The Joys of Pokénomics and Quandaries of the Pokécare Industrial Complex

Note: I originally wrote this post back in August 2019 for an old/defunct blog I had at the time — and then recently, I remembered that copy/pasting is a thing. To help make this blog active with more material, I’ve updated and adapted it below. Unfortunately, after all the horrifying shit that’s gone down in the last few years, I can’t tell whether it has aged very poorly or depressingly well.


So I saw this meme a while back. In it, American Chopper stars Paul Teutul Sr. and Paul Jr. take a break from building motorcycles to engage in a heated debate over whether or not a colloquialism the Pokémon Center nurse Joy uses — “We hope to see you again!” — subtly encourages trainers to injure their Pokémon so they return and use their services more frequently.

Although this seems like a random topic for these gentlemen to be arguing about so intensely, I’m fascinated by everything it implies.

Full disclosure: The only Pokémon games I’ve played extensively are Pokémon Pinball and Pokémon Snap. My memory is also pretty fuzzy on the cartoon so I’d be curious to hear from folks who are more familiar with the Pokéverse’s underlying story and lore. If there are any canonical explanations or intriguing theories which address or debunk the following quandaries, feel free to drop some knowledge in the comments, on Twitter, or over beers soon.

For now, I’m just gonna dive down the Diglett hole…

[Editing note 1: Ew, that sounds wrong. I was going for a play on “rabbit hole” but with Pokémon but, uh, ew.]

[Editing note 2: After playing the “Let’s Go” remake for a while and capturing my first Onix, I learned from the Pokédex that they’re actually Onix holes, not Diglett holes. Moving on…]

Image: Poké

First of all, if there’s indeed some shady shit corrupting the Pokémon healthcare system, it’s unlikely to begin or end with Joy. As the face of the issue, it’s understandable that Joy may draw public ire, but I’d urge us to dig(lett) deeper and not let the responsible parties avoid accountability, even if it turns out that we ourselves share that culpability. Regardless, I expect these issues are far more systemic in nature and I have questions.

So what’s up with the economics of this whole thing? How do Pokémon Centers — which ostensibly provide trainers with full medical services to heal their injured Pokémon for free — manage to stay solvent? Assuming they’re funded by some sort of public and/or non-profit subsidies, just how does that structure work? Who pays for it? How do its policies inform how medical services are rendered? And how are providers incentivized to administer that care? In other words: Is Joy really a sociopath or is she merely adhering to the rulebook propagated by a broken Pokécare system?

I suppose a lot of it depends on how the insurance, government, and non-profit funding mechanisms and subsidies are structured for the Pokemon Centers. I’d like to think each region’s government allocates pre-established, meticulously-calculated budgets to adequately cover each Center’s expenditures — including fair wages for Joy (hopefully) — while accounting for the density and cost of living of each location they operate, all while limiting opportunities for exploiting the system. But cynically, there could easily be policy loopholes (as there so often are) where that funding scales by volume, so the more Pokémon Joy heals — or the more times she heals the same Pokémon — the more subsidy money she takes off the top.

Image: Pokémonsense 

It’s also possible that Pokémon Center funding is largely drawn from tax revenue generated by the battles themselves, with whatever sponsorships, admission fees, gym kickbacks, and betting revenue they entail. Unfortunately, this creates an insidious system where both entities are encouraged to feed into each other in a never-ending Pokébattle industrial complex of sorts. Basically, the more Pokémon fight, the more they need healing services to continue fighting, and the more profitable it becomes for everyone involved: Gyms, Pokémon Centers, insurance companies, the government, trainers, bookies, and of course, Joy.

In this context, it’s easier to understand Teutul Sr.’s misgivings of Joy, yet blaming her hardly scratches the surface of the larger problem.

You can imagine the problematic regional implications of such a system. Its incentive structure may breed artificial competition between Pokémon Centers, potentially disadvantaging the ones that serve areas with fewer gyms and trainers in need of their services. This could generate a precipitous spiral where the top-tier talent pool of Joys flocks to the busier, wealthier areas to reap the biggest rewards, leaving less-lucrative Centers high and dry. This could decimate the smaller, less economically-diverse communities they serve. (Good thing there are no real life parables for this dynamic!)

My lovely partner-in-crime (she grew up as a Pokémon fan) posed another hypothetical. Let’s suppose  — in an effort to discourage Pokémon fighting — the Centers took a stand and enacted a policy to stop treating wounds from trainer battles altogether. What would happen then? Would this policy force trainers to be more conscientious about the well-being of their Pokémon? Would they be compelled to abandon fighting and find more productive and less dangerous hobbies to enjoy with their Pokébuddies?

Like photography…or land surfing! | Image: KnowYourMeme

On the other hand, clearly Pokébattles are deeply ingrained in the culture, and it’s no doubt an economic necessity for many who rely on it. Would a private sector — or black market — Pokécare industry emerge to fill the gap? What would those premiums look like? Who could afford them? What new dangers would they pose? Would trainers begin to regard their wounded Pokémon as expendable if it becomes cheaper and easier just to let them die? That opens up a bevy of other questions surrounding the moral obligations we have to our Poképals and whether an equitable Pokémon healthcare system can even exist within a battle-dependent, capitalist framework.

Of course, I want to be optimistic. Maybe Pokémon are always magically happy and healthy and maybe Pokémon Center funding is allocated via a time-tested and research-backed approach that’s equitable, and neither incentivizes excessive bloodshed nor encourages participating entities to game the system.

At the very least, I’d like to think that when Joy invites us to visit her Pokémon Center again, she’s simply expressing courtesy and gratitude and not greasing the revolving door.

The Joys of Pokénomics! | Image: Bulbapedia

Thanks for reading and I appreciate the support! For a more recent post, check out this one highlighting my favorite summer-themed video games.

– Brian (@VirtuaSchlub)

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