Are We Team Rocket? The Ethics Of Shadow Pokémon In Pokémon GO

Shadow Pokémon are some of the most powerful raid counters you can possibly have in Pokémon GO. Ever since the introduction of the Shadow Bonus, which multiples a Shadow Pokémon's attack by a whopping 20%, the game has incentivized players to keep their best attackers Shadow rather than Purifying them. However, there is a disturbing bit of information in the mythology of Shadow Pokémon that makes some wonder if we, the trainers who keep these Shadows un-Purified, are as bad as Team Rocket.

Team GO Rocket in Pokémon GO. Credit: Niantic
Team GO Rocket in Pokémon GO. Credit: Niantic

When Shadow Pokémon were first introduced, Niantic posted some information to Twitter:

"Pokémon grow stronger with the right training, love, and care—not through whatever means Team GO Rocket is using. These Shadow Pokémon are in pain and need our help! You better hope we don't cross paths, Grunts!" – Candela

Professor Willow has discovered a process to help Shadow Pokémon. It's called Purification, and Blanche has observed that a Purified Pokémon's gratitude makes it much stronger Flexed biceps and causes the move Frustration to be replaced with Return! Let's GO help more Pokémon, Trainers!

"Not only does Purification heal the Shadow Pokémon from its painful state, it also makes it stronger. Purify the Shadow Pokémon you catch, and you'll create a powerful bond with a Pokémon that's been through so much." —Blanche

So Shadow Pokémon are in constant pain.

Here's the issue. Purification? It absolutely doesn't make the Pokémon stronger. Ever since Shadow Bonus was introduced, these Shadows are now way stronger than Purified Pokémon. Purification removes the Shadow Bonus and instead turns the former Shadow into the regular version of the Pokémon with absolutely no added attack bonus. On top of that, Return is rarely a useful move.

Now, of course Pokémon GO is just a game, but there is a wild inconsistency at play here. On one hand, Niantic incentivizes players to create bonds with their Pokémon with Buddy Adventure, GO Snapshots, and much more. The bonds between trainers and the different friends they've caught over their time playing is one of the main attractions of the game. At the same time, though, Niantic has incentivized the use of Shadows not only with Shadow Bonus, but also through events that allow us to remove the useless attack Frustration from Shadow Pokémon, making them even stronger. As it stands, Shadows usually take up seven or eight spots of the top ten counters to every raid boss.

Yes. To every single raid boss.

Personally, I think Niantic should tweak their application of the Shadow mythology to make it a bit less dark. They can't dial back the Shadow Bonus after players have invested recourses into it. They could, though, increase the power of Purified Pokémon to make those even stronger.

As is, though, Niantic has created a situation in Pokémon GO where the way to win is to follow in the steps of the bad guys. Could we just Purify anyway? Sure. But with the amount of power these things pack, the awesome purple aura, and their ability to take down raid bosses like nothing, all I can think is, until Niantic makes a change…

Prepare for trouble.

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Theo DwyerAbout Theo Dwyer

Theo Dwyer writes about comics, film, and games.
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