Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The ethics of Pokemon fights

Guest author! Pam may or may not still live in Centretown.

Today I’m going to talk about something I care about passionately and something that I toyed with in my childhood but quickly grew out of. These things are Pokemon and animal rights, respectively.

This is what they do for fun.
Pokemon is a game developed by Nintendo where your goal is to wander through towns as a ten year old, obtaining creatures equipped with special abilities and various game stats, such as the ability to withstand physical damage, and battle them with other Pokemon obtained by competing NPC trainers. (The careful balancing of types and statistics, plus the side quests in Pokemon breeding, are excellent introductions to the wonder of the Sciences, especially economics and biology, but that can be the subject of a later post.)

An imaginary reader might now ask: if Pokemon are forced to do battle, does this make them victims of animal cruelty?

Consider this: animals fight each other all the time. They fight with members of other species when they feel like their life is threatened, and they fight with members of their own species when competing for food or mates. Often, these fights can result in death or worse. (For example, it is well known that a male lion, when taking over a defeated male’s pride, will actually murder all the cubs and any lionesses he thinks is pregnant. This fact actually made me more disturbed with The Lion King than when I realized Simba and Nala were siblings.) The great thing about Pokemon is that the Pokemon are not allowed to kill each other in battle! The rules of Pokemon battle are as careful and elegant as the rules of Sumo. They, in fact, actually restrain and temper the natural violence of animals, so battling with them is both a release and a safety net for the Pokemon involved. (Any comparison to cock fights is logically invalid because the real illegal part of cock fights is taking bets on the outcome. This is because those bets are difficult to regulate and tax, and the government is worried about all the money exchanged under the table.)

Deep Play: Notes on the Kanto-ese cockfight
The benefits don’t end there. In the anime based on the game, the characters seem to bond very closely with their creatures, even though these creatures are incapable of holding a conversation as they can only futilely communicate by repeating their names. This is the bond of warriors, forged through the heat of battle, similar to what you see in equestrian training and with competitive show dogs. I don’t have as much time to play Pokemon as I did in halcyon days, but I still dream that we could all reconnect with animal-kind by making a society that treats them more like Pokemon. By battling real animals against each other, we as humans can gain a sense of kinship with them not felt since cave times.

I dream of a world where the Humane Society would not need to kill thousands of cats and dogs every year because they could be put to good use: competitive fighting.

Pam is a merciless biologist. She takes apart animals all day just to see how they look on the inside.

[Illustration borrowed from Smogon University.]

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