Digital Debate Wednesdays: Are Pokemon Really Happy?

Welcome back to Digital Debate Wednesdays! Every Wednesday, the staff of The Ace of Geeks will get our keyboards ready for a good, old fashioned nerd argument, and you get to hang out with us! Feel free to email us any ideas you might have for future debates. Until then, here’s this weeks topic:

Since it’s Pokemon Week, here’s your question:

Is the Pokemon world secretly really messed up? Like, really messed up? Are the Pokemon willing participants who love their masters, or have we been participating in virtual dog fighting for twenty years? Discuss.

Melissa Devlin: I know nothing of Pokemon beyond it was a cartoon (still is?) and Pokemon cards didn’t sell as well as Yu-GI-Oh when I worked in a game store in 2001-2002. Oh and I can recognize Pikachu and know it has lightening powers. They’re kept in balls I guess? I’m unclear on that part. But it did come up as a frequent trade chat conversation when warcraft introduced battle pets. I like those – not that I’ve done much with them yet.

Raven Knighte: Like a stray dog that gets adopted, they stay where food and shelter are. The slugs from SlugTerra are pretty much the same – bred or trained to do stuff. It seems to me that the better masters are the ones who genuinely love their “pets” and provide the best care. Team Rocket treats Pokemon as disposable weapons, so loyalty is questionable at best. Just my opinion, based on watching cartoons.

  • Lauren Harrington: Agreed, but, as with pets, they can grow attached or bonded.

Luke Farr: I mean, I really liked that this topic was explored in Black and White. I think there’s a grey area when it comes to the ethical question of being a Pokemon Trainer. But I also trust Pikachu in Mewtwo Strikes Back, when Pikachu argues that they are voluntary participants. I mean, unless Pikachu has Stockholm syndrome, which is a completely different story…

Sam Stafford: Back when my sibs watched the cartoon the part I got stuck on before even being able to consider the moral aspect was the biology of these things. What do they eat? How did natural selection produce them (or did it)? What happens for them when they’re in those balls? Are they all sentient like Meowth and he’s just the only one who can talk? Can they ever die or are they functionally immortal and indestructible? So much of the premise fails to obey real world logic that it’s hard to apply realistic judgements about anything.

  • Stephanie Cala: Answers to your questions:
    Some Pokémon are herbivores and eat plants, but some Pokémon will eat other Pokémon. This was proven in the manga and in the animated series, as well as through the Pokédex in the original Red/Blue games. Most trainers will give their Pokémon a mix of Pokéfood (think like dog food) that has been made special for their specific kind of Pokémon.
    I would suspect natural selection has worked on Pokémon – that’s why you have Pokémon with great defense mechanisms and as they get stronger so do their abilities to stay alive
    When they’re in the Pokéballs, I think the theory is that they’ve been turned into some sort of energy state. There’s a movie that goes into the mechanics of Pokéballs a bit more (the one with Celebi) but I haven’t seen it.
    All Pokémon are sentient, Meowth just learned to speak what other humans were speaking in order to impress a lady meowth.
    99999% of Pokémon do grow old and die, with the exception being legendary Pokémon as far as I can tell. Those seem to go dormant until a big prophecy thing happens and then they wake up.
  • Sam Stafford: Are there Pokemon farms where they grow herbivorous Pokemon for the purpose of grinding into Pokefood for the keepers of carnivorous Pokemon? If all Pokemon are sentient how do they keep them from realizing they’re being grown for slaughter? Also if all Pokemon are sentient (i.e. human level intelligence like Meowth) AND they can sustain horrific attacks without injury AND dish out the same, why the hell are weak squishy humans, aka The Shittiest Pokemon, the dominant species in the first place? I feel like you need to answer that very practical question before you can get into the morality of humans using the other species as playthings.
  • Stephanie Cala: I haven’t read enough of the manga or seen enough of the show to know if there are farms wherein Pokémon are grown specifically for slaughter, but I would venture to say that there were. There are fishermen, and we have seen people eating magikarp (fish) kebab before. It wouldn’t be that farfetched to think of a miltank (cow) farm.Although I’m not sure it was intentional, the Pokémon world might also have a mix of non-special animals – in the original series we saw basic fish and birds that weren’t Pokémon. There could be regular animals out there for farming purposes, or it could have just been a fluke when the original series was being animated.

    I suspect that if sentient Pokémon are a part of a farming system, they are more the free-range kind of farms. Pokémon absolutely have the ability to kick the shit out of us as humans. But like someone else suggested, there’s a symbiotic relationship there. Humans were created as companions to Pokémon originally according to the mythos. Miltanks aren’t going to milk themselves. Mareep will build up too much electrcity if their wool isn’t shaven. That’s stuff that only humans are gonna be able to do.

Malkontent Blizzard: I agree with Sam, when the worst thing that can happen to a Pokémon in your direct experience is fainting questions about rough treatment get pretty much derailed.

  • Mark Foo: I’m not sure making animals fight until they pass out from exertion precludes the possibility of rough treatment in my books.
  • Sam Stafford: A creature that can’t die would never evolve pain receptors.
  • Malkontent Blizzard: I meant that the broader conversation is difficult at best without any sense of danger or mortality.
  • Mark Foo: Pokemon can die: http://anime.stackexchange.com/…/do-pokemon-age-and-die


“Pokemon could die in multiple ways, some of which are listed here:

By Over Exertion: In the Movie, Celebi: Voice of the Forest, it is shown that a celebi goes out of control, wreaking havoc in the forest. It exerts itself so much that when it calms down it simply disintegrates and dies.

By Sacrificing Themselves: It is seen in the movie, Pokemon Heroes, that a Latios sacrifices itself to protect the city of Alto Mare. How exactly does he die is unknown.

By Getting Eaten: The pokedex entry for Wurmple states that it has to defend against Starly to prevent being eaten. We can assume that the same applies for Caterpie and other worms.

Some Special Condition: Like Charmander, who will die if the flame on his tail goes out. This is also valid for its evolutions.

Aging: Pokemon who do not die from the above causes can be assumed to die from aging. This assumption is validated by the existence of pokemon graveyards with the people visiting it remarking on the long companionship provided by pokemon.

Some anomalies which are unexplained:

Existence of Legendary Pokemon: It is probable that legendary pokemon live forever. Pokemon like Groudon, Kyogre, Rayquaza are referred to as “super ancient pokemon” implying that they live forever. Same may be the case with other legendaries.

Ghost Pokemon: Deaths of pokemon do not explain ghost-type pokemon. It is possible that they are born as ghosts. Pokemon after dying may become spirits, like the Marowak killed by team rocket.

In essence, the aspect of pokemon death may have been avoided in the franchise because it was designed primarily for children.”

So, I dunno about the non-evolution of pain receptors, especially in a world where “evolution” harkens from moon rocks.

Teresa Loesch: One Pokemon move is “Self-Destruct”, where a Pokemon blows itself up, dealing massive damage and fainting in the process.

Also, the games are really clear that the PC is the best trainer because of their bond with their Pokemon, and the love that brings them together.

However, Pokemon does lend itself easily to much darker themes. As a kid I would pretend that only trainer Pokemon fainted at the end of a fight, and that wild Pokemon were killed and eaten for experience.

  • Mike Fatum: You were a weird kid, huh? 🙂
  • Teresa Loesch: Yes, but I don’t think this is a good example. 😉 I think most of my friends did this to one extent or another.

Stephanie Cala: I think of Pokémon fights more as boxing matches rather than actual dogfighting. Both opponents have to agree to partake in the fight, and there are times in the series when a Pokémon is like “nuh uh trainer dude, I’m not fighting that”. This is not really an option in the games, as you have to fight every trainer you lock eyes with, but it’s more debatable when using the series and the manga as a basis.
There is a point like Luke said in one of the movies where Pikachu literally has a conversation and is like “nah dude, we’re here because we wanna be here; we follow this dude because he’s cool and he cares about us”. Someone can find the clip on YT I’m sure but I’m running out of time here. There is the case for stokholm syndrome out there, but then I would use James from Team Rocket as an example. Despite working for a terrible company, he’s actually a really nice trainer. There have been multiple times where he’s had a run-in with a Pokémon and his way of catching it is by asking “do you wanna come with me?”. Ash has done this a lot too. In most cases the answer is yes, and so I think that it’s not a stockholm issue. Both Ash and James are also historically pretty good about setting their Pokémon free if they’re unhappy.

Ben Worley: If you want your brain borked, keep in mind that it’s canon that God is a Pokemon and that three Demigods joined together to create humans for the sake of being Pokemon’s companions. So the relationship is actually the exact reverse of what most humans think it is.

  • Mike Fatum: Huh. I wonder why Pokemon obey commands then, if humans are technically the pets.
  • Ben Worley: Symbiosis, I think. They both bring out the best in each other.I’m not sure. I’d have to go replay the game, but Diamond/Pearl really broke it down. God created five minor gods. Of those, one created time, one created space, and the other three joined together to create human.

    It’s kind of brain-twicking.

Mark Foo: Having only played the first games, it always seemed to me that Pokémon are just animals trained to do as they’re told, but then you get into humanoid Pokémon or ones with vast psychic powers, and things get confusing.

Mike Fatum: I haven’t played enough Pokemon to really understand this, but there’s a bit in Diamond/Pearl where you can find this guy that psychically reads your Pokemon’s minds. And I remember distinctly being super touched at how my Gyrados felt about me – it was basically something like, “Most humans are afraid of us and don’t understand us. But Mike makes me feel comfortable and happy.”

So, yes, that line was written to make me feel good about basically enslaving a giant water dragon, but on the other hand, it’s in the game so it’s canon, bitches.

Mike Fatum
Referred to as a God Among Men, the Greatest Man that Ever Lived, and That Dude Over There…No, The Dude with the Long Hair and the Goatee…Yes, That Guy, Mike has grown up being known and loved around his apartment. In addition to being a successful film director and editor, he loves video games, movies, comic books, board games, and his wife and cat. He’s been friends with Jarys for over a decade now, and they started hosting a radio show together on college that became the genesis for the Ace of Geeks Podcast. When he realized he had so many talented friends who could write, the Podcast became an entertainment website, and here we are.

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