Pokeauthors Special Spotlight: Pokeworld History

An actual positive spotlight today! I got to have an extended conversation about the history of the pokeworld and the potential influence of pokemon on certain institutions.

re: Your review to Roving Degenerates with Dangerous Pets
21 Febicomeanon6
A response to your review at https://www.fanfiction.net/r/12844084/

[I appreciate that you’re not capitalizing pokemon.]

I feel it only honest to disclose here that I don’t share your opinion on the capitalization subject. I pick a scheme on a fic-by-fic basis, mostly depending on much I want it to read like the official media.

[You shouldn’t use quotation marks (or single quotes) with thoughts. This is because quotation marks for thoughts make it look like your characters are talking out loud, which is confusing to the reader.]

Eh. I think single-quotes plus italics differentiate it enough, and I’ve never heard of anyone actually getting confused on this point. If you can say it tripped you up personally, I’ll think about it some more.

[You want a comma there, not a period.]

Thanks for the catch. Fixed.

[This ends quite abruptly. Though the chapter is substantial, I still don’t see where the story is going in terms of the greater plot.]

Looking again, you’re right; it’s more abrupt than I thought. What I was hoping to do was end chapter 1 with the character feeling rudderless, thereby letting that feeling sink in until he finds his way in chapter 2, but that can’t work if the first chapter feels incomplete. That’ll be the first thing I address before moving on to chapter 2. If it still doesn’t work with some tweaks and with chapter 2 next to it, I might just combine them.

[It’s interesting to explore the idea of historical pokemon. The legends in the Japanese regions imply humans have been raising pokemon since ancient times, though it is possible to argue things were different in Europe. It looks like you’ll be delving into the details of what exactly pokemon are and what distinguishes them from animals, which is an interesting subject.]

Arguing that things were different in Europe would also be tricky, I think, as that would fly in the face of Kalos’s canonical history, and Unova’s for that matter. I’m trying to play it safe and call this an alternate history instead, basically a different past that could lead to roughly the same present. The main impetus for the departure from canon was that I just couldn’t picture old, rural America being entirely on board with these magic critters and their witchcraft. I’m still hoping to have the fic feel authentically “Pokemon” even as I play things relatively loose with canon.

Thanks very much for your time and suggestions. I appreciate your professional tone.

secs ago[If you can say it tripped you up personally, I’ll think about it some more.]

It did.

[The main impetus for the departure from canon was that I just couldn’t picture old, rural America being entirely on board with these magic critters and their witchcraft.]

Why wouldn’t they be, though? If pokemon are natural creatures, they’re not using witchcraft. The reasons for hating “witchcraft” were deeply cultural and had a lot to do with the war for dominance between Christianity and the native faiths of Europe. If pagan faiths endured in this world — as I think they would, given that their gods are real — I don’t see the same opposition sprouting. Certainly, many grass-, water-, and fire-types could be very helpful to a rural lifestyle.

There is also the elephant in the room here that if you’re following real history to the letter, well, there were people in America before the Europeans came, and that could have gone very differently in a world with magic. Especially if the Europeans shun pokemon; the Native Americans, with their more naturalistic religions, probably would not.

3h ago[It did.]

Good to know. I’ll research opinions on the matter.

[Why wouldn’t they be, though? If pokemon are natural creatures, they’re not using witchcraft. The reasons for hating “witchcraft” were deeply cultural and had a lot to do with the war for dominance between Christianity and the native faiths of Europe. If pagan faiths endured in this world — as I think they would, given that their gods are real — I don’t see the same opposition sprouting. Certainly, many grass-, water-, and fire-types could be very helpful to a rural lifestyle.]

Well, no, they’re not using witchcraft, but the absence of an actual demonic element never stopped any witch-hunters once upon a time. A big part of the story is going to be about the misconceptions of the day and how scientific research started to clear them up. Your points about cultural matters and competing faiths are valid, but I feel they can swing the other way. If domestication doesn’t happen, grass-, water-, and fire-types could just as easily be seen as nuisances that spread weeds, flood crops, and burn crops. I could see a pre-Christian Europe where pokemon are worshipped because they are feared, not because they are useful.

[There is also the elephant in the room here that if you’re following real history to the letter, well, there were people in America before the Europeans came, and that could have gone very differently in a world with magic. Especially if the Europeans shun pokemon; the Native Americans, with their more naturalistic religions, probably would not.]

I had put some thought to the matter of Native Americans, and I agree that things would have gone differently, but not completely. There’s still the matter of smallpox and firearms, and I wouldn’t picture the native relationship with pokemon to be homogeneous. Almost all tribes would revere them, but not all would have them as servants or allies, and fewer would use them martially. This hasn’t come up in the story yet, but in this world the white settlers and Spanish conquerors never reached the Pacific Northwest because of resistance.

Thanks for the counterpoints, seriously. Worldbuilding requires a lot of second-guessing, and I can’t do it all myself. This will help me decide what background details to include in the story.

secs ago[Well, no, they’re not using witchcraft, but the absence of an actual demonic element never stopped any witch-hunters once upon a time.]

No, but the motive for it was deeply Christian in origin. Many “witches” were actually what we would consider good people — healers or spiritual leaders. Witches were hunted because they represented a threat to Christian authority, and the specific reasoning used against them was a specifically Christian one — Christianity had the extreme binary of “all power comes from either God or the Devil, so if you’re not a priest you must be getting it from the Devil”. (There is also the rather important note that pokemon, unlike witches, do have actual magic and can protect themselves.) The circumstances that led to this were kind of a perfect storm; Christianity is actually extremely unusual compared to most religions. Unless the dominant religion of your world is literally Christianity (unlikely in a world where pagan gods really exist), I just can’t see the same behavior appearing.

[If domestication doesn’t happen, grass-, water-, and fire-types could just as easily be seen as nuisances that spread weeds, flood crops, and burn crops. I could see a pre-Christian Europe where pokemon are worshipped because they are feared, not because they are useful.]

Haha, well, now we’re getting into questions the fandom has been discussing for ages… the possible history of the pokeworld is a very thorny and confusing issue, and it’s rather hard to think of logical reasons for how the current status quo came to pass. I mean, if you’re going that far and saying the pokemon-human relationship started off purely antagonistic… let’s be real here, why aren’t humans extinct? Pokemon are so powerful that they should have no need for humans and no interest in worship or appeasement. There must be some kind of symbiotic relationship in order for humans to have survived. It seems like you might be doing something like this with the rurals having a term for “good” pokemon, implying that past humans could have bonded with nicer pokemon against the more aggressive ones… I dunno, it’s tricky. You should elaborate more on the history and state of the world in future chapters.

[There’s still the matter of smallpox and firearms]

Would those work against pokemon, though? If the white settlers still won against the natives despite the natives having a stronger connection to pokemon, it implies the pokemon left the natives to die. This again draws back to the question of just how antagonistic or mutalistic their relationship is supposed to be.

47m agoI’m sure we can go back and forth on this indefinitely because there are a million assumptions that go into questions like, “Who would win in a fight for extinction,” or, “What fictional things would old Christians find evil?” So I guess I don’t see much point in categorical declarations like, “There must be some kind of symbiotic relationship in order for humans to have survived,” and, “Unlikely in a world where pagan gods really exist.”

For the extinction question, you might as well ask why the humans ever gained a foothold in Princess Mononoke when nature was so powerful: the answer is because in order for the story to work, that was how the balance between nature’s raw strength and the humans’ ingenuity, organization, and numbers worked out. It can be the same with alternate Pokemon histories. As for the Native Americans, I think you’re assuming that the relationship between them and the pokemon was like a political alliance or a close friendship, but I don’t think I’ve implied that. Depending on the tribe and the species (pokemon are not organized except in epoch-defining, Legendary-driven events), the relationship here was either worship (of aloof spirit-creatures) or domestication. In cases where disease decimated the natives, the domesticated pokemon couldn’t comprehend the cause and returned to the wild. In the other case (which was less common), guns and numbers won because that’s what sets up the story I’m interested in telling. As for the real existence of pagan gods, if priests could point to literal dangerous, supernatural beings when they said that demons were plaguing us as a punishment for sin, I think most would be more inclined to believe them rather than less. But not necessarily, as with almost any worldbuilding question. It’s all about what other assumptions you make. For the purposes of a story, I think it suffices to briefly explain why something MIGHT happen as opposed to why something HAS to happen; you can always find a hole in the reason for why something categorically can or can’t happen in fiction.

Anyway, if you have questions about those claims, lay them on me, but I think any more from me would be splitting hairs when I could be writing or reading. Thanks again.

secs agoI do apologize if you feel I’m being too forceful, and you don’t have to respond immediately. But this topic genuinely intrigues me; it’s something has captured my interest since I first got into Pokemon, and I’m eager to hear any new perspectives on the matter. For instance — you don’t think a symbiotic relationship is necessary for human survival? That’s an interesting perspective, and implies you’re picturing things differently than me. How did mere “ingenuity, organization, and numbers” defeat monsters who can call down fire and lightning at whim? What do you picture? I believe you when you say you have a good reason, but genuinely I can’t think of one myself, so I’d be interested in hearing it.

[As for the real existence of pagan gods, if priests could point to literal dangerous, supernatural beings when they said that demons were plaguing us as a punishment for sin, I think most would be more inclined to believe them rather than less.]

Regardless of your own religious beliefs, you must admit that God has never provided any miracle on par with pokemons’ abilities since the time of Jesus. Sure, the priests will say pokemon are evil, but theirs wouldn’t be the only argument here. The pagans will respond with “See how their might makes them worthy of our reverence! Worship them that they might spare you!” I don’t know about you, but I’d convert to the people who can point to a physical god. (Especially when Christianity’s entire premise is built on the insistence that there is only one true god — that foundation starts looking pretty shaky in a world with pokemon!) What did Christianity have to offer in opposition? It’s not impossible that it won the war, but *how* did it win? What did it have to do differently compared to real history, where it did not have to fight magic animals? How did pokemon change things? That’s my interest here.

Ultimately you’re right — what really matters is the story you want to tell, and you can always work things to set up whatever that is. I just feel like… for me, I prefer my fantasy, well, fantastic. I like stories that question our assumptions and push our understanding of the world, forcing us to consider possibilities we may not have even conceptualized otherwise. Taking a fantasy setting and saying everything worked out like our world anyway feels like it’s wasting potential, to me.

(If you want to do “like our world, but with pokemon”, something that could work would be to say pokemon only appeared recently. They’re magic, anything goes; and they are based at least in part on youkai, which are inexplicable by nature. We don’t get any date for the games, so it would be reasonable to say they are centuries in the future of our own time, putting the 1800s in range of their “distant past”. This rather neatly avoids questions of how they affected history up to this point.)

8h agoHey, it’s all good. Hope I’m not coming across as combative, either. Just don’t want to turn your blog into the de-facto worldbuilding-bible for my fic.

I’ll respond to just two more points for now, first on religion: my opinion is that the chief appeal and conversion-factor of Christianity, then and now, has been the promise of deliverance from death and the misery and hardship of the world via eternal life. To the early converts, the reality of the pagan gods was never in question (thunderstorms were convincing enough). The competing idea from Christianity was to worship your deliverer from suffering rather than appease the cause of that suffering. (In the present day we are more likely to call an omnipotent creator the cause of any suffering by default, but my understanding is that this wasn’t how the people of antiquity thought. Today we might call them “victim-blamers,” but that is a whole other discussion.) tl;dr: I don’t think the literal presence of competing gods would have halted the spread of Christianity because conversion was more about the desires of humans than a preponderance of evidence.

And I’m afraid I have what might seem like a boring elaboration on my answer to why-less-symbiosis: there was no war because the pokemon never knew to fight one. It wasn’t “humans vs. pokemon” or even “humans vs. one species of pokemon,” but rather “humans vs. a small handful of some species now and then.” In this world pokemon aren’t organized and very, very few of them have any idea of the big picture. When an increase in the number of humans resulted in habitat deterioration, most of them just adapted or moved. Humans collectively (bronze age and later let’s say) were only worth the risk of fighting to very strong and rare pokemon, but all that meant in Europe was the existence of pockets of land here and there where humans knew not to go. Just as in folklore the peasants know to fear the woods and stay away from dragons’ mountains. Yeah, it’s boring, but it’s not where the narrative’s going to spend any time, and it exists to set up the time-frame I am interested in writing. (When pokemon do organize thanks to Legendaries it’s downright apocalyptic as you’d guess, but fortunately I don’t think we’re due until 2030 or so.)

[Taking a fantasy setting and saying everything worked out like our world anyway feels like it’s wasting potential, to me.]

You know, that explains this whole long exchange, because to me as a kid Pokemon never felt like a fantasy setting, but rather like the real world with just a few changes to become exactly the kind of place where I wanted to live. To me the idea of leaving home to hike through the woods and mountains with my awesome charmeleon was already everything I wanted from Pokemon, and I never paid much attention to the Legendaries at all growing up because they made that dream feel less plausible (Mewtwo was the exception because cool movie and rad animated psychic fight). So my stories tend to be about the lives and motivations of trainers, and the DNA for the setting of this story came out of my desire for a hard-mode Pokemon game where healing didn’t come easy and you had to know wilderness survival to make it.

[If you want to do “like our world, but with pokemon”, something that could work would be to say pokemon only appeared recently.]

That was actually my first fic 10 years ago, and it was so bad and the attempts to reconcile canon were so clumsy that I can’t bring myself to try that again, lol. Good idea in the abstract, though.

I couldn’t think of anything more to say, since it mainly comes down to a difference in story direction at this point. But they’re thinking with portals┬ámeta, and that’s all I ever really want from people.

This is a really interesting topic for me, since I love thinking about how various elements influence society and particularly how they might interact with existing ones. I think that from a purist standpoint, this person’s perspective is correct: the similarity in geography and cultures strongly implies the pokeworld is meant to be an AU Earth. Of course, canon is so poorly written that I think we have license to ignore this.

They also make a good point about the earlier games painting a very different picture than the later entries influenced by power creep. Just using the original games, it is reasonable to suppose that pokemon were not powerful enough to influence the direction of social development, especially as the more magical and high-powered ones tend to be quite rare. (And the only potential threat to that equilibrium, Mewtwo, is a new creation rather than something with a history.) That got torpedoed as soon as we got actual gods in the second generation, of course.

(…I still feel like Christianity would not win the culture war against pokemon-worshippers, but that may just be my bias showing through.)

One Comment

  1. Keleri says:

    I’ve been watching Noragami lately and it’s funny how at-odds the western interpretation of a single ineffable creator god is with the bickering shinto gods and their openly syncretic natures. :P Even greek/roman mythology was very openly syncretic and trying to one-up other cultures’ OCs gods or rolling them into their own.

    Given the existence of water pokemon in an AU of our world, I think Africans and Polynesians would have made it to the New World pretty easily– with a source of infinite fresh water, I think the barrier of the ocean becomes a lot less. To say nothing of pokemon that can sense land or star positions to navigate, or even pokemon capable of supersonic flight and making the journey in a few hours…

    A lot of the miracles in the Bible kind of lose their oomph in a world with pokemon, too, although the plagues of frogs and such are still pretty good. (Plague of Poliwag?) Water-walking, burning bush = meh

    3

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