In an industry infatuated with violence, it’s refreshing when video games provide an alternative means of interaction. The concept of a non-violent video game isn’t anything new. We’ve seen fantastic games like Journey, Grow Home, Animal Crossing and many others challenge the forms obsession with violence. There’s something inherently fascinating about the way Pokémon Snap presents its world, especially in a series that’s always been especially violent.
Pokémon isn’t violent in the same way Doom or Grand Theft Auto is. There isn’t gore, or brutality. However, the world of Pokémon is inherently built on fights and battles. Even at the very beginning, with the first official Pokémon release of Red and Blue. The entire purpose of the game was to collect Pokémon and battle them. Now granted these were only ever digital sprites, but if you were to consider doing something like that in real life, people would consider it pretty barbaric.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to guilt people into feeling bad about battling digital sprites. This is after all a game. However, it does raise an interesting point about how we’ve interacted with the world of Pokémon. This is after all, a sprawling, beautiful world filled to the brim with wildlife. Why should the only way we interact with it be one that involves violence. This is what makes Pokémon Snap so fascinating.
So why is Pokémon Snap a break from the norm? And why should you be excited for the new title releasing today?
The best way to explain Pokémon Snap is that it kind of plays out like one of those David Attenborough specials on BBC. You are there as an observer, viewing Pokémon in their natural habitat. You can throw food and items, but there is strictly no Pokeballs and no battling involved. The only capturing you are tasked with is taking pictures as you journey through the world. Snapping Pokémon as they interact with one another, catching rare glimpses of how the monsters act away from the prying eyes of humans.
For most people, this was likely the first experience of a non-violent game - outside of sports and driving games of course. (Although, depending on the player, they can be pretty brutal.)
In 2021, that non-violent element is just as refreshing as it was in 1999. The thought of discovering Pokémon out in the wild, without capturing them or forcing them to fight honestly sounds relaxing. In some ways, it takes the best part of other titles with non-violent methods of play. The likes of No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous let you simply discover the world around you. Rather than earning money from killing fauna and flora, you can make a living discovering them. You can avoid combat in Elite Dangerous, and focus on mining and discovering new star systems.
Pokémon Snap isn’t the only Pokémon game to explore the world in more meaningful ways. Detective Pikachu empowered players to explore the world in a completely different way, placing far more emphasis on dialogue and narrative than other titles in the series, While I still love the main series, I would happily welcome more offshoot titles that move away from simply capturing and battling pokemon. Pokémon Ranger, which does feature some fights, has a much larger focus on cooperating with Pokémon and protecting wildlife.
A world at ends with itself
The Pokémon spin offs show a franchise that's often at ends with itself. On one hand, we’re led to believe the trainers love their Pokémon and see them as friends. On the other, we see them battled to the point of exhaustion and fainting. The spin offs show a side of the world that isn’t obsessed with battling the monsters, and that’s honestly just incredibly refreshing. Well, except for Pokken Tournament which sees the creatures pummel the seven shades out of each other.
New Pokémon Snap’s focus on the actual Pokémon themselves is also a welcome change. Instead of each monster acting like a natural extension of your actions, each one is instead given space and time to act independently. We see them in a natural environment, far away from the reaches of industry and fighting. We rarely see Pokemon act freely and naturally in the main series, as if we did, it might make many of us think twice about the way we treat them.
In a series so focused on fighting, Pokémon Snap and New Pokémon Snap provide refreshing takes on how we interact with the universe. Regardless of how well the game performs sales wise, we hope Nintendo and The Pokémon Company continues to provide alternative experiences outside of the established series template.