In the midst of a fascinating email exchange with an undergrad who messaged me after reading some of my work (it is a story all to itself, guys, and its coming, just be patient), our discussion turned to Pokemon. Specifically, we got to talking about the biology of Pokemon.
You see, my letter-writer had mentioned the fact that in the Pokemon games, it is impossible for two Pokemon of the same sex to breed, and given that I’ve written about same sex romance in other games before, he wanted to know my thoughts on the subject.
I told him that it made sense to me, biologically, that two Pokemon of the same sex would not be able to breed (though it doesn’t particularly make sense to me that the plant type or spirit type Pokemon, for example, would have a sex to begin with). So it doesn’t particularly bother me in the same way that, say, it bothers me that same sex couples in Fire Emblem Fates can’t have children. This is because we are explicitly told that Pokemon are bred (we see them hatch from an egg after we pair two Pokemon to mate them) while the “acquisition” of human children in FE: Fates could happen any number of unspecified ways. So until the world of Pokemon invents gene splicing, it makes sense to me that breeding works the way it does.
But then he told me that some Pokemon have a “charm” ability that only works on the opposite sex, and that gave me pause.
As readers of this blog know I play way too much League of Legends. That game has a champion called Ahri whose charm ability works on everyone, male, female, demon, mermaid, and astral god.
So why is it that a Pokemon’s charm will work on a Pokemon of a different species that is the opposite sex of the charmer but not a Pokemon of the same sex?
Which leads to my next, most pressing question.
You guys: what ARE Pokemon anyway, in a biological sense??
They aren’t one huge species with a lot of smaller subgroups, right? Because only Pokemon of the same kind can breed with one another. So, for example, you can’t breed a Pikachu with a Charizard (unless you are fooling around with the breeding machine on this website, which is awesome).
And they don’t seem to be, say, in the same Kingdom according to our taxonomic ranking system because some Pokemon are mammals and some are fish and some are reptiles… Some might even be aliens?
Shit you guys, some of them are living rocks. SOME OF THEM ARE STRAIGHT UP GHOSTS, YA’LL. They aren’t even alive.
Even Professor Oak is confused.
And if “Pokemon” is a category that encompasses all of these things, then what ISN’T a Pokemon? Are humans Pokemon? What about rocks that AREN’T alive? Are planets gigantic Pokemon?
And this doesn’t even bring into account what we should make of the concept of individual animals “evolving.” I mean, we can’t be talking about Darwinian evolution, so what is happening there? Is it like a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly? But some Pokemon can turn into multiple different kinds of final forms!
WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?
I actually think that what is going on here is that “Pokemon” is a name for a category of use, not a biological description of a type of life. Like “pet” or “farm animal,” “Pokemon” is the name we give to the kind of things… well… that we use for blood sport (at least within the world of the game).
In the environmental humanities, this kind of thinking is called “enframing.” Philosophy Martin Heidegger describes enframing as a philosophy through which
things may emerge as mere resources on call for our use when required, so that a living forest may show up as merely a ‘standing reserve’ of timber…, no longer trees even but just lumber-in-waiting, and even the mighty Rhine may be disclosed as just a source of hydroelectric power.
In other words, it is a way of naming things according to their use to human beings. The danger of this kind of naming is that it allows us to easily slip into the mindset that things have no value other than their usefulness to humans, that they have no value to other beings, to the planet, or even to themselves.
What do you think? What does it mean to call something a “Pokemon?” Share your ideas down in the comments!