Sometimes it’s difficult being a gamer and a Christian.
Growing up, I was always intrigued by video games, but I was born into a very traditional Christian family and did not own any gaming systems until the original Game Boy was released. We owned a total of three games: Tetris, Nascar, and a football game. However, I made fast friends with a young boy who owned an SNES and I would often walk over to his house just to play The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the very first story-driven game I ever played. Video games became like visual books to me: I saw the world that I adventuring in—I chose where the character went, how they reacted—there was an emotional attachment that I hadn’t felt even while reading Narnia (C.S. Lewis) and LotR (Tolkien). Games were amazing. Sadly my family did not share my opinion on the matter.
I was also the new kid wherever I went. My father was in the Air Force and every few years we would move locations. I never had a lot of friends growing up nor was I ever really a part of any kind of group. Everything changed in 7th grade when Pokémon began to catch on in popularity. I remember watching the show and actually being able to engage in conversation with other people.
When Pokémon for the GBA released, I would collect bottles and cans around our small town to save up money for the game because my parents outright refused to buy something that would “rot my brain.” Pokémon Blue was the very first video game that I actually owned to myself. With my parents’ ancient Game Boy in hand and a pocket full of AA batteries, I would slip away to play my game. I could enjoy an adventure away from the pages of a book, and was able to capture and train as many pets as I wanted. Even the culture of my middle school years revolved around Pokémon. Kids my age would trade cards under their desks during class, wake up early to see the cartoon on TV, scrape up pennies and nickels to collect the Burger King kids’ meals figures, and carry link cables to class in hopes of completing our Pokedexes. For the first time in my life, I was able to be a part of a social group surrounding a shared interest. I had something to talk about with my classmates. I had something I could play with them during recess. It was a fantastic time.
My problems with the series started when I left a handful of my favorite Pokémon cards in the church. I had been showing them to a friend there in hopes of making a trade and had forgotten to return them to my pocket. The pastor lived next door to the church building, so I knocked on his door and asked to be let in. He obliged and waited patiently outside as I retrieved my cardboard treasures. Curious, he asked to see what was so important that I had to be let in. I proudly showed off my collection and went along my way. The following Sunday I wore a blastoise shirt, well worn by then, to church. My family often sat in the front row so I was front and center when the pastor began to dive into the hellbound world of Pokémon. “Work of the devil!” He called it, pointing to the subliminal messages in the magical creatures that I had grown to adore. The climax of the sermon involved him pointing to me and my offending t-shirt and warning parents against the game.
From that moment forward, I never went to that church without a fight. I became brooding and leery of Christians and church itself. Thankfully, God made certain that I didn’t run so far as to escape his reach. It took several years of defiance and vexation before I came to realize that I don’t follow God’s followers—I follow God. It’s been over a decade and still I hear similar messages being preached on by otherwise well-meaning pastors. Pokémon, D&D, and various other fandoms are often pushed together in a lump of festering nonsense and I believe that it’s high time that I confront this childhood nightmare that I’m certain I share with a good many Christian gamers.
Does Pokémon Teach Evolutionism?
I have known parents of young children often point to Pokémon as an indoctrination tool of the evolutionists. “Evolution” is a word that pops up often within the series, but is it teaching kids the theory and replacing God in their hearts?
The answer is a little complicated. In short: no.
Evolution really has six definitions: Cosmic evolution, Chemical evolution, Stellar evolution, Organic evolution, Macro-evolution, and Micro-evolution. However, what we see in Pokémon is actually closer to the metamorphosis of a butterfly than an evolution of any kind—a small creature that gets older and transforms into a more complete, stronger being. However, when this creature reproduces, it always creates an offspring that is at the beginning of its evolutionary chain. For example, you can get a squirtle and evolve it from squirtle to wartortle and finally to blastoise. When you breed your level 100 blastoise, the end result will be a squirtle. (I understand this may not be the case if the mother is a different species. I understand the breeding mechanics of the game but I’m keeping it simple for the sake of argument.) In real-life, a caterpillar becomes a cocoon and emerges as a butterfly. When the butterfly reproduces it always produces caterpillars, not more butterflies. Therefore, the word “evolution” in Pokémon is inaccurate.
On a side note, however, I can understand the reason that Nintendo uses term. The game was initially geared towards children, and “metamorphosis” isn’t a word that is easily said or spelled. In the scenario such as a cutscene of your beloved charmander “morphing” into charmeleon, I can also see where the usage of “metamorph” would cause some problems as children would likely relate morphing to Power Rangers rather than Pokémon. Many other monster-taming games hopped on the evolution band wagon as well to include Digimon with its “Digivolution.”
The word often appears in the Pokedex as well. In the Pokedex, evolution is always assumed to have happened. Millions of years are often mentioned in the ‘dex as well. One could make a case that this is a clever indoctrination tool. However, in our real world I challenge anyone to find an encyclopedia or textbook that doesn’t include the very same thing. Heck, I challenge any parent to turn on the TV and find a children’s show that doesn’t at least imply evolutionism. It appears not only in biology and science but in math, English, and sociology books. Our media embraces it as a fact because the reality of an intelligent creator brings with it rules, judgement, and accountability. The Pokémon world is a reflection of our own; because our literature and culture always leans towards an evolutionary assumption, so does the existence of the Pokémon world.
Playing through Pokémon’s most recent installments following some encounters in hostile college biology classes has opened my eyes to a lot of the flaws in the logic of those seeking to demonize the series. Firstly, Pokémon actually teaches intelligent design. All the Pokémon were created by the same being that supposedly created the universe, the world, and everything within it. Arceus is said to have created the time and space Pokémon—Dialga and Palkia—to maintain their respective domains. There are no mentions of Arceus’ creation; it’s only assumed that the creature always existed. While Arceus is a poor reflection of God almighty, its existence dismisses the fear that Pokémon is pushing the idea of the big bang and the first four definitions of evolutionism.
Pokémon is not without its allusions to the Judeo-Christian belief in its story behind the renegade Pokémon Giratina. Girantina’s origin form consists of a serpentine body with six legs and a pair of wings. He has a golden crown on his head and golden spines along his legs. According to the Pokedex, Girantina was banished to the distortion world for its violence and rebellion against Arceus. In its alternate form, Girantina loses its legs and wings and instead has six tentacle-like structures where the wings once were. Alternatively, the angel Lucifer was the son of the morning, held up for his beauty and power until he rebelled against God. He was then sent into the pit of hell. As a serpent, he led astray both Adam and Eve and eventually led to the violence and death that now plagues our world. Girantina, crowned in gold, was banished for his violence and like the serpent has lost its legs and lives within a different plane of existence.
Pokémon also fails to push the idea of macro-evolution. Its existence is an assumption made by the game’s scientists in many of the Pokedex entries regarding the fossil Pokémon, but this, again, is a reflection of our own world. Scientists observe the process of micro-evolution taking place and assume that macro-evolution could have happened as well. However, any competitive battler will tell you that they have easily bred over 500 of the same Pokémon again and again and have never once seen a Pokémon create a hatchling outside of the species of the mother Pokémon. In biblical terms, no Pokémon is able to produce offspring outside of its own kind. I spent hours breeding eevee for example. I filled several boxes with the little critters. Hundreds of eevees later, I was still getting eevees. Even breeding their later stages over and over (and over and over) resulted in the same thing: eevees. I was never fortunate to score a shining Pokémon, but this is a possibility. Shining Pokémon are the equivalent of pigment mutants in our own world such as albinism.
Now bear with me: Pokémon actually has a lot to teach children as far as biology and science itself goes. For example, Pokémon inherit traits from their parents in the form of individual values (or IV’s), movesets, natures, and abilities. There is a lot of diversity from egg to egg, but in the end you’ll only ever hatch an offspring reflecting the species of the mother. Pokémon are also only able to breed with the same egg groups. In Biblical terms, they are only able to bring forth after their kind. (Granted, Pokémon egg groups are kind of insane but the general idea is still a solid one. We won’t try to figure out how a wailord breeds with a skitty.) Regardless of the breeding, the offspring will always reflect the species of the mother (or the ditto). If you breed a mother charizard to a daddy blastoise, you’ll get a charmander every single time. You’ll never get a mew. Likewise in the evolution line, a bulbasaur will always become an ivysaur. You’ll never evolve bulbasaur to a charizard. This could easily lead into an exercise with Mendel’s laws of inheritance and the child would be actively engaged. A child will more easily understand that an electric-type will hurt a water-type Pokémon than the conductivity of electricity in water explained another way.
Pokémon is a mixed bag, but until now, I had yet to address the darker tones within. From Lavender Town in the first generation to the elevator girl in X & Y, there are definitely some things that players need to be aware of. The supernatural is something that has been addressed in Pokémon and that could open up a more reasonable debate than the issue of evolutionism.
Nevertheless, Christianity is the lens in which we look through when viewing our world. Some Christians spend a lot of time trying to find the evil in everything rather than trying to find the good. Growing up, I never felt that there were any undertones or overtones in Pokémon that challenged my faith or God himself. I only began to question the motives behind the creators and the hidden messages after my pastor ripped into the franchise in front of the congregation. I understand that pastors need to lead the way in questioning things of this world, but there are better ways to approach the issue. Instead of throwing away what could be a valuable tool for a meaningful discussion, I think we need to use Pokémon to our advantage, because there are a lot of wholesome spiritual themes within the games themselves. Pokémon is a topic that theists and atheists alike can sit down and discuss without tempers rising. I have been to many formal tournaments both for the video games and the trading card games, and I entered into dialogue with people who otherwise would have avoided me at all costs. Pokémon is a game that brings people together and opens the doors of communication. Discussing the origin story behind the franchise could easily lead into the Genesis account and the story of salvation. It might sound silly, but we are called to take every opportunity we are given to reach out to someone in an uplifting way. If Pokémon turns the head of an otherwise unapproachable person and leads to an open dialogue it’s all the better.
Editor’s Note: “Pokémon” has been placed in italics throughout this piece for the sake of consistency, even when the term is used to refer to individual creatures rather than the franchise as a television series, movie, or video game.
You might also like
A year goes by so fast, doesn’t it? When we celebrated my son’s first birthday with our friends and family respectively, our little one was showered with gifts, despite our sincerest requests, which we will be careful to space out and switch [...]