Pokémon is the Future the Liberals Want
During my twelfth hour of playing Pokémon this week to avoid the nightmare that is daily life, I began to wonder how this game series was so addicting. After all, it’s a Japanese RPG made for children aged 7–10. Aside from childhood nostalgia and the quality of the game, what are the bonds that make Pokémon a terrifically existing experience?
The answer is simple: the world of Pokémon espouses a successful form of environmental socialism. This concept of Pokémon as “eco-socialist paradise” has already been laid out by someone named Taylor Beck on an Odyssey Online post. Despite the rather strange bit of making Pokémon prizefight each other for fun (which everyone seems to enjoy), the main message of the game from the original Red/Green/Blue to the present day is a partnership between people, animals, and the natural environment. Many friendly NPCs espouses some commitment to protecting nature and the importance of keeping the world safe from development. Healthcare for Pokémon and humans is completely free. Scientific development is appreciated and beloved. This is where Beck’s analysis essentially ends, but as the world has gotten worse since he wrote in 2016, I have noticed more idealized notions of society in Pokémon that have triggered more subconscious desires to play.
The villains of every game are criminal syndicates who intend to use the natural world as their path to personal enrichment. In our world, we have given the likes of Team Rocket and Team Galactic total political power with no effective recourse to stop them. In Pokémon, you personally defeat dozens of them, which is immensely satisfying. Whether they be poachers/traffickers like Team Rocket, apocalypse triggering dickheads like Team Aqua and Magma, or actual fascists like Team Flare, they always lose.
Furthermore, because of these victories and the population’s love of nature, the natural world appears to be mostly untouched. Towns are spread out and unconnected by cars or vast highway. While the player mostly travels along cleared paths, they are all lined by trees. When looking at the world map, 90% of the landmass is dense forest or unconquered wilderness—Pokémon itself takes place on the edges of these vast protected areas.
In fact, all Pokémon worlds have made mass transit dependent on eco-friendly means like bikes, trains, and just plain walking. There are coal mines, power plants, and large ships, but they are limited and managed within the scope of the natural environment.
It goes without saying that the world of Pokémon is very safe. 10-year-old children are allowed to travel the world without any hindrances. Police officers are responsible and kind. When they are startled, they react by simply releasing their Pokémon, not shooting at whatever they see. While the Pokémon anime features guns and explosives, the video games rarely feature any weapons aside from extremely powerful Pokémon. Diamond/Pearl/Platinum has a couple bombs, and Team Flare tries to build a WMD in X and Y, but that’s pretty much it. The rest of the Bulbapedia summary for weaponry in the games consists of whips and police batons.
While all this is very amusing to poke fun of our own societies, I think the primary motivation behind this post and all my Pokémon playing in general is that I simply wish Pokémon were real. Frankly, anyone who has played these games likely thinks that same thought at one point or another. All of the environmental socialism in the game is produced because there aren’t very many people. Meanwhile, there are millions of Pokémon in the wild, mostly acting as a counter to humanity, an equal partner in the resources of the planet in almost every way.
Or do they. The wild Pokémon that ostensibly live in non-populated areas certainly do. The Pokémon that interact with humans, though, seem exploited. This leads into the fundamental philosophical questions of Pokémon: is this ethical, and are Pokémon slaves? After all, the capture of wild animals is non-consensual, and Pokémon can be exchanged like property in a way that real pets almost never are. And, of course, there’s the whole fighting part. A paper by Andrew Tague argues that, because of tight emotional bonds, mutual trust, and empathy, Pokémon are not slaves. But how many times have we heard the “master” class defend its treatment of slavery by saying “I treat my slaves like family”? Right. And so did Calvin Candie from Django Unchained, if I’m not mistaken. In various parts of Pokémon society, capture Pokémon are forced to do manual labor like moving boxes or mining coal. They are also relied upon to provide security, nursing, cheap mass transportation through Fly or Surf, and routine entertainment for the general public. Pokémon are slightly better than slaves, but maybe not better than the millions of people around the world and in America who live similar, mundane existences at the behest of austere, arcane, and foreign (in a literal and figurative sense) bosses.
So, ultimately, if we look at Pokémon from a purely human view, society is an idealized, liberal world of mutual cooperation, which is why it does seem so enticing. But while this is a great vision, the reality is that Pokémon’s socialism is the good and convenient kind of socialism, the kind you find in Scandinavia where everyone always seems happy. But, as in those countries, the bare facts of survival and the remaining capitalistic aspects Pokémon continues to promote necessitate some kind of working class. It’s pretty clear that captured Pokémon are the true backbone of the proletariat. Meanwhile, they have no power, while there are still wealthy people, wealthy corporations, and private property in Pokémon. Heck, pretty much everyone seems fabulously wealthy: trainers hand out thousands of dollars after losing one battle! All that wealth must come from somewhere.
Pokémon is the future that liberals want. It’s a lot better than my world, that’s for sure. But rich, editorializing liberals like me must also realize that true socialism, if pushed to its fairest and grandest extent, is really, really, really hard. Liberals want equality, health care, and environmental restoration, while also retaining the aspects of capitalism that give us consumer goods to enjoy our lives. However, to maintain the standards of post-Industrial life, all of this comes at an enormous price: we must either have fewer people, or give them fewer resources.
Ironically, the only vaguely sympathetic villains of the series are Marxists. The members of Pokémon Black and White’s Team Plasma illustrate the full cost of what the world must bear if socialism was taken to its purest form. They want Pokémon to be released from their trainers and back this with dictatorial state power. This would upend the economic system and essentially end the Pokémon franchise itself. Hilariously, Team Plasma splits along the exact ideological lines of Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin, with one group aiming for supremacy via violent dictatorship, with N’s smaller splinter group advocating for Poké-anarcho-collectivism. They both lose to the Scandinavian socialist character.
Maybe, in the end, as one of those well-off, editorializing liberals, what I really see in Pokémon is my faction consistently winning the ideological and material conflicts of modern life. And I’m not going to stop playing any time soon.