The Pokémon series probably couldn‘t exist without the pretext of combat. At its core are the three design pillars of collecting, battling and training, and all of them require at least a little fighting. While there’s a beautiful, complex world of plants, animals and sentient objects to enjoy, the ultimate goal is to become the Pokémon Champion. The careful attention the player must pay to stats, traits, levels and types over the course of each game’s tournament is all in service of battle more than anything.
Honestly, though, I don’t really like fighting Pokémon. It’s always been a means to an end. As I’ve caught up on the series in the past few years, I’ve had fun learning all the different Pokémon moves and memorizing the different types and their weaknesses. That first 100 level starter Pokémon of each new game always feels like an accomplishment. But a lot of the time I find myself speeding through the beginning stages until I can reach a Wild Area and catch as many different Pokémon as I can. If it wasn’t absolutely necessary to fight trainers and progress up the tournament circuit to reach new habitats, I would probably avoid it. After 100 hours or so, even the fraction of a second spent on blasting the A button through each battle feels interminable. And all I really want to do is find and learn about cool new Pokémon.
I don’t really like breeding Pokémon, either. The time involved is too much of a commitment. From catching a superior specimen to trade, finding a suitable foreign Ditto to trade it for, then hatching the eggs you’ve bred (by biking in circles for what feels like hours), it’s one of the most time-consuming parts of the game. Some players may be enticed by the superior traits and stats of a well-bred Pokémon, especially to heighten their effectiveness in battle. But if it weren’t for the promise of a Shiny, I’d probably never do it. It’s exhausting and simply too much if you have no plans on ever entering a tournament.
Pokémon is such a fun series if you’re a biology or botany nerd. It’s always fascinating to learn the unique conditions under which a plant or animal evolves, and in Pokémon, there’s a streak of sci-fi fantasy that injects an element of surprise. I lucked out then, getting into Pokémon GO before the core games because, initially, collecting Pokémon was all there was to it. I could indulge that exploratory side of Pokémon without any pressure to do anything else. I wound up spending a few years getting caught up on the Pokédex and enjoying the thrill of discovery, delighting in the design of a new Pokémon, exploring the origins of its name, and reading up on the unique cultural specifics that often inspire them. I didn’t even have to fight to level them up, like in the core games, I could just evolve them with points, and keep them all in my pocket menagerie like a digital zoo. While the game now accommodates player battles and other ways of actually fighting with your Pokémon, I mostly ignore them. I prefer to keep filling out the Pokédex at my leisure and catching Shinies when I can.
But that seems okay to The Pokémon Company, which has always embraced a broader ecosystem of gameplay experiences. Many of its spin-offs, like 2016’s mystery game Detective Pikachu, don’t focus on battle or training at all. And recently they seem to be almost leaning into either extreme, first announcing a remake of Pokémon Snap, the photography-based Pokémon game that originally debuted on the Nintendo 64, for the Switch, and then following up with Pokémon Unite, a strategic, cross-platform MOBA-lite that will let players battle Pokémon in teams. The former is a way to document the beauty of Pokémon and observe them in their natural habitats without having to fight or capture them. The latter will crank up the class Pokémon formula by letting players team up with others to “catch wild Pokémon, level up and evolve their own Pokémon, and defeat opponents’ Pokémon.” These simultaneous polar opposites in gameplay experiences (supplemented by the surprise release of Pokémon Cafe Mix, one of the series’ many puzzle games) reinforce and illustrate The Pokémon Company’s understanding of the many different reasons people love and play Pokémon.
So while I may be missing the point, I’m not alone. The world of Pokémon actually embraces my pacifist love of their weird animal kingdom. With my Pokémon Home subscription, I can even keep all my favorites in one place, or enjoy them in a new game. Thus, my loving specimen collecting will be rewarded in the long term. With such a variety of games on the horizon embracing so many playstyles, there’s actually no wrong way to love the Pokémon series.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.