SMACKDOWN! Pokemon Evolution vs. Biological Evolution

Games GeekMom

for-kate-pokemon-versus-evolution-6-475x475Pokemon fever has hit our household, as it can in even the best of families. For those readers who have been in solitary confinement for the last decade, Pokemon is a collectible card game with hundreds of little creatures that “evolve” from one bodily form to the next. The word “evolution” gets tossed around early and often.

Weirdly, I happen to invest a lot of time thinking about how to explain actual biological evolution to little kids. The result? My kids are world-class experts on the epic, shattering, and inevitable smackdown between Pokemon evolution and biological evolution.

And now, into the wrestling ring with my 10-year-old:

Mom: How much do you love Pokemon?

Son: A lot. Two kilothinks.* They have cool pictures and you can do a lot of things with them. I really get addicted to these kinds of games, and a lot of the kids in my class like Pokemon too.

Mom: What do you think about evolution? What is it?

Son: Evolution is when a creature’s body adapts to the environment surrounding it in a slow period of time. One creature might have a baby that was more adapted to its environment. So that creature would survive long enough to have babies. And its babies would either have better adaptability than that creature or worse adaptability. Through the years, every species would evolve to have whatever the first one had.

Mom: And what is evolution in Pokemon?

Son: When one of the creatures changes to be more powerful. It’s sort of the same concept except without the environment, and it happens in two snaps of a finger.

Mom: Is Pokemon evolution teaching kids about biological evolution?

Son: I don’t think so. Biological evolution is when a creature adapts to its surroundings, while Pokemon evolution is when a creature adapts to nothing in particular so that it can knock out other creatures.

Mom: There’s another big difference I’m thinking of too.

Son: Um….what!?

Mom: Pokemon evolution happens to individuals and real evolution happens to populations.

Son: Oh, RIGHT! Write that down!

There you have it folks. Straight from the next generation: Pokemon evolution has nothing to do with biological evolution!

Pokemon is SMACKED DOWN!

* A “think” is a unit of measure expressing how much mental energy or excitement something generates. Pokemon = 2 kilothinks. New book about monsters = 5 thinks. Cleaning out the cat litter = 1.5 microthinks.

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30 thoughts on “SMACKDOWN! Pokemon Evolution vs. Biological Evolution

  1. My 9 year old and I have had very similar conversations. He’s also waiting anxiously for the release of the newest Pokemon Black & White games.

    Ask him what any of the critters in Pokemon can do and he will answer with encyclopedic accuracy but ask him about biological evolution and he’ll sit there thinking for a minute and usually answer with “Isn’t that where that Darwin guy says animals get used to the place they live a little bit at a time?” and I’ll leave it at that for him until he wants to know more details.:)

  2. My 9 year old and I have had very similar conversations. He’s also waiting anxiously for the release of the newest Pokemon Black & White games.

    Ask him what any of the critters in Pokemon can do and he will answer with encyclopedic accuracy but ask him about biological evolution and he’ll sit there thinking for a minute and usually answer with “Isn’t that where that Darwin guy says animals get used to the place they live a little bit at a time?” and I’ll leave it at that for him until he wants to know more details.:)

  3. Have you tried Phylo? It’s a trading-card game (like Pokemon) but it’s based on real animals and plants. The best part is that it’s open source so new cards are being created all the time, and it’s (practically) free (if you have a printer).

    Here’s a link: http://phylogame.org/cards/

  4. Have you tried Phylo? It’s a trading-card game (like Pokemon) but it’s based on real animals and plants. The best part is that it’s open source so new cards are being created all the time, and it’s (practically) free (if you have a printer).

    Here’s a link: http://phylogame.org/cards/

  5. Wirehedd: Sounds like your 9-year-old is actually ahead of the game in terms of evolution knowledge!

    Mulried: Oh. My. God. PHYLO! Thank you SO much for the reference. I’ve been thinking about trying to do something like this through my business, but it’s very daunting. So fabulous that somebody’s doing it!

  6. Wirehedd: Sounds like your 9-year-old is actually ahead of the game in terms of evolution knowledge!

    Mulried: Oh. My. God. PHYLO! Thank you SO much for the reference. I’ve been thinking about trying to do something like this through my business, but it’s very daunting. So fabulous that somebody’s doing it!

  7. I run a pokémon fansite, and I work with kids a lot as I run a local league as well. However, I am a paleontologist by trade (currently pursuing my Masters) partly thanks to pokémon. The game presents itself in a very scientific way in some cases (despite the obvious misuse of the word evolution) in that it requires kids to go out an collect specimens (capture pokemon) to learn about them.

    On the concept of pokémon evolution, it’s not a truly evolution.. but to say it’s simply a mode to over power other pokémon is also incorrect. Pokémon evolution is more akin to the real process of metamorphosis. In this concept, animals have a juvenile, a pupa or middle stage, and then the adult stage… for example Caterpillar -> Pupa (Cacoon) -> Butterfly. Many pokémon exhibit this exact type of growth like Pichu -> Pikachu -> Raichu. So in other words, the pokémon (animal) is simply becoming more mature rather than evolving.

    Other pokémon don’t follow this trend, for example a Mawile is a pokémon that doesn’t evolve. In tradition terms of evolution, that means it should go extinct… however in pokémon terms.. it just means that juvenile and adult forms of this pokémon are the same.. it doesn’t have stages.. a real work example would be like lizards. Baby lizards are identical to adult lizards outside of size.

    Anyway, hope that clears some stuff up.

  8. I run a pokémon fansite, and I work with kids a lot as I run a local league as well. However, I am a paleontologist by trade (currently pursuing my Masters) partly thanks to pokémon. The game presents itself in a very scientific way in some cases (despite the obvious misuse of the word evolution) in that it requires kids to go out an collect specimens (capture pokemon) to learn about them.

    On the concept of pokémon evolution, it’s not a truly evolution.. but to say it’s simply a mode to over power other pokémon is also incorrect. Pokémon evolution is more akin to the real process of metamorphosis. In this concept, animals have a juvenile, a pupa or middle stage, and then the adult stage… for example Caterpillar -> Pupa (Cacoon) -> Butterfly. Many pokémon exhibit this exact type of growth like Pichu -> Pikachu -> Raichu. So in other words, the pokémon (animal) is simply becoming more mature rather than evolving.

    Other pokémon don’t follow this trend, for example a Mawile is a pokémon that doesn’t evolve. In tradition terms of evolution, that means it should go extinct… however in pokémon terms.. it just means that juvenile and adult forms of this pokémon are the same.. it doesn’t have stages.. a real work example would be like lizards. Baby lizards are identical to adult lizards outside of size.

    Anyway, hope that clears some stuff up.

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