From the moment we first fired up Red or Blue on our Game Boys back in the late 90s, the wise but nearsighted Professor Samuel Oak had always made it clear that the relationship between humans and Pokemon varied from person to person. Some utilize them strictly for servitude, while others befriend them, gaining a deeper connection and understanding before hypocritically sending them into combat all the same.
Myself, I fall into the latter camp. Each new creature that I obtained felt unique to me, as if they were more than a random piece of code in a video game. I endeavored to bestow nicknames upon every single Pokemon I caught; a simple practise in theory that becomes much more cumbersome after two decades of catching ’em all. Eventually, every bird Pokemon was simply dubbed Larry, because Larry seems like a suitable name for a bird.
The point is, they all had a modicum of personality and value. Even batches of rejected egg Pokemon with bad IVs would get a nickname before being hastily shoved into the PC box en masse. Is there a sizeable degree of insanity to it? Surely, but of all the addictions to have, naming fictional animals is probably among the the least troubling. At least, that’s what I tell myself (and my psychiatrist).
To me and people of my ilk, then, Pokemon Let’s Go has a rather distasteful approach to pocket monster collecting. Your partner Pokemon, the eponymous Pikachu or Eevee, is treated like royalty. The moment you receive them — complete with an adorable cut scene that should touch even the frostiest of hearts — it is made clear that they are special, superlative, and supreme.
Pikachu became your Pokemon! The game declares grandly. Why not give it a name?
Oh, gladly! It’ll take approximately half an hour (because how do you accurately identify someone you’ve only just met?), but I’ll revel in the opportunity all the same.
After a long, laborious decision-making process, complete with flow charts and box and whisker plots, I determined that she would be known forevermore as Agnes. She’s an old soul, after all, and naming Pokemon after pleasant retirees is somehow funny to me.
Her wagging tail and twinkling eyes were sweet validation for my soul. She loved it! Clearly, she wouldn’t have reacted with such enthusiasm if I had given her a trite moniker like Sunshine or Destiny or Don’t Care.
Off we set, Agnes and I, into the great big world to gather more friends and build our empire. I’m undecided on how I feel about the design choice in Let’s Go that shows wild Pokemon in the overworld — it loses that thrill when the rare beast you were hunting for finally turns up — but I do appreciate the opportunity to selectively engage only targets that interest me at the time.
Upon snagging my first Rattata, I noticed something odd. In it went into my party, accompanied only by a new Pokedex entry, sans nickname. Was this a glitch? Had I inadvertently jabbed at the B button and skipped past the name entering process? The latter was vaguely possible (to be fair, it was a very exciting Rattata), so I opened the party menu and selected my newfound vermin friend. There, at the bottom, was the opportunity to ‘change name’. Haphazardly tucked away, like cheap undies in a Christmas stocking.
The eventual ease of access made it even more confounding still. Previously, it was the sole responsibility of the Name Rater to update crummy old names. This added an extra level of pressure, leaving you handcuffed to some silly half-baked denomination until you had progressed far enough in the game.
But now, nobody cared who my Rattata was. He could very well have gone on just being called Rattata, when to me, his name is Nathaniel, and he likes to dance.
Afterwards, I bumped into a second Rattata. Another catch, another nameless rodent. He became Bruce; a respectable name for a respectable Pokemon. But they were coming in faster than I had anticipated, and before long, I had already filled up my party with all manner of Wendys, Mildreds and Remingtons.
The very nature of Let’s Go’s catching mechanic really devalues the individuality of the Pokemon you’re collecting. There’s no struggle, no strategy beyond feeding them fruit and aiming at the center of the circle. Now, you snag ‘mons with the same kind of effort it takes to swipe right on Tinder.
Nathaniel and Bruce weren’t intended to be steadfast allies; instead, they were stepping stones towards bigger and better Rattata with increased combat capabilities. Indeed, the goal is to string together Catch Combos, filling your Pokemon box with a dozen rats like a cheap apartment in the Bronx.
It was becoming too much to bear. I miserably surveyed the box, and nothing but the sad, soulless eyes of an army of unloved Rattata looked back at me. I decided that I would choose the option to send them off to the professor, and lo and behold, was able to select up to thirty at once, only increasing their anonymity.
Off they went, hopefully to grander things. I immediately received a message back from Oak, who I assume was just sitting by his computer, eagerly awaiting his delivery of thirty Rattata. He informed me that this kind donation would help a good deal with his research, and in return, he sent me some candy.
Not bad, right? I do like candy, though there’s something condescending about trying to make a concerted effort to progress Pokemon research, and getting a handful of lollies in return.
Overall, however, it really highlights the expendability of the Pokemon you catch. We’ve all been making jokes about the dubious nature of exchanging Pokemon for candy and the parallels it has to a modern day soylent green, but even if they’re not being ground up into snacks, they’re devalued all the same. Oak’s probably just got a great big heaping pile of Quick Candy at the ready, and that’s all they’re worth to him.
Therein lies my moral dilemma. If the game doesn’t care about what Pokemon I catch, then why should I? I ought to be revelling in the ecstasy of finally happening upon the elusive Abra, when in actuality, I just want to stick it in a ball and move on to my next task.
I looked at the Bulbasaur that had been tagging along behind me since I had first encountered him in Viridian Forest. He gave out a joyful cry, grinning as he gazed up at me.
Alistair is cheerily following you! The game assured me. But are you really, Alistair? Are you blissfully unaware of your tenuous position by my side, or simply putting on a brave face, knowing full well that I could at any moment jettison you in favor of a superior Bulbasaur? You’re nothing more than candy, Alistair, like all of the rest who came before you.
It wasn’t meant to be this way.
It just wasn’t.