Leak Culture Is Ruining Pokemon

I don’t remember the last Pokemon game I played that I went into with no prior knowledge of what was going to happen. When I was a kid, the man at the secondhand video game store in Birkenhead Market had to explain to me why the copy of Sapphire he had for sale was functionally the same as the copy of Ruby I was after. He was even kind enough to explain that, thanks to the fact my friends had Ruby, I would be able to trade with them to complete the PokeDex, which wouldn’t be the case if I bought Ruby.

I’ve come a long way since then, and have completed many a PokeDex with the help of trading partners. But these aren’t the kind of spoilers that ruin my enjoyment of a Pokemon game, they’re basic mechanics. Things I wouldn’t want spoiled are new Pokemon, the existence of Mega Evolution, or new regional forms. You get the idea. The last game I played where those kinds of elements weren’t spoiled by leaks, however? Sun & Moon.

That’s six years ago, if you’re counting, and leaks have become far more prevalent in those six years than in the 20 years before. There are a few reasons for this. Firstly, we’re more online than ever before. Secondly, Pokemon is more popular than ever before. Thirdly, leakers have unprecedented access to game files and insider knowledge. But mostly, leaking is now more profitable than ever before.

I’ve got no problem with people who lap up leaks like a Yamper gulping down water on a hot day. You do you, and if knowing the minutiae of Scarlet & Violet’s mechanics months before release is what gets you excited, then feel free to seek them out. But these days, they’re unavoidable, whether you seek them out or not.

Just now, as a test, I opened an Incognito tab and went to YouTube. I typed in ‘pokemon scarlet and violet’ to try to find the trailer. My idea was to see how many clicks on recommended videos it would take for me to land on leaks. However, I didn’t need a single click. The first two suggestions are both leaks, and both have huge spoilers in both the title and thumbnail – including things I’d avoided until now. The third video is the official trailer. The next two? Leaks. Leak, leak, trailer, leak, leak, leak, opinion video, trailer. Some videos are more courteous than others, keeping their contents relatively hidden for casual scrollers who don’t want to be spoiled. But it’s noticeable that the top two videos, and those with the most views, have spoilers front and centre.

There’s only really one prominent and accurate leaker, and they speak exclusively in riddles like some shit Batman villain obsessed with drip feeding Pokemon content instead of terrorising Gotham or something. It’s easy enough to block this person on Twitter, but it’s more difficult to avoid every YouTuber pouncing on the ‘news’ and uploading spoiler-filled videos as quickly as possible. I completed my test, by the way, and just one click away from the trailer was a leak. Not just a ‘here be leaks’ video, a full-on ‘spoiling Pokemon designs in the images and title’ video. I bet this gets worse when I’m logged in and YouTube’s algorithm pushes Pokemon content towards me even harder.

Some of these videos may be conjecture, some of the designs on the thumbnails may not be accurate or true, but I’m not going to click to find out and risk seeing more spoilers. One thing that is true, however, is that YouTube rewards this culture, and some videos have hundreds of thousands of views, further pushing them up the algorithm and towards the eyeballs of regular folks like me, who just want a screenshot from the trailer for an article and end up getting a new mechanic or evolution spoiled. Creators are cashing in, while the rest of us have to try to navigate our ways around them.

I understand that the nature of my job means I have more exposure to this culture than most – I can’t just quit going on the internet – and news writers, who often cover leaks and rumours, have it even worse. But I just want to feel like a kid again, going into a Pokemon game with no prior knowledge, not knowing that my Sobble will eventually break my heart when it evolves into a slithery weirdo. As much as I’d love Scarlet & Violet to be set in different time periods or tell a Link to the Past time travel story, as much as I want them to innovate like Legends: Arceus, most of all I want Scarlet & Violet to be surprising. With leak culture being rewarded as it is, though, I doubt that’ll happen.

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