Channeling My Inner Middle-Aged Mother


PalWorld leaves a sour taste in my mouth. There, I said it. Listen, I think that Nintendo are the bad guys in most situations. They shut down ROM creators who make some of the best takes on Pokemon games, they crank out uninspired mainline Pokemon games year after year, they make it difficult—even impossible sometimes—to acquire their best games from their golden age legally or cost-effectively, and they keep remaking Kanto. I won’t get on PalWorld’s case for being uncreative in a lot of their Pal designs. A lot of them are uncreative, I agree, and several of them are derivative of vastly superior Pokemon designs. The game was marketed as “Pokemon With Guns.” It’s going to happen a lot.

My main issue stems from long-standing debates about Pokemon, namely the debate that it glorifies animal cruelty, that it’s a cartoonish way to emulate dogfighting. When my brothers and I started playing Pokemon games back in 2001, our mother would mention that from time to time. “Why are you making your animals fight? That seems so evil.” And we’d respond, “No, Mom, you don’t get it, our Pokemon are our friends.” The Pokemon battle was a friendly sport to us, not a bloodthirsty gladiatorial combat, and to our knowledge, all Pokemon media supported that. The relationship between people and Pokemon was mutual, and the sport of Pokemon battling was just a friendly game and a testing of that bond within the roleplaying of that world. This ethical question was tested, of course, with the Generation V games, wherein the relationship was tested as to whether or not it was as mutually beneficial as some players would have you believe, but ultimately, it was decided that the game was about teamwork and companionship.

Allow me to preface by saying that I have not yet played PalWorld. I don’t think I ever will. I just don’t have the time for games such as that; I’m a Master’s student, after all. But every piece of media I see from it, it just feels like Edgy Pokemon. The Pals aren’t actual pals; they’re animals, and players are driven to attack, kill, or enslave them to do labor for them. There is a lot of room for cruelty, and a huge part of the game is that cruel impulse. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe I’m reacting the same way my mother would, except I don’t have any children, and my anxieties about this new game are falling upon a generation that is not my responsibility. But at the same time, the idea of “Pokemon With Guns,” which is what PalWorld was marketed as, conjures the image of Pokemon with ultraviolence layered on top of it. The game feels, at least to me, to be a fetishization of what edgy people want the Pokemon franchise to be.

In talking to my mother, who was raising four boys in a world where video games were just getting popular, she told me that if we had said “Yeah, it’s definitely dogfighting” to her when we talked about Pokemon, she wouldn’t have let us play it. I think the influence of a game stems more from how we perceive its effects and mechanics rather than how it literally is. After all, Pokemon are captured and forced into labor just as the Pals in PalWorld. The difference is, one spawns from a culture of cooperation, and the other seems to be spawning from a culture of edgy exploitation. I don’t know. If I had kids, I wouldn’t let them play PalWorld. (Ha! That’s a funny thought! Me, with children. Hilarious.)

I have no more thoughts to share on it. Just wanted to share this sour taste in my mouth.

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