I can tell you exactly when I Pokemon for myself. It was when I enlisted the help of an Action Replay and an obscure program that let me do just about anything in the game. It was like playing god. Pokemon god. And having this powerful ability completely changed how I see cheating.
I wasn't interested in breaking the game. Not exactly. The world of competitive Pokemon — at the time — was a strange beast. You had your group of people who stuck to online battles using programs like Shoddy Battle, which let you make up whatever team you'd like with whatever moveset and attributes you desired.
When you consider the amount of work that something like that would require in real life, what Shoddy Battle offered is amazing. Normally making one Pokemon — breeding it, then raising it to properly have the right skills and attributes — can take an absurd amount of time. Most people might catch whatever is available and go from there, or go with whatever looks cool. But Shoddy Battle let you make your dream team come true immediately.
Back in real life, Action Replay make what Shoddy Battle made possible — only right in your handheld, not in some offshoot program. That seemed more appealing to me, more... legitimate, somehow.
But the idea of legitimacy is turned on its head when you're using a special tool to achieve something in a game. It wasn't just using the Action Replay to see the hidden values. Unless you're willing to wade through a bunch of tedium, it's kind of necessary to use for what is known as ‘EV training.' Basically, when you level up, what stats your Pokemon gains depend on what EVs they've accrued. Every Pokemon has specific EVs that they give you after defeating them, and these are added up every time you level.
When you need a particular Pokemon that only appears 20 per cent of the time in a particular patch of grass to make sure your Charizard has a lot of special attack, suddenly the ability to make sure that specific wild Pokemon appears via Action Replay becomes appealing. I initially bought the device just to take a look behind the curtain, but when it gave me the ability to do more, I couldn't help but pull the curtain back even further.
I figured: I could just leave it all up to chance. Or, I can help myself... but just a little. Whatever I thought about cheating beforehand — that it wasn't OK, that I shouldn't do it — faded away.
I remember talking to competitive community members at the time and the way we would discuss it was kind of bewildering. Pokemon you made from scratch using a cheating device? Like say a shiny legendary Pokemon with an absurd moveset? No good, get that crap away from me.
If the Pokemon isn't normally possible in the game, then your methods are looked down upon. As if all that other stuff isn't also normally impossible in the game.
But if you if you actually had to put in some work in conjunction to whatever you did with your Action Replay? Well, that was different. That Pokemon was OK. You earned it.
Sure you made that Pokemon appear endlessly somewhere in a way it wasn't supposed to naturally. Sure you looked at stuff you weren't supposed to with hidden stats. But, you still battled through all those Pokemon to gain their EVs. You still went through the process of hatching your Pokemon, too.
It was like it was cheating, but it wasn't cheating at the same time.
What people will do to make cheating OK, to justify cheating, is fascinating to me. On a completely technical level, what I did with my Pokemon is ‘cheating.' I went outside the normal game, I altered the experience I was supposed to have. But it didn't ‘feel' like cheating, because there was work involved.
It seems different than, say, paying to win against other players, even though I'm sure someone like that has their reasons for playing the way they do. Even if it's just "I wanted to have fun" or "I wanted to be a dick."
So maybe it's just me trying to feel better about what I did, to make distinctions where there aren't any. It's like saying "yes, this is cheating, but not as much as this other thing is!" Hah, OK, buddy.
And maybe the distinction doesn't matter when talking about contained experiences that don't affect anyone else. It's one thing to cheat on a single player game, it's another thing entirely to cheat when other people are playing clean. You can sully your morals as much as you want: privately, though. It's your business.
The trick here is that with the Pokemon thing, there were other people involved. The entire point of raising a Pokemon with special tools isn't to use them in-game. You don't need to put so much effort into that. Most people try to make "perfect" Pokemon because they want to use them in battle or want to trade them. Which is to say, cheating exists in this wider social sphere where it's socially acceptable to cheat.
If that's the case, then trying to have this noble, moral and universal idea of what cheating is — "act dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage" — doesn't quite work. I technically cheated when I played Pokemon...but it was accepted, and widely-done. Can that still be considered cheating? Would stuff like aim-botting still be cheating if everyone did it? But why does it only matter when other people are involved if cheating is a moral thing? I don't think this stuff is as clear-cut as it might seem.
Regardless, the joke was on me: I toyed with what I shouldn't have, and then Pokemon without the power, without the competitive edge, without the extra minutia, became boring. The price of cheating is not always one of integrity.