Why Pokemon Red and Blue’s idyllic hamlet is actually a horrifying study of human misery.
If anybody was a child in the 90s (I promise this isn’t some set up for a shit joke about other generations, because fuck the Internet’s obsessive idealisation of that one decade…) there’s a good chance they played the Red and Blue Pokemon games. Back when you could bludgeon your parents to death with a Gameboy the size of a brick that couldn’t render colour – we had quaint ideas about what constituted ‘portable’ in those days. When an image of Pallet Town appeared during a crawl through the tubes, I was reminded of spending far too much time playing it… and then how hardcore fucked up that setting is below the surface. And then, just looking at that picture of Pallet Town, I found I had questions about what I’d been presented with right out of the gate. None of the answers were comforting.
Red and Blue started off in ‘Pallet Town’. A cozy little hamlet that seems to exist in some sort of idyllic bubble, your parents behave like the Stepford wives, everybody is perpetually and unnervingly cheery, and everything is just fine.
I always wondered at Pallet Town. Why does it contain a grand total of three buildings? The population is, apparently, seven people. Each house seems to contain a single room. Both of those houses are apparently protagonist and rivals, and their respective mothers. Not a father in sight. What happened to them anyway? Aside from the guy waddling around on the communal lawn, not much else going on besides the professor for those two. They could be gay, but given that they’ve both got kids we either assume they’re not, they’re bisexual or have recently changed sexuality. Alternatively, the protagonist, the rival, and the professor are all very much related…
Where the hell does Oak or Lemons or whoever it is, sleep? I can’t remember a bed in the lab. Does he just work in a cocaine fuelled haze until he passes out and then get up and start again? Does he just yo-yo between the protagonist and the rival’s mother’s bed?
And who the fuck are these two random people outside. Wandering Bint and Receding Hairline Fatty. Where the hell do they live? They surely can’t live here – there quite literally isn’t enough housing. Why are they here? What do they even do? What the hell economy is keeping Pallet Town running? Are they all just living off of whatever Professor Getsomesleep siphons off from Government grants? Is this why they are sending pre-teens off into the wilderness to dog fight random bits of the local fauna? Because anybody else would be smart enough to ask for some cash so they could feed themselves?
Maybe Pallet Town is actually just a really backwards fucked up place, essentially run by Professor Getsomesleep. The two women serve as concubines for the Professor and he sends their kids out into the world to scam the government for research grants so he can bribe the four other adults in the immediate area for their basic necessities, while threatening them with Pokemon-dispensed violence. The two randoms outside are just perpetually homeless, it’s possible that somewhere amongst all that lab machinery, the professor is also concocting drugs and those two outside are just waiting until they can scrounge up enough money by begging from the two mothers and get their next fix.
The two child protagonists of the story are actually just traumatised and unhinged from having grown up in this backwater town that everyone else has forgotten about, and then just abandoned in the wilderness to survive by wandering across the map, shaking down everyone they find for money in vicious animal fights. It explains Blue’s narcissistic overcompensatory drive to be ‘the best’ and his inability to accept defeat, having been ejected from his home by an equally psychopathic father figure. That’s probably why Red sods off to lurk about in a mountain cave for the rest of his life and becomes a mute: Everyone else think’s they’re battle some master Cockfighter, he just sees food.
Is there some sort of politicaly conservative message underlying this entire game? A response to the abandonment of the traditional family model? Pokemon becomes a mortifying propaganda peice about what happens when single-parent families become too prevalent and the only strong males left are drug-dispensing Silicon Valley-esque lunatics with too much education and no reason not to manipulate their immediate surroundings into a nightmarish sex cult.
It’s possible that this why the professor sends the protagonist and the rival out into the wilds in the first place. Clearly, Receding Hairline Fatty isn’t getting any, probably not even from Wandering Bint – she trades sex to the professor for her next hit of whatever he’s giving them. But, to the Professor’s mind, the protagonist and the rival are two young virile males who might one day challenge his carefully constructed power structure and usurp his stranglehold on the local sexual market.