Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Pokemon Series's Pokemon Breeding

Many thanks to Ecclesiastes for letting me bounce ideas about this rant off him. Also to my sister, who, as she always does, generously donated a willing ear and more time than it was worth to listen to and give feedback on this. Both of you rock.

Y’know, Pokemon breeding is seriously fucked up.

Yes, this is another rant about one of those things that the Pokemon series kinda just glosses over, but is actually pretty disturbing. I know, I know, not exactly in the world do we all enjoy and accept as harmless child’s play this bizarre world of enslaved sentients, culturally encouraged dogfighting, dangerously unsupervised preteens, lethally dangerous government buildings, out of control forced domestication of wild animals, and so on? Still, as with the dangerous nature of many Gyms, this is a subject I haven’t seen critiqued often, so, here I am to do my thing. There is no easier target for logic and ethics nitpicking than Pokemon, and I’ll be damned if I’m above beating a dead Ponyta.

You like that? Ah? Pokemon joke? I’m hilarious.

Anyway. Pokemon breeding! The Pokemon games don’t usually go into much detail on the whole Pokemon breeding scene, from what I see and can recall. It’s more directly a part of the Pokemon world that the anime depicts.* In the games, the whole process is kinda just passed off as some miraculous happening, explained in a very carefully vague way. Or at least, it is in Generation 7, and I admit that I just don’t remember how it was explained prior to that...look, gimme a break, I never used the Daycare centers and even I can’t be expected to remember the wording of every RPG tutorial I’ve ever seen. I think I’m safe in assuming that the earlier games didn’t go out on a limb and supplement their audience’s sex ed classes, though.**

Nonetheless, no matter how quietly overlooked it might be, Pokemon breeding is indeed a thing in the games’ world, as evidenced by the fact that there is an entire trainer type called, clearly enough, Pokemon Breeders. And I gotta say, the concept is pretty messed up. The whole idea of animal breeding can be kinda squicky, of course, and I think there are certain aspects of its practice in the real world that just about anyone would admit are questionable. Nonetheless, even if we take a stance in which we’re A-OK with animal breeding in terms of real life, Pokemon breeding is a whole different matter.

See, here’s the thing: when you’re breeding animals, you’re making mating decisions for creatures that generally lack self-aware determination. With most animals, mating decisions are as much made through instinct as anything else they’s highly arguable how much “choice” they have in any aspect of their lives, with or without human intervention. Granted, this is still grounds for philosophical argument of ethics (on a personal level, I don’t like this practice), but the important thing is, you’re not taking a choice away from a being that can really contemplate the concept of choice enough to appreciate it anyway. But with Pokemon breeding, you’re forcing sapient creatures of human or near-human intelligence to mate according to someone else’s will, not theirs!

This isn’t deciding which chickens mate with which chickens to get the best eggs and temperament. This isn’t setting up a blind date for your stupid dog. This is forcing 2 independent, free-willed self-aware entities to reproduce according to the arbitrary whims of a third party, disregarding any and all feelings the actual participants might have on the matter! I’m no legal expert, but I do believe that’s called rape in some circles. Also eugenics, which is its own bag of unpleasantness. But more importantly, the whole robbing free-thinking self-aware individuals of their right to choose reproductive partners thing.

Oh, and yes, Pokemon (a lot of them, at least) are sentient, sapient beings. According to my ever faithful reader, friend, and sounding board Ecclesiastes, Generation 6 tried to backtrack on this issue, and make the line between human intelligence and emotion, and Pokemon intelligence and emotion, a more solid one. Figures it’d be the 1 game generation I’d skip. Nonetheless, even with my ignorance of the game’s events, I call bullshit on that. The Pokedex and general series lore disproves any notion of Pokemon all being intellectually and emotionally inferior to humans, and said dex and lore do this all over the place. Off the top of my head:

-Cubone wears the skull of its deceased mother, showing that it possess both the concept of sentimentalism for objects associated with those it cares about, and understanding of symbolism and how it relates to loss.
-Mimikyu recognizes love and accolades given to Pikachu, and feels jealousy (which is itself a complicated emotion indicative of intelligence). Its attempt to resolve this situation is to craft a costume based on Pikachu. This isn’t unconscious mimicry born from natural selection, this is a conscious decision to visually imitate Pikachu, and obviously the process of creating a costume to wear requires human-level preparation and know-how.
-Absol’s attempts to warn human civilizations of impending dangerous weather requires forethought, empathy beyond biological imperative, and selflessness to a humanlike degree. Absol has to be intelligent enough to recognize human civilization, identify that humans cannot follow weather indicators as well as it can, and devise a plan to warn them. It also must be emotionally complex enough to recognize the potential plights of nearby humans, care about them, want to help them, and choose to devote its time and energy to doing so with absolutely no possible personal gain.
-Primarina, during her (mine was female so deal with it) personal Z-move, stands and takes a bow after her operatic performance. That’s a display of personal pride in what she has done, and pride is, I’m pretty sure, an emotion only confirmed in human-level intelligence. Additionally, it shows a recognition of subtle social gestures and how they are correctly employed, and an understanding of how such gestures add flourish to a performance. This is no trained trick, done with the potential for reward treats in mind; the only motivation she can have in this bow is to acknowledge her accomplishment and performance, and share her satisfaction in it with others. In this 1 tiny motion, Primarina confirms an intelligence that understands cultural gestures, self-aware personal pride, and art.
-Uh, yeah, Rotom does, y’know, talk. And have a clear personality. Like, throughout the entirety of Pokemon: Generation 7. From the moment it possesses your Pokedex, Rotom does more than observe and recite basic Pokemon facts--it also reacts to, comments on, and poses questions about Moon and Lillie’s adventure together. Or Sun and Lillie’s adventure, whichever you went with.

And I want to emphasize again, this is off the top of my head. If I were to categorically go through Pokedex entries and rack my memory for all the details it can provide of the 5 generations I’m familiar with, I’m pretty sure there’d be a substantially longer list of Pokemon who flat-out, hands-down, beyond-question prove that Pokemon are capable of being self-aware, intelligent creatures mentally at humanity’s level (or even higher), and frequently are. But as I am not patently insane and thus have no interest in looking over...what is it now, over 800? Over 800 Pokemon’s worth of codex entries, those 5 examples will have to suffice.

Which brings us back to my point: Pokemon breeding is forcing 2 entities who, in at least some cases, are thinking, feeling, self-aware beings to reproduce together, regardless of what reproductive partner they might have otherwise chosen. And that is pretty messed up, and not okay. It’s either rape, or something really, really close.

Is this the most morally questionable part of the Pokemon world, when analyzed? Probably not; I mean, as deplorable as the idea of disregarding someone’s feelings and desires and assigning them some eugenics pet project mate to propagate with is, this is also the world which endorses pitting intelligent, self-aware individuals against each other in deadly, painful combat to satisfy the whims and vanity of their owners. That trumps even master-race-aiming rape, at least in my opinion. Still, when you think about it, the concept of Pokemon breeding is yet another extremely unsettling aspect of this cheerful children’s series that we perpetually give a free pass to.

* Sort of. The anime, if I recall correctly (be kind if you need to inform me that I’m wrong on this; I haven’t watched Pokemon since the Orange Island arc was the new big thing), depicts the breeding process more as a vague mixture of food preparation, grooming, relaxation methods, and massage (which makes the Pokemon Refresh thing in recent games even more questionable than it already is, I suppose). As far as it shows, you’d never guess that actual sex and reproduction was a part of the process at all.

Then again, are we even sure sex IS a part of Pokemon reproduction? I mean, you can still breed genderless Pokemon in the games using a Ditto as 1 of the parents (which is in itself all kinds of weird), right? So how much does gender actually matter to these things, in terms of creating new ones? And...

...Actually, you know what? I just realized what I’m trying to analyze here, and how deep I’m going with it. And I’m gonna just cut myself off right there. Not worth the cringy shudders I’m gonna eventually give myself if I keep on.

** Although given how inadequate and often negatively exclusive sexual education often is in the USA--and that’s when a school system even bothers to teach it at all--maybe it wouldn’t have been a bad thing if Pokemon games actually had gone into detail about it.


  1. I'll spare you the degenerate senpai jokes.

    As messy as this is, consent isn't really the issue here. That the pair produces an egg at all is indication of consent, as no mention of coercion or guidance exists. They are simply let out of their digital prison(>_>) and left to their own devices. That they always eventually consent, without personalities being a factor, is a gameplay expedition. Because really, this facet of the game is inexcusably time-consuming as it is.

    Magcargo is hotter than the sun, Alakazam has an IQ stat I shall assume is impossible, and Raichu is racist towards Indian elephants. The Pokédex sadly is a shoddy lore dump, and anything it says should bow to any other in-game information and implications. This is no Bioware codex.

    Breeding has always been "I dunno how this egg showed up, kid, but you want it anyway?". This is so younger kids aren't pushed into The Talk several years earlier than desired by the parents, with the Breeder trainers not having any stated connection to breeding itself. It's goofy, but plays its part. As for sex education in America, it does suck, but even half-assed parenting on the whole should render it a quaint redundancy; even a solid sex ed course should be a waste of any student's time. I'm more worried about how we all learned Algebra ten years later than we could have.

    1. 1. An arranged union enacted against the will of those it marries will usually produce offspring (often that's the main goal, in fact, of those forcing the marriage), but that doesn't make it less wrong or prove that the union is one which the spouses wanted.

      It's also a fallacy to suppose that the Pokemon eventually and inevitably submitting to a trainer's breeding whims implies consent. It can just as easily indicate a lack of knowledge in the creature that it deserves that right. In an episode of Steven Universe, for example, we see Steven visit a zoo kept by aliens in which the humans, who are born and kept as exhibits with no concept of choosing to do anything but what their (admittedly benevolent, from all appearances) keepers tell them to do. Part of this is the "Choosening" ritual, in which these human beings are directed by their keepers on who is to hook up with who. Because of their situation, they have no idea that they deserve the right to choose who to love for themselves, and so they always simply go along with what they're told. But this internalization of the idea that they lack rights of self determination does NOT mean that they actually should lack those rights. And it may very well be that Pokemon assume that being bred is all just a part of being some 11 year old's slave pet. Which...well, I mean, it IS, actually, but that's just why the whole scenario is messed up.

      Also, I'd like to point out that the question of the eggs from the daycare center aside, there's clearly also a more directly understood form of breeding going on in the Pokemon world, as evidenced by the trainer type, Pokemon Breeder. Even if we could rule out consent issues from the daycare situation in the games, the implication of the Breeder trainers is of a system to which my criticisms still apply.

      2. You can disregard some of what I mentioned as far as proof of Pokemon sapience, but not all of it. My points on Primarina and Rotom are taken from hard evidence in the game, Mimikyu's lore is taken from a promotional song officially created by Nintendo (and, supplementally, Mimikyu's appearance being a costume is confirmed by his Ability in combat), and I'm fairly sure that the part of Cubone's lore I invoked is backed up by NPC dialogue in the games. The official word from Nintendo might be that Pokemon are not sapient, sentient creatures, but I'm afraid that the official word from Nintendo is also that Pokemon ARE just that, and in the face of such a logic discrepancy, one has to default to the more likely and logical of the 2 possibilities. And since the possibility of Pokemon being intelligent and self-aware has hard, demonstrable evidence, while the possibility that they are not is just a plot theme (and from a series with a penchant for weak-ass plots that occasionally collapse in on themselves as they backtrack for the sake of justifying a status quo), I stand by my assertion: Pokemon are thinking, self-conscious beings with a human-level awareness.

      3. While my joke's humor hinged on implying such, a solid sex ed course is not about teaching the basic how-to of reproduction (or rather, that's a significantly important but ultimately small part of it). It's more about teaching the potential consequences of sex, the methods of practicing safe sex, the understanding of alternative sexualities (and the basics of sex for them), mentalities and relationship dynamics to be wary of, and bringing young adults to an understanding of sex as a part of who they are as a physical being, and as something that is neither shameful nor dirty.

      Considering that sex and our understanding of how it affects and relates to ourselves is a major part of our mentality and sense of self, I'd say Sex Ed, like English and History and the arts, is at LEAST as important as Mathematics. Neither knowledge nor wisdom should ever exist without the other, but if I have to choose between them, I'll pitch my tent in wisdom's camp every time.

  2. I agree with most of your conclusions, but have a problem with one of your assumptions. Real-life animals don't lack as much intelligence as you seem to think. For example, elephants are drawn to the skulls of other elephants (somewhat similar to your cubone example) and ants join together to create "living" rafts to survive floods (or even help a queen ant travel across water safely, with the queen standing on top of them; this is similar to your Absol example). Some birds have also demonstrated puzzle-solving capabilities. Not that some pokemon aren't generally more intelligent than real-life animals.

    It's difficult to measure the exact intelligence of real-life animals because science would need to find an empirical way to measure intelligence since animals have different ways of communicating (language is rare in animals).

    1. Hm, well, you certainly are correct in many regards (particularly given elephants and some birds). But in my defense, elephants, smarter birds, dolphins, octopuses, whales, and primates are not (to my knowledge) bred in a way such as I described and such is relevant to the rant, so I don't think my statement's too off-base. Although I'll grant you that pigs are smart enough to be iffy at best, and I DO think that we breed them (since they're a livestock animal), so you may have a point about my statements being ill considered, after all.

      Honestly, pigs are probably smart enough that we shouldn't be eating the delicious little porkers. I wouldn't be surprised if a few hundred years from now, people look back at us as savages for making pigs and octopuses a part of our food supply.

      Anyway, you raise a fair point that our ability to measure intelligence and the degrees of self-awareness that go with it is still incomplete, if not outright in its infancy. Nonetheless, I do feel that Pokemon are frequently implied to have an intelligence on par with humans, and as such the question of breeding's morality with at least some of them is different than that of breeding's morality with the real life animals that we do breed, given that even if I'm underestimating those animals, I doubt whatever level of sapience they reach which I've overlooked is at a human level the way some Pokemon quite apparently are.

  3. Uhhh well Game Freak's official explanation on eggs is that the stork did it with the said stork implied to be celebi. There's also an NPC that describes an egg not an actual egg rather a cradle and no one actually seen the act of a Pokémon laying an egg.

    There's also breeding rates where the chances of a Pokémon to actually lay an egg. Obviously incompatible Pokémon can't lay eggs but depending on how well Pokémon actually get along (which depends on some factors) if a pokemon get along well they have a higher chance of producing an egg. If they have a poor relationship they have a lower change of producing an egg. The change rolls every 256 steps

    1. Also what your thinking about for the anime is the act of raising a pokemon just like the other function of a the day care

    2. Hmm...well, if we do want to go solely with the Celebi did it explanation, which makes the (shamefully heterosexual-only) Attract ability make a whole hell of a lot less sense, then I guess breeding is less like rape and more like the non-sexual components of a forced marriage enacted for heir-producing purposes. Which I'm still against, albeit with a little less disgust.

      Hm...I'm fairly sure I remember that it was specifically breeding in the anime. It was the episode where Brock got his Vulpix that the breeder lady had bred. The episode's even called the breeding episode by fans.

    3. Hey Cryogonal (and mew but it can learn every tm) a genderless Pokémon can learn attract for some weird reason. In the original Pokémon mystery dungeon (and some of the newer ones I think) there were no genders so attract worked on everything, it got pretty broken

      Also I am aware of that the way you worded just came of as you being confused on why those things were part of a breeder's job