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Words: James Cullen
There is a reason we keep coming back to Pokémon. Most of us have secretly wished the (relatively) free-roaming adventure games were real. While we mainly wanted to explore and catch Pokémon, could we actually have wanted the series to be real because of the better world it represents?
The Pokémon games exist in a mostly peaceful, solution-focused utopia - markedly different from our society. We played, wanting to live in their world, knowing that it is idealistic and inspiring. But how could the Pokémon world influence modern-day society?
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Our lives are based around the economy. We work, pay bills, save a pension, and retire. But in the Pokémon games, money comes secondary to the passion built into the quest to become a Pokémon master.
In Pokémon, trainers battle to earn money. Those who become more powerful earn more, but when defeated also pay out more. The prize money is calculated by multiplying the base pay of the trainer class and level of the last Pokémon defeated.
Trainers are therefore on means-tested wages. In Sword and Shield, a Gentleman has a base pay-out of 200 Pokémon dollars, while a Schoolboy has a base of 60 Pokémon dollars. So, Pokémon operates through true trickle-down economics. The money you have to pay depends on your station in society, trainer class, and Pokémon's strength - i.e., your ability to then go out and win money back from others.
For some, Pokémon training is a full-time job. But some do work - as Office Workers, Reporters, Postmen, and more. Many of these workers have Pokémon who reflect their jobs. For example, Rail Staff in Black and White have Diglett, those in Sword and Shield have Drilbur and Onix - all Pokémon who would be used for railroad work.
There are also trainer classes that aren't defined by jobs, such as water-type owning Surfers and Swimmers. As you choose the Pokémon you catch, these jobs are a secondary consideration to the Pokémon you want.
In Pokémon, people do what they are passionate about and have a work-life balance. How nice would it be to spend the day not working to live but fulfilling these passions - which is an underlying theme of the franchise.
The Pokémon Centre is free at the point of use. Given how often trainers must need to replenish their Pokémon, charging for treatment could be lucrative. But they don't - in Pokémon, healthcare is a right and not a privilege.
The environment is integral to any Pokémon game. The games focus on the co-habitation of all life on Earth. While they focus on humans and Pokémon, the messages instilled are really about protecting the planet and fostering harmony. Each villainous group can be seen to be affecting this harmonious balance in some way.
The legendary Pokémon themselves are coded to reflect the environment. Groudon and Kyogre from Ruby and Sapphire represent land and sea, respectively. Teams Magma and Aqua attempt to affect this balance - and your job in the game is to stop them.
Pro-environmental themes are prevalent. Diamond and Pearl feature the Valley Windworks; most games showcase the benefits of cycling; there are few cars; much NPC dialogue is focused on positive environmental messages.
The games' terrain is tall grass, forests, caves, and nature trails - all viewed as positive compared to manmade elements. Pokémon exemplify this. Weezing's Galarian form resembles a polluting chimney - reflecting industry, specifically the Industrial Revolution for the British-themed Sword and Shield games.
Animal rights and Pokémon go hand in hand. The fair treatment of Pokémon is instilled in players. Although, a 2016 paper on Pokémon Go and conservation did suggest that while the game encouraged interest in the natural world, it was coded in the message that the world was there for our entertainment. But players know Pokémon within the games are treated in a sacrosanct way.
Pokémon teaches compassion and equality. Pokémon are referred to in neutral terms - they/them - and some are genderless. A Pokémon Go blogpost back in 2019 implied a character, Blanche, was non-binary. By introducing these concepts in this way, they will be more readily accepted.
There is even speculation about a transgender trainer. In X and Y, Beauty Nova claims she had been a Black Belt - Beauties being a female trainer class, and Black Belts male. The Japanese text refers to the "power of medical science", dispelling all doubt.
Anyone can be a Pokémon trainer, which is one of the most enduring ideals of the franchise. There is parity between male and female gym leaders. Out of the eight main games, there are 31 male and 23 female gym leaders (around 41% are female) - with one mixed pair, Drayden in Black, and Iris in White. While in reality, only 27.9% of senior roles were held by women in FTSE 250 companies in the 2019 report.
Gender expression is a key theme of Pokémon. In Ruby and Sapphire, Wallace exudes flamboyance, while Flannery is tomboyish. Characters are free to express themselves as they wish.
Freedom of movement also exists. The post-game for Gold and Silver takes place in Kanto. Most games begin with the player having just moved to a new region to begin their Pokémon journey. People are judged more on ability and determination than where they are from.
Most importantly, Pokémon embodies the theme of meritocracy. You start out with a low-level starter and gradually work your way up, challenging those you are able to beat and progressing.
An early episode of the Pokémon anime, 'The School of Hard Knocks', featured a school that could help trainers take shortcuts to the Pokémon League. Those who could afford it could skip the hard work and gain the badges anyway. The episode's focus was on how these people would be underprepared.
Pokémon doesn't rely on who you know to progress. This ties into its appeal - you are free to go on an adventure buoyed by self-belief. This embodies a freer society where hard work brings rewards. While this may not be true of life, it is the core value of Pokémon.
The Pokémon world works differently to ours. Every facet - from the economy to healthcare, equality to the environment - shows what we could accomplish. While many dismiss Pokémon as being pure fantasy, the world building shows that a better society is achievable.
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