Every once in a while, something causes a big, unexpected stir in the Pokémon community. Events like the rise of Pokémon Go and the reveal of the somewhat nebulous quality of Pokémon Sword and Shield‘s graphics have both brought this Pocket Monster-loving community together and torn it apart. The latest item to cause a ruckus was a photo posted last weekend on the Sword and Shield subreddit. User Specialist-Walrus864 shared that they purchased a device called a Switch Up Game Enhancer, a third-party Switch USB attachment that allows Sword and Shield players to automate the search for a Shiny Pokémon. “Shinies” are an extremely rare occurrence in the franchise, giving players a Pokémon with a different color palette than it normally has.
The prestige behind Shiny Pokémon traditionally comes from their rarity. Shiny Pokémon were first introduced in Pokémon Gold, Silver, and Crystal; many a fan has a story of finding a Shiny Pokémon as a child and not knowing what it was or why its colors were “off.” As with anything rare, however, Shiny Pokémon have caused a lot of drama and unnecessary gatekeeping in the Pokémon community, with many taking it upon themselves to decide whether a Shiny Pokémon is “legitimate” or not.
The debate over the legitimacy of any Pokémon is simply ridiculous. Over the past few years, the community has started to take itself very seriously, and the response to Specialist-Walrus864’s photo is yet another example of just how sweaty it’s become. Unless you’re playing competitively in a tournament setting or attempting to damage someone’s game by transferring hacked Pokémon to them, there’s no reason to judge how or why someone obtained a Pokémon.
Gotta go fast?
Specialist-Walrus864’s photo unexpectedly sparked a heated debate from Reddit users, many of whom said that any shinies obtained through the use of the Switch Up (or any other non-natural method) aren’t legitimate. Others argued that some people just want certain Shiny Pokémon without having to go through the hours and hours of grind required. In Sword and Shield, Shiny Pokémon have a base chance of 1 in 4,096 of appearing randomly in the wild. Breeding Pokémon to produce a shiny egg takes an equally long amount of time, which is why many have chosen to speed things up with third-party programs or systems.
The Switch Up is different from classic cheat devices like the GameShark and Action Replay because it isn’t creating a Shiny Pokémon or hacking the game itself. It simply runs the player in circles at a sped-up rate in a small section of the Wild Area near a Pokémon Nursery, helping eggs hatch faster and speeding up the Shiny-hunting grind. The Switch Up also includes more obvious cheating abilities for other Switch games, but Specialist-Walrus864 insists that they used the device because they simply wanted to find a Shiny faster.
Shiny Pokémon are hard to get, cool-looking, and a symbol of status in the Pokémon community — provided you’ve obtained them “legitimately”, as deemed by that same community. Fans generally complain about the time needed to get them, but I’ve always had a hunch that some people secretly enjoy the grind.
To circumvent the time commitment, GameSharks and Action Replays previously allowed players to obtain any Shiny they wanted, shortening the entire process down to the time needed to pick a favorite. Though these devices were fairly widespread and have been in use for a long time, they haven’t decreased the value of Shiny Pokémon or people’s desire to get them “legitimately,” as evidenced by the people who argued against their use on Specialist-Walrus864’s photo. Shinies are still cool, rare, and very difficult to obtain through normal gameplay, even with the existence of out-of-game tools. The existence of Pokémon created or found through third-party methods won’t affect the value of a “legitimate” Shiny.
Not everyone approaches the Shiny-finding process from the same angle. Specialist-Walrus864 said in a follow-up comment that the reason they wanted to automate the process was that they want to spend time with their son rather than be locked in front of their Switch all day. People’s gaming habits change as they go through different phases of life, and not everyone is interested in maintaining legitimacy or status in the eyes of the Pokémon community. Sometimes you just want a cool version of your favorite Pokémon to enter into contests or fight through the Battle Tower with.
This doesn’t even consider folks who are unable to get rare, legendary, or event Pokémon because of where they live or the status of their internet connection. Back in the day, fans who couldn’t get to a GameStop would use Action Replays to get Pokémon they otherwise wouldn’t have access to. If you don’t have a stable enough connection to receive a Shiny event Pokémon over the internet, the Switch Up could be used to legitimately obtain another version of that Pokémon. The idea that people who use third-party devices to assist with Shiny-hunting are always cheating, hacking, or ruining things for other players is borne only of a desire to maintain some sort of status within the Pokémon community.
I understand why some people want to take Pokémon so seriously. Nintendo games have always been considered “games for kids” by a large segment of the gaming population, so players of competitive titles like Pokémon and Mario Kart had to fight to get their games taken seriously. The desire to take and be taken seriously has bled down into the Pokémon community, a large chunk of which is now split between ultra try-hards and everyone else.
As wonderful as it is to see video games taken seriously as a medium, we sometimes forget that they’re supposed to be entertainment first and foremost. Allowing everyone to play the games the way they see fit makes for a much healthier community than gatekeeping and attempting to check someone’s enjoyment.
One of the best parts of my life as a kid and early teen was getting to grow up in the golden era of Pokémon. Many of those in the Pokémon community today had similar experiences growing up. If we can all remember that feeling — the feeling of becoming a Trainer for the first time, of getting your first Shiny, of being the very best, like no one ever was — today’s Pokémon community would be much better off than it is now.
We need to let go of the ridiculous standards that we hold other players to and realize that there is no one right way to play Pokémon. We’re all just trying to catch ’em all, so have fun with your Pokémon and don’t worry about the way someone else is having fun with theirs.