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Most of a Pokemon's life is spent fighting, hurting others and getting hurt in return. That sounds like a terrible life to me. Is there some in-universe reason that Pokemon willingly allow themselves to be used and abused by their trainers in such a way?

Some argue that Pokemon are like domestic animals: They aren't intelligent enough to know better, just like dogs and roosters in fighting rings. However, this doesn't seem to be a strong argument for two reasons:

(1) Firstly, Pokemon are highly intelligent and have their own language. They are even capable of some degree of advanced logical reasoning, as can be seen when Pikachu discussed the possibility that it was dumped by Ash with other Pokemon in the 'Electric Tale of Pikachu' Issue 07.

(2) Secondly, unlike domestic animals, Pokemon have incredible powers that dwarf those of humans. Seriously, how would a human intimidate a Legendary Pokemon capable of altering time or space into doing its bidding? Or a Charizard capable of "quickly melt(ing) glaciers weighing 10,000 tons"?

As such, are there in-universe reasons for:

  1. Why Pokemon obey the humans that forced them into slavery?
  2. How Gym Badges force a Pokemon into obeying a human?
  • 7
    Are you aware how many catgirls you just killed? – Euphoric Feb 21 '14 at 9:07
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    Even PETA made a flash game about this domestic Pokémon violence. There you can beat the shizzle out of their trainers. – Trollwut Feb 21 '14 at 10:02
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    I don't remember the episode, but there was one where Ash and team realized that a lot of Pokemon like battling (so long as it's for fun/bragging rights). I see it sort of like dogs in shows/competitions (agility, frisbee, etc - not fighting). – phantom42 Feb 21 '14 at 14:06
  • ...or else it gets the hose again... – Valorum Aug 2 '15 at 15:29
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There is, so far as I know, no in-Universe answer. Pokemon enjoy battling, Pokemon with trainers battle more, recover faster, and get stronger faster, so many Pokemon desire to find a trainer.

In the anime, the Power of Friendship (Warning: TVTropes link) rules supreme: Pokemon love their trainers. Even Meowth, who is fully sapient and has an acerbic personality, is extremely fond of Jesse and James. Not all Pokemon like their trainers or listen to them, but the vast majority either come out of their pokeballs liking their trainers or grow to like them.

In all honesty, there's not much reason for a wild Pokemon NOT to like a trainer who captures them - wild Pokémon typically aren't encountered unless they attack a trainer (or anyone, really) who is traveling. Thus wild Pokémon can control the chances they are captured - if they don't want to find a trainer, they can simply not attack people. Having a trainer means a Pokémon will have access to food, entertainment, medical care, travel, and they can battle and train. It's entirely possible that many wild Pokémon, knowing that this awaits a Pokémon who finds a trainer, will seek out one. Since the vast majority of Pokémon who are encountered sought out the encounter, it's highly unlikely that there are many instances of a captured Pokémon leaving behind a mate or a nest full of eggs. Rather, wild Pokémon seem like orphans seeking a foster parent. Bloodthirsty orphans who know their foster parent will put them into cage matches.

That answer seems to be enough - Pokémon can generally avoid capture if they wish, so those which are captured must have been open to the possibility. It fits the evidence, scant though it is, and works for the general case.

The outliers, however, are where it gets tricky. Consider Pokemon Red and Blue, and the endgame Pokémon you might have had. Articuno, Zapdos, and Moltres are Legendary Birds. They've been legends (literally) for a long time. They actively avoid human contact. Their raw power is said to dwarf that of most creatures (even those like Charizard or Gyrados). Your character, an 11-year old boy, intrudes upon their lairs, pummels them, and stuffs them into a tiny ball. The Birds, who have known nothing but freedom and sought no battle, will obey you just as well as the Rattata from Route 1 that launched itself at you in a desperate bid to escape its overpopulated home.

Why?

The only answer which makes sense, especially given that you can also capture Mewtwo, the most potent psychic that had ever lived, is that something makes them. It is only a theory, but given the evidence at hand it seems reasonable to conclude that there is something special about pokeballs. These devices are capable of storing a living creature the size of a whale in a palm-sized ball that a child can carry. Once captured, the Pokémon can be stored as data on a computer, and sent over the internet.

Pokemon captured in pokeballs can try to escape, and more powerful ones will escape more often. My theory (backed up by no canon information, just extrapolated from it) is that part of the capture process changes the Pokémon's mind. A captured Pokémon has obedience written into its very psyche, most likely tied to the owner's voice (notice how your trainer ALWAYS shouts the Pokémon's name when sending them out?). Pokeballs come complete with an Automatic Stockholm Inducer and make your Pokemon love you. If they resist the brainwashing process, the pokeball spits them back out.

Presumably, pokeballs also have some form of cryptography which prevent the data that represents a pokemon from being duplicated, otherwise Team Rocket would only have to capture one powerful Pokémon, and BitTorrent would do the rest.

Edit: Badges, by the way, make no sense. There's no reason owning a badge would make a pokeball more effective at brainwashing a pokemon you got from someone else. The only way I could envision them working as anything other than a game mechanic is if they're a Magic Feather (Warning, TVTropes link) - by the time you earn the higher badges, you're skilled at controlling Pokemon in battle. Since the badge tells you that pokemon will obey you, you expect them to, and the Pokemon obey the strong, confident voice that tells them to kill. Even if it does happen to be prepubescent.

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    Of note, nothing except the Orre series and a sole instance in Movie 4 suggests any kind of brainwashing or mind-raping by the Trainer (or the Pokéball) to make the Pokémon obey. This can explain away the "outliers" - their capture in-game is not canon except for one specific instance. Of course there is also the limitation of the videogame interface: you only see a very compressed form of training that the other Pokémon canons clearly show to not be the whole truth to the matter. – Luis Machuca May 4 '14 at 15:32
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    I think badges make perfect sense, after all each HM disc needs a specific badge to decrypt it. Perhaps badges also contain pokeball firmware upgrades? – AJMansfield May 23 '14 at 22:17
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    "Bloodthirsty orphans who know their foster parent will put them into cage matches." god damn I'm putting down my Fire Red – Petersaber Aug 3 '15 at 8:21
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    The first half seems correct, but the second half seems unlikely. Trying to get video game mechanics to make story sense is the path to madness. – Adamant Sep 24 '16 at 8:34
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    +1 for "Bloodthirsty orphans who know their foster parent will put them into cage matches." alone. – T.J.L. May 15 '17 at 15:36
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At least some Pokémon are fully sentient; this was pretty firmly established in Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, where you play a human turned into a pokémon, who lives in a small town and rescues others who are in trouble. Even the ones who attack you on sight in the dungeons seem to be, since after being defeated some will ask to join your rescue team. What happens to the ones who are defeated and just fade away is rather glossed over.

So, in the original Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, there seem to be two instances of a pokémon getting attached to a human:

  • Gardevoir, who protected its human trainer after he did something stupid. The story seems to indicate it was following its instincts to protect its trainer, who it actually cared for.
  • Your partner, who seems to develop some sort of hero worship of you-as-a-pokémon, although in-game it's simply called friendship.

That said, like you, the human Gardevoir protected was also turned into a Pokémon, and no one figured out who it was. He's a bully, and as a Pokémon, no one cared about him. (Well, I haven't finished the game yet, so that may yet change).

In game, your team accumulates Rescue Points, becoming a bronze/silver/gold Rescue Team. The higher-ranked teams have a lot of respect, even from the bullies, since you can't get to that level unless you have quite a lot of strength. This would parallel the badges in the main games - they don't have any special power in particular, but act as an indicator of your, the trainer's, strength. Sticking specific levels on them would just be a game mechanic for simplicity, and it's actually the number of badges you have that should be what gets your pokémon to listen to you.

So, to me, that points to a couple possible factors: Friendship (like with Ash and his Pokémon in the anime series), and a solid indicator of your strength as a trainer (by way of badges) causing your pokémon to respect you more.

Also probably a bit of stockholm syndrome mixed in there, to be honest. Some would say that's too dark for Pokémon, though all the creepypastas our there indicate others would love the idea...

7

In the original games, anyway, Pokemon were more like wild animals that were tamed. As the games went on, they somehow decided to work in that Pokemon voluntarily do all these things that are asked of them, consent to being caught and whatnot, and are intelligently aware of everything that happens.

Personally, I like to believe that that is all hogwash. It's stated in generation 1 that few Pokemon have human-like intelligence (Dragonite being the only one whose Pokedex entry states that). As in generation 1, I still like to think that Pokemon are first and foremost animals, and they obey their trainers for the same reason that a well trained dog will eventually obey its master. Because it is trained to. I mean, I doubt that Pokemon "consent" to being caught (since you have to beat them to near unconsciousness to catch them, and even then they try to escape; and once you do, their happiness is not maxed out) and have the intelligence to conduct themselves in this way, but canonically do not know how to use 'human' items like potions if given to hold.

(2) Secondly, unlike domestic animals Pokemon have incredible powers that dwarf those of humans. Seriously, how would a human intimidate a Legendary Pokemon capable of altering time or space into doing its bidding? Or a Charizard capable of "quickly melt(ing) glaciers weighing 10,000 tons"?

You should take the in-game legends and Pokedex entries with a grain of salt. We don't know how true any of the legends or dex entries are (and considering their actual in-game abilities demonstrated in battle, many of them are probably not true).

For example:

This Pokémon flies at Mach 2 speed, seeking prey. Its large talons are feared as wicked weapons.

This is about Pidgeot. But then, with its (at the time) 91 base speed, gets out-sped by Rapidash which "gallops up to 150 mph" but has a base speed of 105.

How Gym Badges force a Pokemon into obeying a human?

I can't remember the exact source on this, but either in the manual that comes with the games or in game, it's mentioned that when Pokemon see your badges, they respect how powerful you are.

4

(Now this is obviously overthinking it but, isn't that what this site is for?)

There are a lot of different pieces of evidence that point to one possible theory that Pokemon in the Pokemon universe don't actually exist. I propose they are simulated creations or some kind of digital creation (possibly procedural) generated to occupy youth. Perhaps it's been so long since they were created that the people have forgotten where they even came from (cf scientist in series who thought they came from space — although maybe that's true but they were designed by beings other than humans).

Compare to modern days where video gamers are often celebrities and compete in high level tournaments. Take this to an extreme where the real world is infused with the gaming world until the line between the two becomes quite fuzzy.

I think this theory explains why Pokemon are so obedient — because they were designed to be.

Evidence:

  • Pokemon almost always look identical, except for mostly minor differences between males and females (and randomly certain varieties have larger differences between the sexes, e.g. Nidoran and Nidorina)
  • Pokemon fit inside Pokeballs and clearly turn into some form of light or energy when entering them. Plus they can be transmitted electronically and yet there is no apparent way for humans to travel via teleportation.
  • Pokemon seem to be mostly sentient, capable of understanding English despite usually not being able to speak it (with the exception of Team Rocket's Meowth, which just adds credence to this theory)
  • Pokemon don't usually seem to die, although characters in the series often seem pretty worried about their Pokemon's health. Charmander and its evolutions seem to be an exception since if its tail flame is extinguished, it dies (although I'm not sure if this has ever been actually shown to occur). (Edit: relevant answer on Anime SE)
  • Pokemon usually instantly go from wild to tame without much training as long as the trainer asserts themselves properly or demonstrates their friendship.
  • Pokemon evolve instantly into new, often extremely different (e.g. Graveler to Golem) forms.
  • Pokemon appear to be distinct from normal animals, as certain animals are mentioned in the series (more here)
  • Pokemon trainers are often shown to be quite young, even in gyms and the higher level tournaments. Older individuals are often academics interested in studying Pokemon.
  • The ancient Pokemon discovered underground in the original series by Ash supposedly had been there for a long time
  • Pokemon can be evolved using seemingly magical stones
  • Any kind of Pokemon can hatch from an egg, despite the fact that there are a variety of different gestation methods in animals
  • Pokemon can be very powerful, far beyond what would be physically possible
  • Pokemon can seriously injure each other, but generally while they can attack humans, they don't seem to permanently damage them (e.g. Charizard shoots flames at Ash all the time but he never seems to be harmed, at least not according to what fire like that ought to do to a person)
    • Pokemon hatch / evolve into forms with accessories that wouldn't form naturally (Machoke/Machamp's belt, Hitmonchan's gloves, Cubone's skull/bone, Polywhirl/wrath's gloves), Primeape's cuffs etc
  • Trainers have to actually encounter a wild Pokemon to fill in its field in their Pokedex, even though they have already been encountered before. Plus the Pokedex is able to identify Pokemon very easily.
  • Plus a lot of the points from this other answer apply

Edit: one potential problem with this are the Pokedex entries that are shown about Farfetch'd, which say it makes a delicious meal and has been hunted to near extinction.

  • In fact, we're already well on our way to this future with the advent of Pokemon Go and AR… – shim Sep 27 '17 at 15:25
4

The one thing we do know for sure is that it's not some sort of enslavement or inherently cruel practice; the games have tried not to give that impression, and the anime adaptations clearly show Pokemon happy with their fates, assuming the trainer is not abusive. Pokemon Black and White had their plot deal with this extensively; N deemed all Pokemon training slavery, but eventually realized that there is some deep bond between a Pokemon and a trainer that leads the Pokemon to desire training and battle. In the sequel games, Black 2 and White 2, N's released Pokemon seek out the player character so they can be trained once again, disliking their state of freedom.

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    N has given Charizard a sock! Charizard is FREE! – Jeff Feb 21 '14 at 16:30
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    N's pokemon appear to be more like Winky than Dobby >.> – Yamikuronue Feb 21 '14 at 16:31
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Pokemon are simply wild animals. The games which are canon prove that. The anime balances that Sentient behavior and animistic behavior. The Mystery dungeon series is an alternate universe thing that shows Pokemon are purely sentient.

Pokemon are animals, they can domesticated like animals, if they were sentient they don't need to be domesticated because they already are.

  • Welcome to SFF.SE. Overall this answer seems to be useful, but the last paragraph is just opinion and should be removed. You can check the tour and help center for more information on how to use this site. – numaroth Dec 1 '14 at 17:03
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Its like boxing or ancient gladiator fights. It seems (Might mostly be an act however unseemingly!) like every fight each Pokémon has a risky chance of dying or they kill their opponent but, thats if they fought too kill(It looks like that alot of battles.) if they fought too beat the other into submission or K/O then still it would seem risky. Some Pokemon might be fine battling a fire Pokemon like Charsar if they are a fire (Another Charsar) Pokemon or maybe about as powerful. Tho their are rewards food training to be stronger ect. The pokeball does mostly all the work of getting the pokemon to be like an obedient pet(Like an attack dog, ya theirs others like military dogs, ect.). Boxers get payed gladiators got payed Pokemon get food ect. it's simple if you put it that way just to get food.

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