We have a lot of debates and arguments about mostly pointless, pedantic topics here at Dorkly - ranging from the proper way to spell "videogames" (IT'S ONE WORD AND I WILL WRITE MORE ABOUT THAT LATER), the meaning behind certain easter eggs in Avengers: Infinity War (DOCTOR STRANGE WASN'T USING THE TIME STONE WHEN HE HANDED IT TO THANOS, IT JUST GLOWED BECAUSE THAT WAS A MORE INTERESTING VISUAL), and...whether people should name their Pokemon or not:
Do you rename your Pokemon?
-- Tristan Cooper (@TristanACooper) August 5, 2018
Do you rename your Pokemon?
Tristan (follow him on Twitter, he's extremely good at it) polled Twitter about the debate, and that set the two of us off on a debate that could only be settled by making some articles about each of our stances. He believed that naming Pokemon was wrong, while I took the (correct) path of saying that you SHOULD name your Pokemon (although with more nuance than his EXTREMELY BIASED poll options suggested). Why do I believe that naming Pokemon is not only correct, but the ONLY way to play Pokemon?
Let me explain...
It is not a new take that the world of Pokemon is unspeakably grim - the entire economy revolves around people kidnapping and enslaving wild animals and forcing them to battle each other for the profit and professional advancement of the trainers. And the enslaved animals that get to be burned, poisoned, and mentally ripped apart by psychic cats are the LUCKY ONES - there are entire other classes of these animals who get digitized and abandoned forever in PC storage units. It's all the dark villainy of Marvel's The Collector...but as the core basis for society.
The very nature of the game presupposes an incredible level of emotionless darkness. "Gotta catch 'em all!" is the common refrain, and it's one that suggests a cold-blooded, indifferent approach to life. Pokemon are nothing more than collectors items - they are replaceable, interchangeable, and of no special value on an individual level. Yet, in the fiction of this world, they are living, breathing beings. They have personalities and lives - until they are scooped up by a trainer, wherein their purpose becomes either as another item in a collection, or as a weapon to be used against their brethren. They are for display and misery - nothing more.
There is no changing the Pokemon world. Society has been set up this way, and everything you do in every single game does nothing but passively agree with it and work within the guidelines of that system. At no point do you realize these creatures don't deserve this kind of cruel, detached punishment - at no point do you try to buck against the powers that be and try to tear down the system. It'd be like if The Hunger Games followed Katniss just continually participating in the games and doing well in them, and never trying to disrupt the power players who monetized the suffering of others. That wouldn't be a very compelling narrative, would it? A hero who sees a corrupt, evil system and just....says it's fine and doesn't do anything about it. That's cynical beyond words. That's nihilistic to a painful degree.
And it's not like the game even presents you with any options - you HAVE to enslave Pokemon and you HAVE to battle them in order to proceed through the games. You can do so as conscientiously as possible (trying to catch as few Pokemon as possible and only using sleep moves on them), but ultimately you will have to force your Pokemon to battle others and treat them as disposable means to an end. That is the grim reality of these games - your pets are nothing but weapons to be used for your own purposes. They are not living creatures with feelings - they are tools.
But there is ONE small modicum of control you can exert - one way to show SOME level of empathy and connection that changes the dynamic as much as the game will allow....
You can name your Pokemon.
By naming your Pokemon, you are making a statement - "This is not just 'another Geodude.' This is not just a weapon without consciousness. This being has an identity, and I'll at least acknowledge that." To not name your Pokemon is to accept the world as it is and cave in to it - a world void of emotion, where the only virtue is who can torment other Pokemon the most effectively. Your Pokemon are nothing but cannon fodder, unworthy of individuality or identity. They are nothing more than their classification - they don't deserve a name, because you would never deign to offer them that small level of dignity.
Not that naming your Pokemon actually changes any of the dynamics of this world - but it allows you to get through it without feeling like the monster that you are. We all lie to ourselves on some level just to get through the day - we lie to ourselves about how charismatic we are, about how we'll never really die, about how smart we are, etc. If we were actively confronting the realities of our existence at all times, we would go mad. If we truly allowed ourselves to acknowledge that sooner rather than later we would be dead, our consciousness gone, and our time on this Earth at an end forever and ever...well, it would be a difficult way to go through life. So we lie - we tell ourselves that we're not that old, that we still have plenty of time left, that there could be an afterlife.
But - deep down - we know none of this is true. We know time is running out, we know we are nothing but meat and bones, we know all that awaits us in the future is a shallow grave...
And, so, we name our Pokemon. We give them fun nicknames referencing other stuff (like calling your Charizard "Trogdor"), or name all of your Pokemon after a theme (I did a whole run where I named all of my Pokemon extremely boring suburban names like "Alan Parkson" and "Susan Daniels" - and another where I called them all by Battlestar Galactica character names). We find ways to personalize them and offer them an identity. Because it's the only way to feel connected to them, because all creatures deserve to have an identity - because it's the only way to convince ourselves that WE aren't the real monsters.
To be fair, it's selfish. While it helps us remember and personalize each Pokemon to ourselves, it doesn't change the relationship in the end - they are still going to be used as instruments of battle. But it does have an effect - when a Pokemon I've named falls in battle, I'm much more heartbroken than when a nameless, species-identified Pokemon faints. I want to keep my named Pokemon protected and healed - I want them to evolve and grow. I find myself caring more about them, and shunning the idea of capturing MORE Pokemon (because I don't want to replace members of my team, who have all struggled and fought with me for so long). In the end, naming my Pokemon has me catching much fewer - allowing more Pokemon to continue to roam free than if I was a stats- and collection-obsessed player who never turned down the chance to catch another Pokemon in case they had a slightly better Nature than another of the same species.
When your concern is YOUR TEAM - who you've named and formed some kind of relationship with - instead of just YOURSELF, you view the Pokemon world through a different lens. And, as a result, more Pokemon stay free.
The idea that there exists a special bond between Pokemon and Pokemon trainer is the backbone of this franchise. It's what made Pokemon's anime series so compelling - that these Pokemon had actual relationships with Ash, that they weren't just a collection of stats and rock-paper-scissors dynamics. But the game struggles to replicate that, because the Pokemon don't have personalities in the same way and ultimately are just a set of stats.
And so we lie. We give them names and assign personalities to them, imagined though they may be. We form one-sided bonds with them. But, in the end, the experience is so much richer and more rewarding. When you defeat the Elite Four and win the game, you did it as a team - not as a individual with a backpack filled with weapons. It was a group effort, and your scrappy team of underdogs came together under your leadership to accomplish the impossible. To not name your Pokemon is sending yourself down a dark, lonely road - devoid of attachment and full of self-aggrandizement.
We all need lies - for without them, the world would be a much darker place. Name your Pokemon. It will not help their station in life much, but it will grant you peace. And, after all, isn't that what we're all in search of?
Also, hey, you can name a Pokemon "Oh shit he" and it'll be funny as hell: