Special Topics In Gameology explores a specific corner of the gaming world in a miniseries of articles. This article debuts the latest edition of the feature—commerce—in which we’ll examine games’ representation and use of business and trade.
People eat Pokémon, right? It’s one of the first grim realizations to be had about the world of Nintendo’s critter-collecting games. There are no cows to provide beef, but there are Miltanks. There are no salmon or cod, just Magikarps. There is no poultry, but there are Farfetch’ds—who go so far as to garnish themselves with green onions. Vegetarianism isn’t safe, either, thanks to the existence of the plant-like Grass type Pokémon. It’s not just food. All animal products have to come from Pokémon—silk must be spun by Caterpies, wool harvested from Mareeps, honey collected from the hives of Combees by master Combeekeepers. People still need food and clothing, after all.
Pokémon are much more than just analogs for regular animals, though. They can breathe fire and generate electricity. They are completely loyal and understand complex instructions. Pokémon are central to peoples’ personal and professional lives, and all the world’s culture and commerce revolves around them. Pokémon are so central to the economy of this world that its currency, the Pokédollar, is named for them. For players of the Pokémon games, the creatures are companions and combatants. To the people living in the world of the Pokémon games (note: this examination is based strictly on the world depicted in the games’ canon—not the anime or manga series), though, they’re all that and a common and infinitely reproducible natural resource, and their presence has had fascinating effects on the economy.
There is almost no industry in this world that is not touched by Pokémon. Energy is either naturally sourced, as in the Sinnoh region’s Valley Windworks, or is generated directly by Electric-type Pokémon. Burly Fighting-types like Machops perform manual labor, working as stevedores in Driftveil City and miners in Oreburgh. Flying-types as small and common as the humble Pidgey can be taught to carry adult humans great distances, so the automotive industry is tiny—cars are only found in metropolises like Castelia and Lumiose, and most towns are connected only by bicycle lanes or unpaved footpaths. Even crime and punishment are carried out through Pokémon. Criminal syndicates like Team Rocket are in the Pokémon-stealing racket, and cops are mostly Officer Friendly types who travel with Growlithes, loyal fire-spitting hounds, instead German shepherds.
Because the world’s economy is so dependent on Pokémon, there is a large and profitable industry that caters to the needs of trainers. The equipment required to capture, raise, and battle Pokémon—Poké Balls, healing Potions, etc.—is produced by conglomerates like Kanto’s Silph Company and Hoenn’s Devon Corporation. Those firms then sell their goods directly to consumers through franchised, company-owned Poké Marts. Silph Co. and Devon produce and distribute identical wares but do not compete directly with one another, giving them de facto monopolies over their respective territories. This cartel is highly lucrative for both parties, who operate out of towering headquarters and employ massive workforces.
It isn’t just massive corporations that make their money targeting the trainer market. Entrepreneurs stay in shoe leather selling their services to trainers too. Every major region in the Pokémon world has a Day Care, an independent ranch that raises Pokémon left in its care for a small fee. Day Cares are the only places where Pokémon will mate, so providing this service to aspiring breeders is lucrative. Another popular racket is to establish a Safari Zone by purchasing and cordoning off an area populated with unique Pokémon, then charging trainers an admission fee for the privilege of attempting to catch them. Truly enterprising fleecers even limit the length of visits, forcing trainers to pay for entry multiple times if they want to catch all the rare critters within.
But a Pokémon-centric economy can’t be maintained if trainers are constantly being bled dry, so several social services are provided free of charge to support them. These employ some of this world’s most sophisticated technology. Pokémon Centers can be found in even the tiniest one-Ponyta towns, but they use healthcare machinery advanced enough to instantly heal injuries and simple enough for a single nurse to operate. Also in these centers are networked computers that can store physical objects and living creatures digitally. Pokédexes, handheld computers that can deduce a species’ ecological and biological details by scanning a single member of that species, are another necessity provided gratis to aspiring trainers.
Pokémon Centers feature the most advanced technology used in day-to-day life, but the bleeding edge here involves tinkering with Pokémon themselves. The most benign of these technologies can restore life to fossils—a process that should change the way people think about life and death but is considered so mundane that it is performed for free for 10-year-old passersby. Most attempts to modify Pokémon are much more sinister. The most famous example involves genetically modifying Mew to create a powerful artificial Pokémon. This resulted in the creation of Mewtwo, an uncontrollable Psychic-type who destroyed the lab in which it was created. More successful—and perhaps more evil—was Silph Co.’s attempt to create its own proprietary Pokémon. Fortunately, those experiments only resulted in Porygon, a Pokémon so mediocre that it’s given away as a prize at Celadon City’s Game Center casino.
Let’s admit it: We all wish Pokémon were real because it would fulfill youthful fantasies. But that wish isn’t as childish as it sounds. The existence of Pokémon left the games’ world in much better shape than ours. Pokémon generate clean energy and are used as a green transportation source, leaving their environment healthier. Their usefulness in battle led to weapons like guns never getting invented, and the world is safe enough for children to travel alone by foot. They contribute to the economic stability enough to negate the sort of inflation that would come with Meowth’s Pay Day move, which literally creates money out of thin air. Pokémon lead to a healthier, wealthier, safer, happier population. Plus, they’re probably delicious. I bet Swirlix tastes like candy.