In a surprising twist to the new Pokémon games Sword & Shield, Nintendo have re-designed the coral Pokémon Corsola to have bleached due to ‘sudden climate change’. It is a stark and symbolic reminder of how we are changing the planet form an unlikely source.
Nintendo’s ‘Pokémon’ is a hugely popular global franchise featuring a world wear humans live harmoniously alongside powerful animal like creatures. It consists of 8 generations of video games, an anime show, multiple blockbuster movies and a popular trading card game. Whilst it is a franchise aimed at young children the Pokémon games and series have been known to address some serious topics such as animal cruelty, kidnapping and even death. But in the newest game the Japanese creators have added multiple references to climate change and other human caused impacts on the natural world. The most haunting and unsettling of which is the bleached version of the coral Pokémon known as Corsola. Although this may seem like a fairly trivial decision to some people, it is actually an important move by the franchise and a very serious warning for young and older generations alike.
Before we begin it is important to know some basics about the Pokémon games to understand what is going on. Pokémon are living creatures often resembling animals, although not always. They roam wild in the games and can be caught by trainers (players) to train up and use in battles with other characters. A Pokémon has a type (i.e Fire, Water, Electric, Flying etc) which affects how well it does in battle against other types. Some Pokémon can also evolve into other more powerful versions of themselves, but again not all do. For the purposes of this article that is pretty much all you really need to know.
New form, type and evolution
The Pokémon in question, Corsola, was first introduced to the series in 1999 as part of the original Gold & Silver games. It’s branched ‘horns’ strongly resemble staghorn coral and it is pink and white in colour. It was almost always depicted as smiling and has a reputation as one of the most adorable Pokémon in the games. It is a cross between water and rock type due to the fact it lives underwater and resembles a rock like most coral in real life do. In the original games Corsola was one of the few Pokémon that did not evolve. But in the new Sword & Shield games the loveable character is almost completely unrecognisable. Although it is still depicted in the same shape the new form is now a ghostly white in colour with sad purple eyes and constantly shown frowning. It is also now no longer a water/rock type but instead a ghost type.
The transformation of Corsola in the new games is of course symbolic of real life coral that have undergone the phenomena known as bleaching. Where they expel their photosynthetic algae, known as zooxanthellae, as a stress response to rising sea temperature among other factors. This means they lose their fantastic colours and will eventually die as a result if their algae are not restored. In Corsola’s new Pokedex (pokemon encyclopedia) entry explains that “it was wiped out by sudden climate change” and “it’s now a ghost that sucks the life-force out of whoever touches it”. If this was not troubling enough Corsola also now evolves into a new Pokemon called Cursola that is described as “a grotesque mass of spectral coral branches that sway as if pushed by remembered ocean currents”. What’s more unlike some other evolutions that are changeable or preventable Corsola’s evolution is unavoidable which seems like an ominous forshadowing for real coral reefs.
Why does this matter?
OK, so a fictional cartoon character has been affected by global warming and changed colour. You would be forgiven for thinking that this really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But lots of people who both do and do not play the games have praised Nintendo for the serious and symbolic warning in their latest edition. Coral bleaching is without a doubt one of the most serious threats to marine life today. Rising sea temperatures have already caused major damage to almost all reef systems on the planet with more to come with bleaching events, like those in 2016 and 2017, likely to become a lot more common. But is not just the corals that suffer as a result. It is also the thousands of species that call them home.
Coral bleaching is also not the only reference to human related environmental impacts in the new games. Another classic Pokémon Wheezing, a poison type that produces toxic gas, is now used by people in the game to soak up the alarming rise in air pollution in town and cities. If that were not enough the main antagonist of the story is a man who brings disaster to the world as a result of a misguided search for a renewable energy source. But these inclusions are not just whimsical story choices, they are issues that mirror our current world, and they will undoubtedly have a big impact on those playing the games.
I can personally attest to the fact that the Pokémon franchise can be very influential on young children. I believe playing the original games is a key factor in my own love for animals and in determining my own career path. Which only makes these changes more troubling and emotional for people like me. I have no doubt that young children playing the new game will be inspired by these changes to tackle the problems we have left for them and avoid making the same mistakes. But one can only imagine what sort of dark dystopian storylines will come out of the franchise in the next 20 years if our environmental impacts continue to go unchecked.