PETA vs. Pokemon

Peta Pokemon

Good news, animal lovers! You can all breathe a sigh of bacon-scented relief. The pattern of animal cruelty that has plagued our world for centuries has at last been eradicated. There is no more animal suffering!

This news comes to us from no less authoritative a source than PETA (People for the Ethical Tenderizing of Appetizers), which recently launched a campaign to fight the imaginary abuse of fictitious animals in the Pokemon video games. The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this is that real abuse of actual animals is no longer an issue. So congratulations to us all on that! To celebrate, I kicked a swan in the neck.

Pokemon, for the uninitiated (i.e., grown-ups), is a weird thing that, like many weird things, comes to us from Japan, where no entertainment property can be released to the public without first being approved by the National Weirdness Council. In the various Pokemon media — video games, TV cartoons, trading cards, comic books, Homeric odes, religious tracts, etc. — the Pokemon are small animals that are kept as pets by their Trainers. If a Trainer comes across a Pokemon he doesn’t own, he can tell one of his Pokemon to fight it, and he gets to keep it if they win. The more Pokemon a Trainer collects, the more he is insulated from the sad emptiness of his life, until eventually he collects the complete set and commits honorable hara-kiri.

In other words, Pokemon is cockfighting. Everybody knows that. The difference, obviously, is that Pokemon is not real. Pokemon is the fantasy football version of cockfighting. I think the kids who play it know that if there were animals like Pokemon in real life, they would not use their powers to fight battles on behalf of their owners; they would use their powers to kill and probably eat them.

The folks at PETA do realize that Pokemon is fictional. They might be narrow-minded zealots who oppose all forms of pleasure and fun, but they’re not narrow-minded zealots who oppose all forms of pleasure and fun and are also delusional. Nonetheless, in response to the newest Pokemon game, called Pokemon: Black and White 2, PETA has produced a parody: Pokemon Black & Blue (tagline: “Gotta free ’em all!”). The pitch is this:

“For generations, Pokemon have suffered at the hands of their cruel Trainers. Help PETA free Pikachu and his Pokemon friends as they struggle for Pokemon liberation!”

As video game premises go, helping pocket-sized monsters fight for their civil rights isn’t bad. It makes as much sense as Italian plumbers digging for coins in sewer pipes, or sentient pie charts eating pellets while dodging ghosts. But one thing that PETA is very good at is coming up with ideas that are sort of logical, that sane people might sort of go along with … and then crazying up those ideas and blowing the opportunity to gain sympathizers. For example, PETA’s efforts to make us sympathize with fish started by pointing out that fish can feel pain, which is reasonable, but have now progressed to articles with headlines like this: “9 Ways Fish Are Just Like You.” I assume one of them is that we both love to eat fish.

The way they botch the video game (which you can play at the PETA website) is by starting not with a brief narration giving the player some context, but with a guilt trip, to make the player regret his decision to play the game. It reads thus:

“As battling Pokemon grew in popularity, generations of children were growing up believing that Pokemon exist for no other reasons than to be used and abused by humans. Children learned about dominance instead of compassion. While Pokemon faced the worst abuses, children also started bullying each other. Until one Pokemon decided he’d had enough.”

PETA does have a way with children! “Hey, kids! Aren’t you tired of using games as a means of expressing dominance? Wouldn’t you rather use games to build compassion? Eh? Eh? (P.S. If someone bullies you, it’s Pokemon’s fault. Love, PETA.)”


I would like to believe that this is a case of poor word choice, and that PETA doesn’t really think that the actual problem of bullying among children is less serious than the fake problem of Pokemon abuse. On the other hand, if that is their position, it would line up with PETA’s usual stance that animal suffering is more egregious than human suffering, and it would clarify that this policy extends to imaginary animals as well.

The PETA columns:

9/7/2001: I PETA the Fool
5/24/2002: PETA’s Dragon
9/8/2002: Milking It
5/25/2003: Pet Peeves
8/25/2008: That’s So PETArded
2/16/2009: PETA, PETA, Kitten Eater
3/7/2011: Rooster’s Millions
8/1/2011: For PETA’s Sake
10/16/2012: PETA vs. Pokemon

But anyway. On to the game! PETA’s Pokemon-themed I-am-Spartacus slave-rebellion game lets you stand in for Pikachu, the most famous of all Pokemon, as he fights back against his trainer, named Cheren. Pikachu’s options are “Quick Attack,” “Thunder Shock,” “Group Hug,” and “Protest.” The first two are standard acts of violence common to all video games and apparently endorsed by PETA as long as they are directed at humans, while the other two are more PETA-specific. A “Group Hug” disarms the foe with love, and if you choose “Protest,” Cheren’s strength is diminished and you see this message: “Pikachu beat down on Cheren with some powerful words!” So there’s deception on all sides: the Pokemon games teach kids that it’s OK to abuse animals, but now here’s this PETA game teaching them that protesting works.

If you keep fighting long enough, Pikachu eventually vanquishes his owner and declares, “Pokemon are not yours to abuse, Cheren. We exist for our own reasons.” (These reasons are not given.) The player’s reward for successfully completing the game is to read a dialogue between Pikachu and Cheren about animal rights, which is every bit as thrilling as it sounds.

My understanding of Pokemon — which is limited to having seen a few of the theatrically released Pokemon cartoons, which are poorly drawn, seizure-inducing abominations worthy of contempt and rage — is that the Trainers love their Pokemon, and the Pokemon love them back. Besides, for all PETA knows, maybe Pokemon were created by whatever deity created the Pokemon world for the sole purpose of being kept as warrior-pets. Who is PETA to question the Pokemon god?? This is blasphemy, and I won’t stand for it! I will sit, here on my sofa made of eagle feathers and manatee skin.