pokémon World, when one human did take the side of Pokémon over “trainers,” he was defeated and sent away in shame. “Team Plasma” was utterly crushed. A small band of N’s remaining followers now cares for weakened Pokémon in the wild, Mother Teresa style.

Pokémon paints an oddly vivid picture of an interstellar human future, when you look at it this way. Eventually, humankind will wear out our welcome and our resources on Earth. When that time comes, we might find another Earth-like planet. But, if that planet is ripe for supporting life, it may already be doing so — and chances are, we’ll find a way to convince ourselves that we have a moral right to own and exploit those life forms. We might even gamify the whole experience to get more public participation, right down to involving our kids in capturing native creatures and training them to fight one another instead of fighting us.

Or, maybe it’s just a video game for kids :)
  • *Thanks for reading! Team Valor forever, all praise and glory to Candela. Last one to click the green heart is Instinct scum.**
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