I Know A Disturbing Amount About Pokemon.

A few days ago, my wife and I were in the car, talking about people who were playing the new Pokemon Go game. She made the point that she really doesn’t know much about Pokemon and so she really couldn’t understand why people were getting into car accidents and walking off of cliffs to find them.


Bulbasaur, Pikachu, Squirtle and Charmander. Yes, I knew that off the top of my head. (image via pokemondb.net)

I haven’t quite figured out what makes people who play Pokemon Go disregard their safety, but as I started explaining the story behind Pokemon, she pointed something out that I didn’t realize – I know a disturbing amount about Pokemon. Credit for this knowledge must go to my son, who infused me with the game’s lore when he was six.

Naturally, our conversation made it to Facebook and there was a request that I pass on my knowledge to our friends who have no intention of either playing this new game or finding a six year old to explain Pokemon to them. So, as a service to my friends and anyone who doesn’t get what all the excitement is about, I’m going to pass on all the knowledge I have on the subject.

Before I fill you in on things, you should know that doing something like betting your car on what you read here would be very dangerous. My son is now twenty-four years old, I have the memory of an average fifty-four year old and we haven’t had an in depth discussion of this stuff since he left elementary school.

The Fundamentals

The most well known Pokemon is Pikachu. He is the cute yellow one with the lightning bolt shaped tail. Pikachu is one of many Pokemon. He does not represent all Pokemon any more than Lassie represents all dogs or the Kardashians represent all humans.

The word Pokemon is short for pocket monster. No, I didn’t make that up; yes, I know it sounds dirty. Perhaps someone should have asked before they went with pocket monster. Each monster is prized by aficionados for their individual traits and powers. We’ll discuss powers and their use later.


A Pokeball. You capture Pokemon in this & keep them in it until you need them. Seems humane. (image public domain)

Using Pokeballs, Pokemon “trainers” capture these creatures in the wild and then train them to respond to commands. These trainers do not seem to be the subject of the same sort of humane society scrutiny as circuses. It seems to me that they should be. Both Pokemon training and circuses are based on domesticating wild creatures and getting them to do their captor’s bidding against their own interests.

These pocket monsters have a limited vocabulary – they can only say their name and pieces of it. A Squirtle, for example, can say Squirtle and squirt. Coincidentally, squirting is Squirtle’s power, but a monster’s name is not always a clue about their powers. With Pokemon, it seems that often it isn’t what they say as much as how they say it. When you have a vocabulary of one and a half words, tone is everything.

Trainers don’t seem to name their Pokemon. Instead, they just call them by whatever species they happen to be, i.e. “Psyduck, use confusion attack”. I’m not sure why that is the way it’s done, nor do I know if this practice extends to these folks naming their dogs “Dog”.

The monsters also evolve into “higher forms” of themselves. Don’t fall into the trap of reading this as some sort of Buddhist growth where they reach different levels of consciousness, perhaps becoming a Bodhisattva or achieving nirvana.

Most Pokemon can evolve twice from whatever they began life as. When they evolve, their name also changes in order to maximize confusion. For instance, Charmander evolves into Charmillion and then Charizard. With each successive evolution, the Pokemon becomes more skilled, but larger and less attractive…like your grandfather did as he got older.

There are more than one of each monster, though some are very rare. Also, I recall my son explaining to me that there are “unknown Pokemon”. It’s probably reasonable to expect that you’re asking “if they are unknown, how do we know they’re there?” I wish I could help you there. I can’t.

Pokemon started as a card game where players could battle opponents, then it evolved into an animated television show based on the principles of the game. Or maybe the show came first. I’m not sure.

Becoming A Pokemon Master – The Television Version

In the television version of the game, a boy named Ash roams the world. I’m not using “roams the world” metaphorically. This kid is out in the world, unchaperoned, with nothing but a backpack. He wears the same clothes every day and does not go to school. He does so with the blessing of his mother. Apparently there is no Department of Child Welfare in Japan. He walks through the world with an older boy and girl. All three are Pokemon trainers. They capture new monsters in the wild as they travel, using red and white Pokeballs. They train the captured Pokemon to fight other Pokemon using the powers that I mentioned earlier.

When these trainers encounter other trainers they “battle” them. These battles are not bare knuckle bouts between the trainers. Rather, they cause their Pokemon to fight one another. When a Pokemon wins, his trainer wins. Trainers can eventually win enough to become Pokemon masters.

I’m not sure, but I think that once you’re a master, you can have your own gym. Pokemon masters use these gyms to train Pokemon trainers. I don’t know if there are joining fees at these gyms, nor do I know if there is any sort of long term contract involved in joining this sort of gym.


Team Rocket. Incompetent villains (image via playbuzz.com)

As Ash and his friends roam (with no apparent sources of income), capturing, training and battling Pokemon, they also have to contend with Team Rocket. Team Rocket consists of a talking cat, a woman with bizarre red hair and a metro-sexual man. Together, their incompetence as villains is embarrassing to scofflaws everywhere.

Team Rocket’s goals seem to be to steal Ash’s Pikachu and to harass him and his friends as they travel. Keep in mind, there are other Pikachu out there but these folks are fixated on this particular one. They try to accomplish their goals by traveling in a hot air balloon and hatching elaborate plans that invariably fail.

In most episodes of the show, Ash encounters a rival trainer or a master and takes on their challenges. He may be briefly defeated, but eventually beats this new rival and gains a higher status and the rival’s respect. Respect does not seem to buy much. Ash never goes to the airport to jet off to his next adventure. He just walks off to wherever he’s headed.

So What About The Pokemon Cards I Bought My Kid?

Pokemon cards and the television show is sort of a chicken and egg question for me; I’m not sure which came first.

The cards serve two purposes – to be collected and for game play.

Card collectors prize their cards and seek to get their hands on cards representing each Pokemon. In that way, the hobby of collecting the cards is like collecting baseball cards. But these cards can also be used to play a game. The idea of the game is that the monsters on the cards are battling. The winner of the battle is determined by statistical information on each card.

I suppose that sort of game might be exciting, if you like that sort of thing. I don’t.

Pokemon Go. What’s The Deal?

Pokemon Go, the game you’re hearing about on the news, allows players to simulate being Pokemon trainers to an extent that they can’t with bubblegum cards.

This game, played on smart phones, helps people “find” Pokemon out in the world. No, the the monsters are not physically present, but for purposes of the game, they are. I think. Sorta. The players use Pokeballs to capture the monsters that they find. There isn’t any actual throwing involved, this all happens on the phone.

Finding the Pokemon seems to require intense focus on the players part. On my daily walks, I’ve run across small groups of people staring at their screens and muttering to each other about things like that time they almost captured a Warturtle (a highly evolved Squirtle). I’ve read that some consider one of the benefits of the game is that it gets them out into the world. It seems to me that they are out in the world, but they don’t really notice much of it.

Once the Pokemon are found, game players can use them to battle other players. Yes, that’s it. That’s what all the fuss is about. Nothing more.

In the past few weeks, I’m sure you’ve seen the same news stories I have – people traipsing through private property on their hunts. More dangerously, they’ve caused car accidents and walked off of cliffs while trying to catch Pokemon. Some locations, like businesses, have encouraged players to come in by letting them know when Pokemon have been located on their property. Others, have discouraged players from gaming at their facilities either because it is dangerous to do so or, in the case of the Auschwitz Museum, out of respect for the souls lost there.

So there’s what I know about Pokemon. Perhaps it will help you in understanding what all the excitement is about. On the other hand, it may not, since I still don’t get it. And, getting back to the original question posed by my wife on why folks walk off of cliffs in their quests to capture more Pokemon my answer to her and to you is…damned if I know.



7 Comments on “I Know A Disturbing Amount About Pokemon.”

  1. This is important information, Oma! I only knew some of it. There are also video games. I think cards came first, video games second, and then the TV show. I would play this game if I could, but i don’t have a smart phone. One day. A girl can dream, right?

  2. Green Wuf says:

    Not bad. Not bad. If you are ever curious, or just too bored, I could let you know about the recent games that came out and are soon to come out, along with anything you’d want to know about the meta-game (online battles, battle tiers, pokemon breeding, and strategies).

  3. Oma, I believe you may have saved me. Now that I know what the hell they are doing I don’t have to try it myself. Had to laugh at one guy I saw on video walking off a dock into the water.

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