It’s amazing more people don’t shriek in horror when they learn about Pokémon for the first time.
In the original Pokémon narrative, a 10-year-old boy decides he wants to become a master of these creatures called Pokémon. Vowing to catch ’em all, he’s given a Pikachu, a temperamental electric rat, by a scientist at the start of his journey. This boy repeatedly orders Pikachu to fight wild Pokémon, weakening them until they can be captured. Once caught, they’re then trained to fight other Pokémon, and the boy will repeat this cycle until he becomes the ultimate Pokémon master.
Not quite how you remember it?
Since the release of the mobile game Pokémon Go this month, the world’s had a serious case of Poké-fever. The game has stormed the app charts. Nintendo’s stock has doubled. And analysts are expecting it to keep climbing on the heels of the game’s launch in Japan (whenever that will be).
With Pokémon more popular than ever, it’s time to address the darker overtones of the game. Once you get over how cute and badass these creatures are, you realize the entire premise is centered around fighting Pokémon against each other, like in dogfighting or cockfighting.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has certainly noticed this (of course, it did), and now it’s on a campaign to free captured Pokémon (#GottaFreeEmAll). It’s declared its Los Angeles office a Pokémon sanctuary, where fighting and catching Pokémon are banned. It also has a surprisingly fun parody game online that changes the dynamics of battling, where Pikachu fights humans to free other Pokémon. Fittingly, the game is called Pokémon Black and Blue.
“Catching Pokémon really isn’t much different from taking animals out of the wild and putting them in zoos, circuses, and other places that exploit and abuse them,” the organization said in a blog post.
It’s hard to deny the themes of animal cruelty, poaching, and domestication within Pokémon, but it probably hasn’t subconsciously changed how we view and interact with animals, says Craig Klugman, a bioethicist who teaches at DePaul University in Chicago.
To start with, the Pokémon franchise has been around for two decades, and there haven’t been indications during that time that Pokémon players are sadistic animal torturers.
“Cartoon violence goes back to its very beginnings,” says Klugman. “Bugs Bunny was extremely violent and criticized for it as well. There’s a presupposition that people won’t be able to tell the difference between reality and fiction, and history’s shown most people can make that distinction.”
If anything, he thinks people should worry about being inattentive. Since the game’s launch, some players have literally walked into armed robberies and off cliffs because their eyes were too glued to Pokémon Go.