Things Get Weird When You Look At Pokémon As An Allegory For Slavery

Things Get Weird When You Look At Pokémon As An Allegory For Slavery
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Unlike the Pokemon games before it, Pokémon Black/White almost explored something interesting: why we catch Pokemon, and whether or not keeping/battling with them is “okay.” But before the games said anything meaningful or deep, they took the easy route and made Team Plasma — the group intent on “liberating” Pokémon and therefore the reason you’re thinking about the ethics in the first place — out to be just some ecoterrorists.

Still, the premise got people like game developer Mattie Brice thinking — what were to happen if we seriously questioned the ethics in Pokémon? I mean, Pokémon battles are basically a blood sport — and that can be illegal, depending on where you’re from (though it’s not in some parts of Japan, where Pokémon originates.)

So Mattie did something unusual in the name of meaningfully exploring the subject: she started mentally subbing in slave for Pokémon and master for trainer, along with undertaking the famous “Nuzlocke Challenge.” There are three rules in this challenge:

  • You can only catch the first Pokemon you encounter in each area.
  • When a Pokemon loses all its health, it’s dead and must be released.
  • All Pokemon must be nicknamed
  • The purpose is to create a Pokémon game with more emotional impact: you get attached to your Pokémon thanks to constant hardship and nicknaming.

    She’s chronicling the adventure over in a Tumblr called Pokémon Unchained — partially named after, yes, Django Unchained. As you might imagine, things get dark and immediately:

    “In order to liberate slaves from foolish people, we will take their slaves!”

    “Come on, what reason could possibly justify stealing slaves from people?”

    “Someday, open your eyes to your own complicity.”

    ~Team Plasma and Cheren

    Stuck up ideologues trying to force their beliefs on us. This is our way of life, we’re like it this way!

    That demonstration was a laugh. Free the slaves? What would they do without us? It’s a common fact that all masters and slaves are happier together, so really, we’re doing the beasts a favour.

    But why invoke slavery or all things in the first place? Looking at training in the games as enslavement is a subject we’ve touched upon before, but this is what she told me over chat:

    “I read Pokemon Black/White as an allegory for antebellum US south. In a sense, a way to explore ‘How did people rationalize slavery?’ Well, in these games, they are rationalizing the enslavement and fighting of Pokémon, in a contemporary world where, at least in the US, dog fighting is illegal.

    “The rhetoric in the game is extremely reminiscent of quotes you would find of people rationalizing slavery. I think I am now extra sensitive to that because I saw Django Unchained, and that’s where the title of the project comes from. Basically, things like ‘Well, slaves can’t live on their own, they need us to take care of them.’ ‘It’s a partnership, we help each other out. Blacks are good at doing physical work and whites are good at leading.’ ‘It’s a biological fact that blacks like to be submissive and loyal.’

    “Basically, that kind of stuff comes up in Pokemon Black/White and there are few counters for it in the game. It’s like that mentality, especially of the player mindlessly capturing Pokemon for about 20 years, goes unchecked.”

    Intense stuff, albeit uncomfortable — slavery and Pokemon aren’t things you’d normally pair together. This is partially because Nintendo goes through such lengths to reassure you that really, it’s all OK because Pokémon love you and whatever, though.

    You can keep up with Pokémon Unchained here.


      • I do, actually.

        While you could make the link between Pokemon and American slavery (funny how other slavery isn’t important here), the more accurate link is always going to be dog fighting or bloodsports.

        In fact, the only real slavery link to make would be “slavery of domestic animals” like cows, etc, which are harvested for meat.

        As much as they’re idiots, PETA are s good example of examining this form of “slavery” in the context this attempts to.

        I feel that it is a very large and arrogant stretch to link Pokemon to American slavery, bypassing the other, more reasonable links. Essentially, it’s misrepresenting context to push a tenuous link.

        • I agree with you regarding Pokemon’s can be link to bloodsports compared with slavery.

          But your jab at the author was related to bloodsports, which is a topic the auther doesn’t discuss. Asking whether they are a vegetarian is irrelevant to the slavery discussion. Had the article actually been about a link between Pokemon and animal fighting your comment would have made some sense.

          • It lacked a bit of context, sure.

            The point is this:

            Linking to black US slavery? Very poor link.
            Link to animal cruelty and the current “real world enslavement” of domesticated animals purely for food? Strong link.

            If you’re going to talk about the first, you need to see and act on the second – hence not eating farmed meat.

            To misconstrue a game simply to stretch to an issue of the day and avoid the other, bigger issues is dishonest.

  • Games can touch on a number of issues, depending on which angle you’re looking at them. Spec ops: the line gave a fascinating (albeit grim) perspective on modern-day shooters. Even though I understand how Pokemon could be perceived as slavery (and respect the views of those who see it that way), I choose to enjoy the franchise without questioning the ethics.

    • As I often say you can enjoy pokemon regardless because it’s a fictional game. We enjoy many different types of games and other forms of entertainment, that are often dystopia’s or revisting evil’s of the past. I enjoy pokemon, however it has always disturbed me since I was young anyway who can’t see it for what it is.

      A sentient species (Human) roam their world and use an entrapment device (Pokeball) to gather another sentient species (Pokemon) out of there natural habitat. The humans use the acquired Pokemon to do battle with each other for braging rights (Badges, League) and financial benefit. Often trainers use pokemon already in their possession to injury/weaken wild Pokemon to increase the capture chance of a pokeball.

      A really fun fictional game, however it is strange when adults still defend the concept of pokemon as being anything other then a fictional example of slavery. There are examples within the pokemon universe of pokemon never being captured with pokeballs and joining the trainer of their own accord, these pokemon and their trainer are closer to genuine friendship. Pikachu is a good example of this.

      • You’re right, it is about slavery, of humans by Pokemon. Everyone (except for the antagonists obviously) absolutely worships Pokemon and devotes everything to looking after them. Every part of the world and people’s lives somehow idolises the creatures and society seemingly has no purpose other than to look after and promote Pokemon.

        Humans are even incapable of travelling anywhere unless under the guidance of one or more of these creatures. To be accepted by the Pokemon as worthy of being their owner, you must first show your strength in battle otherwise they will not acknowledge you. This was a flawed system at first because humans figured out they could simply transfer to serve under a higher level Pokemon without needing to prove themselves.

        So Poke-law was rewritten and humans must now compete in Pokemon approved sporting arenas to achieve a badge of honour that shows they are worthy of serving under the higher level ones. It’s also a way of allowing rival gangs of Pokemon to prove who has the better human without resorting to violence on the street or in the wild. Sometimes though, Pokemon can sense the worth of a human without needing to test them and will allow them to serve as their servant.

        I could go on, but int the end, it’s a fun, fictional game. However, it’s funny when adults say that it definitively represents one concept or another because really, they’re just denying the fact that we are the slaves to our mighty Pokemon overlords. ^_-

        • I didn’t just say it represents one concept or another I used reason and clear examples of how it is a fictional version of slavery. I examined the facts about the game and how the world of Pokemon would be viewed if it was based in reality. In almost all cases pokeballs capture pokemon against their will. Pokemon are shown to be sentient and certain pokemon are stated to be even more intelligent then humans, such as alakazam and certain legendarys. These are clearly defined elements within the game. I treat examples in the game like I would if they were in the real world. If there was some other form of life on our planet that was sentient besides humans, using a real version of a pokeball such as (Shock collars, drugs et cetra) to control the sentient life to pit them against each other in fights would be a form of slavery. Hell even animal fighting is often against the law especially in the developed world.

          Your response to my argument is to make an irrational rant about humans being the slaves. You use strawman tactics to suggest any position about the game is possible, this is simply not the case. One example being that the humans within the universe can choose to be trainers or not. Some people argue that because most pokemon masters do genuinely care for their pokemon the slavery analogy breaks down, that sort of argument doesn’t apply to slavery of humans in reality so why should it apply to Pokemon?

          Pokemon is a fun game I have enjoyed since I was eight but like other forms of entertainment it would be pretty horrible if it was real. Humans are capable of rationalizing pretty much anything unfortunately by circumventing morals and ethics. Still I did get a good chuckle out of your reply, I myself often play a game while on skype where one guy attempts to rationalizing something ridiculous to the rest of the group. A few examples are Anakin killing the younglings in ep 3, The Empire in Star Wars, World War 2, 9/11, Iraq and Catholic church during WW2. I might attempt pokemon next time, it will be good fun.

  • Pokemon isnt about slavery. & it would take someone who wanted it to be about slavery to make that leap of logic.

    Pokemon is about the unethical treatment of animals in sports & other entertainment industries.
    think about it. capture a wild animal, remove it from its natural habitat & train it to become a killing machine. then pit it against another poor animal who has had the same treatment. watch as these creatures fight each other for your own financial gain.

    point is, pokemon is all about illegal underground dogfights.
    pokemon is a training tool for people who want to get into the world of dogfighting or cockfighting.
    the devs should be ashamed.

    /all the sarcasm

    and thats how you can make anything be an allegory for anything else, regardless of the developers intent.

  • Here’s an easy fix:

    Write in that Arceus made the universe and humans. Say that he made humans with the intent of them becoming guardians for Pokemon (in the same way a lot of religious creation stories write in humans being guardians for animals). Perhaps Pokemon naturally have instincts to battle, and that without humans battling them in controlled environments, they would go extinct from killing each other (and if that’s a little too dark, just say they would hurt each other too much, essentially saying it’s cruel to let them fight in the wild).

    Tie that in with some natural, biological bond between humans and Pokemon, and the animal cruelty tables will entirely turn. The utopia that is the Pokemon universe will retain it’s childlike spirit, to some extent.

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