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PETA Gets META: Pokémon Red, White, and Blue

Note the narwhal shirt.

Note the narwhal shirt.

Last year, to coincide with the release of Pokémon Black and White 2, PETA released Pokémon Black and Blue, a parody game that criticized the animal cruelty inherent to the Pokémon world. You take on Ash, Cheren, Ghetsis, and Professor Juniper, who are all spattered with the blood of innocent pokémon. To go along with the release of Pokémon X and Y, PETA has come up with a sequel! I was a big fan of the first installment, and am crazy stoked on Pokémon in general at the moment (GOOMY). I’ve also mentioned the weird politics of Pokémon before, and the idea of pokérights has always been pretty interesting to me, so I thought I would review this newest installment, Pokémon Red, White, and Blue.

The game is predictably bad and unpredictably crazy. But I still like it quite a lot! I love bad stuff. First off, the name is pretty intense. It implies that animal abuse and exploitation, like the kind they criticize Pokémon for supporting, is an integral part of the United States. Which it definitely is, but I feel like I’ve never seen messaging from PETA that criticizes the nation, as opposed to companies or just practices. And the name does actually connect to the game’s message, which can be surprising when it comes to PETA.

Like the last game, Red, White and Blue is composed of battles against figures PETA finds villainous, and short walking segments between battles where the pokémon chat with each other about animal rights. In each walking segment, you get a treasure chest, which may hold cool wallpapers, trading cards, or music videos set to factory farm footage. The battle system is lifted from the Pokémon series. Each of your pokémon gets two regular moves, and two PETA-type moves that represent activist tactics. I found myself wishing that the PETA moves would only come out when your other moves had run out of PP, like struggle. Message-wise, I think it would have made PETA’s fight seem more desperate and dire.

This guy told me "prepare to be downvoted!" before he attacked.

This guy told me “prepare to be downvoted!” before he attacked.

At first I was unimpressed when I saw that the game was still set in Unova (the region of Black and White), and the new starters didn’t play a role. It made the game feel left-over from last year, like maybe they’d given This is Pop, the games’ developers, enough money to just make two games at the same time and were pulling out the extra because, hey, the new official Pokémon game is coming out! And, yeah, I guess this is probably what happened. The original was very topical, and the fact that the sequel didn’t move into the new region or use new pokémon or story elements makes it seem lazy in comparison. But it actually serves the game quite well to remain in Unova, and the world that Black and Blue was set in. It’s exactly as lazy as the previous game was! Possibly less, even.

The original parody focused on how badly treated pokémon are in the games. You fight solely characters from the games, and although there was dialogue about how Pokémon helps to normalize and desensitize us to real-life animal cruelty, all the conflict was limited to the world of the games. It tore down idols (though, who actually idolizes Professor Juniper?) and, despite PETA’s love of bang-you-over-the-head messaging, they did probably about as good a job as one can, when you’re attacking one of the world’s best-loved franchises.

apikachu3

The pokémon tell every human they defeat that “pokémon exist for their own reasons.” The entirety of the first game is about retaking control for pokémon: you fight your abusive trainer, a sadistic animal researcher, Ghetsis, and Ash Ketchum. All forces that seek to control pokémon, and all are defeated with PETA tactics.

Red, White and Blue is set in Unova again, and is basically a direct sequel. After defeating the characters from the games, you move on to real-life villains. Or, like, kind of. The game suddenly introduces McDonald’s as an antagonist. McD’s is trying to make burgers out of pokémon. The chain’s presence makes perfect sense, but it’s not pulled off gracefully at all, and felt like it came out of nowhere. Clumsy introduction aside, pulling in more elements of the real world brings something excellent to the game.

Pikachu rescues an abused Miltank from an evil Hamburglar-esque meat plant worker, who says something really interesting. Hamburglar tells Pikachu that he is more culpable than he thinks in animal cruelty. As the most recognizable member of a series that glamorizes animal abuse, and one that has previously partnered with McDonald’s, one of the largest fast food joints around, Pikachu’s image and existence has been used to support the slavery and murder of animals, and caused the current threat McDonald’s poses to pokékind. Pikachu doesn’t believe it.

pokemon2

In other words, the sequel gets fucking real, literally. What was the pokémon’s battle cry has become their self-delusion. While the original addresses animal rights via Pokémon, the sequel reasserts that, in the real world, Pokémon can never be part of the solution.

The pokémon in these games face similar struggles to real animals, as PETA has cursed them with the ability to actually care about their station, but their very existence is wrong. Pikachu’s insistence that pokémon exist for their own reasons is good enough when he’s facing down someone who feels entitled to animals’ lives, but it rings completely false when someone tells him he’s being used.

This is driven home when you rescue Grimace from a Jessie-and-James-type duo of meat workers. A review I read of this game complained that Grimace is not a pokémon, and, well, that’s true, but this was pretty brilliant. Just like Grimace, pokémon were created to move product. Grimace has probably done more harm overall, but the point is that both are tools of capitalism. They don’t exist for their own purposes. In the real world, obviously we know that Pokémon is a product. No part of this game is all that enlightening or eye-opening, but it’s REALLY CRAZY and a cool game experience to see Pikachu confronting this knowledge!!

The game is just difficult enough that the only pokémon I had left to fight Ronald McDonald was Grimace. That's kind of a beautiful thing.

The game is just difficult enough that the only pokémon I had left to fight Ronald McDonald was Grimace. That’s kind of a beautiful thing.

Like basically everything PETA makes, Pokémon Red, White and Blue is useless and ineffective. It seems to me like it’s just internal propaganda, something that’ll keep PETA’s true believers from playing Pokémon games in the future. And that’s a shame, cause Pokémon is pretty great! PETA isn’t wrong about this shit — their thesis is sound. Pokémon has a problematic basis, let’s not pretend. But there’s much worthier targets. Like these commercials with happy enslaved cows? Or like anything else out there that directly promotes meat or animal products, or whatever, you know? PETA has a lot of problems as an organization, let’s just leave it at that.

As a game, it’s a sub-competent Pokémon clone. But as an experience, I rate it pretty highly. It’s super short, super tight. Surprisingly funny, with a decent amount of research done into the official games and internet culture to make the jokes land properly. It ain’t clever; that’s not PETA’s style. You have to appreciate this for what it is, a ham-handed, moralistic look at the meta-culpability of pokémon in their own oppression. That’s cool enough for me.

Score: 8/10

Click here to play Pokémon Red, White and Blue!
or here for the original, Pokémon Black and Blue!

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