Kissing the Frog(s)
On Love and Pokémon,
Schopenhauer and the Masuda Method
Luckily we were met by ordinary devotion.
—D. W. Winnicott
Did you teach him how to surf, is perhaps where it started. It’s 1998. Sheldon A. Brookner. P.S. 135 on Linden Blvd. Brooklyn, New York City where they paint murals of Biggie…You’re sitting at a collapsible cafeteria table, rapt in classmate conversation, each of them bubbling with excitement over something. Some new thing. You’re not sure what. Curious, you ask: what’re y’all talking about?
You dunno Pokémon?
Shortly thereafter you acquire as a gift from your father Pokémon Blue, the one featuring on its cover the giant blue turtle with the cannons on its back. As it happens, your parents only learn about the games overtly Bio-Darwinian themes (evolution, genetic signatures, and later, breeding) after you’re knee deep in the game’s consuming (consumerist) time-suck. In fact, the game becomes controversial (just as Harry Potter would) with Christian conservatives and you begin to feel compromised. This will happen later with Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Remember Hot Coffee? No, of course you don’t.
But back to Pokémon— On that day, you crack the box open reverently and slide the blue cartridge into your beloved Game Boy. The same day your father, ever the big man, gets into an amusing confrontation with one of the local bloods. You don’t find it funny, but later see the irony in your choice of Blue version over the more popular Red. Little Orphan Annie is blaring from trunk subs as Jay’s Ghetto Anthem climbs the charts. You notice more and more unmarked white vans making their neighborhood rounds.
And while all of this is happening, Professor Oak (the game’s Dantean/Virgilian psychopomp) cordially greets you, welcomes you to the world of Pokémon, asks your name…
Arthur Schopenhauer in his classic Metaphysics of Love (or of Sexual Love; or of the Love of the Sexes depending on the translation) posits that love is man’s metaphysical desire for immortality (the furtherance of humankind) as expressed through his choice of mate. The object of love, he posits, is congenial procreation.
As a matter of fact, love determines nothing less than the establishment of the next generation. The existence and nature of the dramatis personae who come on to the scene when we have made our exit have been determined by some frivolous love-affair. As the being, the existentia of these future people is conditioned by our instinct of sex in general, so is the nature, the essentia, of these same people conditioned by the selection that the individual makes for his satisfaction, that is to say, by love, and is thereby in every respect irrevocably established.
In making his claim, the German philosopher proposes a proto-eugenic model of human mating, i.e. that opposites attract for their (our) betterment.
...The weaker a man is in muscular power, the more will he desire a woman who is muscular; and the same thing applies to a woman…
Nevertheless, if a big woman choose a big husband, in order, perhaps, to present a better appearance in society, the children, as a rule, suffer for her folly. Again, another very decided consideration is complexion. Blonde people fancy either absolutely dark complexions or brown; but it is rarely the case vice versâ. The reason for it is this: that fair hair and blue eyes are a deviation from the type and almost constitute an abnormity, analogous to white mice, or at any rate white horses. They are not indigenous to any other part of the world but Europe,—not even to the polar regions,—and are obviously of Scandinavian origin. En passant, it is my conviction that a white skin is not natural to man, and that by nature he has either a black or brown skin like our forefathers, the Hindoos, and that the white man was never originally created by nature; and that, therefore, there is no race of white people, much as it is talked about, but every white man is a bleached one. Driven up into the north, where he was a stranger, and where he existed only like an exotic plant, in need of a hothouse in winter, man in the course of centuries became white. The gipsies, an Indian tribe which emigrated only about four centuries ago, show the transition of the Hindoo's complexion to ours. In love, therefore, nature strives to return to dark hair and brown eyes, because they are the original type; still, a white skin has become second nature, although not to such an extent as to make the dark skin of the Hindoo repellent to us.
Finally, every man tries to find the corrective of his own defects and aberrations in the particular parts of his body, and the more conspicuous the defect is the greater is his determination to correct it. This is why snub-nosed persons find an aquiline nose or a parrot-like face so indescribably pleasing; and the same thing applies to every other part of the body. Men of immoderately long and attenuated build delight in a stunted and short figure. Considerations of temperament also influence a man's choice. Each prefers a temperament the reverse of his own; but only in so far as his is a decided one.
Generation II (Pokémon Gold and Silver) introduced breeding as a game mechanic (by way of Daycare in the fictitious Johto region, on Route 34 connecting Ilex Forest and Goldenrod City). Two oppositely gendered (or occasionally non-gendered) Pokémon may be brought to a daycare where, if they are compatible, they will produce an egg. A daycare attendant, when asked, will remark regarding the compatibility of your Pokémon that “the two seem to get along,” or “the two don’t really seem to like each other very much,” or “the two would prefer to play with other Pokémon…”. Compatibility here means that the Pokémon to be bred are either of the same species (i.e. a Pikachu with another Pikachu) or the same/similar egg group (generally Pokémon of the same clade, i.e. a water-type with another water-type). There are, to date, fourteen egg groups.
12. Water 1
13. Water 2
14. Water 3
Further complicating the game mechanics are sets of coded data unique to each individual Pokémon. Things like gender (male, female, neuter), color (normal vs. shiny variant), nature, ability, traits, not to mention the six core elements that account for gameplay (HP, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, Speed)—these are the Pokémon’s statistics (stats) and work in a way not unlike DNA. In fact, there is in each Pokémon a pre-coded, non-manipulable set referred to as Individual Values (IVs) or Individual Strengths. These values are non-manipulable once the Pokémon has been hatched from its egg, but—returning to Schopenhauer for a moment—these values can be manipulated if one breeds for a desired set of stats and traits. While Generation II prevented Pokémon of like IVs from breeding (a stricture against Poké incest), succeeding generations have allowed pairings of Pokémon with like IVs. Even so, there’s no assurance that the resultant egg of a love relationship between two Pokémon will yield the desired traits. Chance is always at play. And without chance, there is no room for a fateful encounter.
What are the odds, you wonder in awe on a bus from Providence, RI to New York City some eighteen years later. Your body surges with warmth and excitement. Some one hundred and thirty cumulative hours after completing the main game (on 12/31/2013), you’ve hatched your first shiny variant (akin to albinism IRL) with a timid nature, the hidden ability Protean, and (the IV rater in Kiloude City tells you) 5 out of 6 outstanding IVs. “Stats like that can’t be beat,” he says enthusiastically. The dossier remarks that the newly hatched Froakie is also “somewhat vain.”
Yes, you are 27 years old and still have an above average investment in Pokémon (though you refuse “Pokémon GO” for reasons that should be obvious to any citizen in an era of digital surveillance). You realize, after many years away from the game, that it gives you tremendous and secret pleasure—though, up until this very moment on a bus between states—the game has also produced tremendous metaphysical angst.
In this sixth generation, Pokémon Y, you’ve undertaken the task of hatching your perfect, shiny-variant Froakie. You originally chose as your starter Pokémon the fire-fox Fenniken (named Fifina, after Arna Bontemp’s classic children’s story) so that your sister might have the more desirable Froakie. But after completing the game you finally get your hands on an ordinary Froakie and begin the steep (one hundred plus hours) climb toward eugenic satisfaction.
The object is first and foremost to acquire a Shiny Froakie because it yields a more appealing, all-black final evolution (Greninja). The secondary objective, though perhaps more substantive, is to hatch a shiny Froakie that also has outstanding stats and the hidden ability Protean, which changes the Pokémon’s type (water/dark) to whatever move it chooses to use during competition. This specific combination (minus the purely aesthetic element of its shininess) has proven deadly in metagame competition (mediated online, between players across the globe). Greninja’s speed and adequate special attack make it a successful special sweeper—a master of the one hit KO. Only fitting for a Pokémon designed to look like a Ninja/Frog, its long tongue wrapped around its neck like a scarf, winglike ears a design element in homage to fighter jets and bombers. The semantics that govern the naming of Pokémon (move over Carl Linnaeus) is a poetic delight in itself. Froakie becomes (at level 16) Frogadier—a clever combination of Frog and Bombardier. Frogadier’s foam collar is reminiscent of the fur collar and scarf recognizable on WWII Bomber pilots who had to guard against freezing temperatures at high altitude. At level 36 it evolves finally into Greninja (from the French grenouille and the Japanese ninja).
The history of breeding Pokémon, from its introduction in Generation II to its more recent iterations, has seen a number of changes governing the odds of hatching for certain traits. Hatching a shiny is one of the rarest, if not the rarest of all breeding phenomena. According to Bulbapedia, the standard odds of hatching (or encountering in the wild) a shiny variant are 1 in 8192 or .01%. That means that 1 out of every 8192 eggs hatched will be a shiny—and that means a shit-ton of hours. But you learn about a short-cut, a little secret within the community known as the Masuda Method—named lovingly for Game Freak Director Junichi Masuda “…who programmed it into Pokémon Diamond and Pearl [Gen IV].” The Masuda Method increases the odds (by Generation V and onward) to 1 in 1365 or .07%. Coded in Japanese as International Marriage, the odds of encountering a shiny variant are greatly improved when Pokémon of differing languages fall in love and produce an egg. This is the Masuda Method—modus operandi comparable to Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of love.
One Japanese Ditto (a gift from your friend John) and hundreds of American frog eggs later, you’ve hatched a Shiny Froakie. By dint of its happening, personal history is made. The woman in the seat behind you, also Boricua you realize, can’t quite share your joy. She wouldn’t understand the many hours you’ve sunk into this project, the number of eggs hatched. Even if you shared with her those numbers, you could not communicate the proper experience. Of waiting. Of wanting. You’ve had to kiss how many frogs before lighting by chance on your frog prince?
You’re alone in this happiness, but peopled.
Schopenhauer does his best to wrestle the narrative blackbody of love into scientific submission. He does so with the fervor and intelligence all spurned lovers bring to the dumb enterprise of cuffing. He is at moments anthropologically convincing, when not outright overzealous in his arrest of love. But he does walk thoughtfully around a hermeneutic that illustrates the mad and infinitely unknowable chasm the lover crosses in pursuit of the beloved.
There is an “ordinary devotion”, a ritual even, to your return to the game—despite no assurance that you’ll find what you’re looking for. You hatch so many eggs that you run out of storage space. You begin to release the rejects while falling asleep from the monotony of the process. At times you think that maybe, among the many hundreds of eggs you’ve hatched and released, you accidentally disposed of your shiny one.
But no. You know it when you see it.
And you’ve seen The Graduate. You remember how it ends. How the novelty wears off. The camera lingering just a few seconds too long on the love-rushed faces of Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross. But that’s the difference between hubristic passion and ordinary devotion. You don’t get tired of looking at the shiny one. Your shiny one.
This has everything to do with narrative. It is the fantasy that overstands your realized joy. Next to your shiny one you are alone, but peopled. You’ve journeyed toward an object, not in vain. Even if the object in this case is “somewhat vain.”