ByNicholas Montegriffo, writer at
NowLoading's Lucky Office Goth. Tweets: @unstabledweomer
Nicholas Montegriffo

Pokémon GO was the feel good hit of the summer. Niantic's light-hearted mobile game stoked our nostalgia and brought some much needed cuteness to the ever-worsening dumpster fire that was our world in 2016.

The AR mobile app succeeded in bringing lapsed fans back to the the franchise, even though has basically nothing to do with the 20 years of lore that came before it...

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia [FX Productions]
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia [FX Productions]

...But Wait! Pokémon GO May Hide A Dark Secret

The learned Pokemon lore-masters on the internet believe that Pokemon GO does indeed have a place in the greater Pokémon timeline, and it actually refers to quite a dark time in the series' history; back in the days before the mythical Pokémon War, which has only been hinted at in official canon. When you play Pokémon GO, you're experiencing the Pokémon Universe's pre-war history.

You see, since the First Generation of games (Pokémon Red, Blue & Yellow), players have noticed a few subtle indications that suggest the region was recovering from a devastating war.

Pokémon Red and Blue [Nintendo]
Pokémon Red and Blue [Nintendo]

Aside from Lt. Surge explicitly referencing seeing combat in a war where Pokémon were used in battle, astute players noticed more indications of a postwar situation in Kanto.

Here's a quick rundown of the hints:

  • You have no father, and your best friend is an orphan.
  • Children are allowed to journey around the world and have quite a lot of autonomy.
  • Old man warns you of dangers around the corner.
  • Most people you meet are children and/or gym leaders.
  • Most adult men are either very old, or have a job related to the military or organized crime.
  • Hospitals and gyms are everywhere, but no forms of entertainment such as movie theaters.

Before The Pokémon War

So why does Pokémon GO take place before the First Generation? Earlier this year, one Japanese fan electrified the fandom by pointing out a few interesting things:

Ink's points, translated:

  • 1) Not even 151 Pokémon have been discovered yet.
  • 2) The strategy of weakening Pokémon before capturing them has not yet been established.
  • 3) Professor Willow may actually be the ice-type Gym Leader Pryce from Pokémon Gold/Silver. (Pryce’s middle name is Yanagi, Japanese for 'willow')

Ink's idea bears out, when you consider lore-friendly reasons for the primitive battle system. You just throw Pokéballs to catch Pokémon, there's no pre-catch battle to weaken them. You can't level up your Pokémon through battle, either, because there is no formal system of sophisticated Pokémon training developed yet. But there are more indications that Pokémon GO takes place before the First Generation games:

  • In Pokémon GO, you find Pokémon such as Aerodactyl, Omanyte and Kabuto, which are extinct by the First Generation games (you can only add them to your Pokédex by reviving them from fossils.
  • The traditional fixed Gym Leaders, as well as all the structure of the Pokémon League has not been established. That's why Gym Leaders change all the time and there are no Gym Badges.
  • Trading is not available because the complex machines used to make the exchanges were not invented yet.

A Weeping Willow

[The Game Theorists]
[The Game Theorists]

Ink's theory links Professor Willow, the first person you meet in Pokémon GO, to Gym Leader Pryce from Pokémon Gold/Silver. Not only do they share a name, but also similar physical characteristics and mannerisms. In battle, Pryce will tell you: 'Willow is my middle name. Willow is flexible and not easily broken.' You can call him later in the game, and he'll actually remind you that his name is Willow.

Pokemon HeartGold [Nintendo]
Pokemon HeartGold [Nintendo]

It's significant because being named after a tree is a shared characteristic of all the Professors (and Ash, funnily enough, which might hint at an academic future for the anime hero). It'd be weird if Pryce just happened to have a tree-inspired name without being a Professor. Pryce also mentions that that he had 'seen and suffered much' in his life.

Pokemon HeartGold [Nintendo]
Pokemon HeartGold [Nintendo]

Just a generic old geezer grumbling, or a reference to living through those dark times of the Pokémon War? Or even a reference to the crimes he committed as a Professor, grinding unwanted Pokémon into candy for trainers to use in order to level up their favorites?

Common Candy

This part of the theory isn't as sweet as it sounds. You see, in the main Pokémon handheld games, there are items called Rare Candy. That's a significant choice of words, because they really are hard to find, only discovered in out-of-the-way locations and never sold by anyone. Why? With the thriving commerce around Pokémon training, why wouldn't vendors sell such a useful item for leveling?

In Pokémon GO, candy isn't rare, and is in fact the main way to level up your squad. In order to obtain candy, you have to deliver Pokémon to Professor Willow, who, uh, liquidates them into candy of the corresponding type. For most fans who think more than two seconds about this, the horrific implications are obvious — you're feeding your Pokémon candy that's been refined from the remains of their fellow species. There's a fast track to leveling your Pokémon and it's via Soylent Green-esque cannibalism.

Three Tribes Go To War

[Niantic, Inc.]
[Niantic, Inc.]

So, let's take this back to Pokémon GO and the Pokémon War. We know it needs to take place during Lt. Surge's lifetime, so say within about 40 years of the events of Pokémon Red/Blue. This also allows for Willow (in his 20s) to age into Pryce, and fight through the same war Lt. Surge mentions. It should also be after the first Pokéballs were invented, in 1925 (according to Bulbapedia).

Where are Team Valor, Mystic and Instinct, so critical in Pokémon GO, by the time of the First Generation games? Annihilated, gone without a trace, or even a passing mention. So the theory goes, that the competition between these three factions escalated into all-out war. But why?

[Niantic, Inc.]
[Niantic, Inc.]

According to a timeline set out by GameTheorists on YouTube, Pokémon GO occupies a spot in the official timeline after the artificial creation of Porygon (via programming), but before the creation of MewTwo (via cloning). Thus, the controversy over the creation of new artificial life forms (imagine the outrage in the real world) escalated into conflict, during which the creation of MewTwo was a significant event.

In the end, Instinct (nature-loving) and Mystic (intellectual) triumphed over Valor (the more aggressive and belligerent of the three), influencing a society where Pokémon are studied in the wild by Professors, and battling is heavily regulated by the Pokémon league. But the trauma remains, and shell-shocked veterans still carry the scars of the Pokéverse's darkest hour.

It All Comes Together

It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia [FX Productions]
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia [FX Productions]

The whole Pryce-Willow theory makes sense now. Imagine a war caused by a disagreement over the value of Pokémon-life, and whether they deserved to be experimented on, created, and battled willy-nilly while being fed their own species. What if Professor Willow was called to account for his actions, or simply regretted them, in the aftermath of a war in which candy was outlawed as unethical, or even declared a war crime? What if the candy was abused for soldier Pokémon, or harvested en masse from prisoners of war?

You said it...Professor. Willow suffered through the war period alright, but he's proud of being adaptable, and he didn't break down. Instead, he found a place for himself in the new order, as a Gym Leader. Maybe he was stripped of his title, or maybe he abandoned it voluntarily, out of guilt because of his role in making candy. But even though he's paid the, uh, 'price' for his actions, he still holds pride in his old name.

Putting this together required a lot of digging through Pokémon lore, take a look at what 20 years of Pokémon history looks like:

See also:


What do you think? Are we playing Pokemon GO in the pre-war times?

[Source: mtws25 on Reddit]


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